Production Designer Ben Bangay on his life, career and upcoming TV Series, Secret Bridesmaids’ Business.
APDG member Ben Bangay, is interviewed by APDG member Courtney Westbrook.
How did you get involved in becoming a Production Designer?
I studied visual communication/graphic design and had always been interested in the ability good designers had to interpret the world around them and create a visual narrative to even the most insignificant product. After dabbling in furniture design, sculpture and drafting, a chance encounter led me to a job as a runner on a TV series – ‘Little Monsters’ designed by Robert Perkins.
Robbie was particularly inspiring to me, working with him gave me an insight and a longing to test my skills creatively in the film world. I loved watching his relentless sketching transform into the world the camera captured. He certainly gave me the drive to become a Production Designer.
What drew you to this TV Series? Did you connect to anything specific in the script?
I had worked with MaryAnne Carroll, Executive Producer and Amanda Crittenden, Series Producer before and greatly admired the passion they both bring to a project. In one of the first meetings we had regarding Secret Bridesmaids’ Business, we spoke about creating a visual narrative that both honored the script and showcased the locations at the heart of the series in a unique way. Tori Garrett was the director attached to the first block and from a creative point of view it was the perfect mix.
The script allowed us to explore amongst many elements, themes of duplicity. We decided early that those images that embraced this element should inform the project. I was also drawn by the fact that we were embracing autumn and winter in our drama. To me this not only allows you to draw on the colours and texture of decay, but inherently imbues a sense of renewal and the possibility of change.
It was important to be very strict in our colour choices. We drew on the colours of the turning grape leaves, specifically the pinot noir and chardonnay leaves and textures of the surrounding farm. Obviously, this presented many problems, especially in terms of building sufficient visual differences so the audience can navigate the drama.
What were the biggest challenges on this project?
The biggest challenge on the project was working between the Mornington Peninsula and the city. The logistics of trying to build in the time between these locations was taxing, however the payoff was extraordinary.
What is your favourite set for Secret Bridesmaids’ Business and why?
My favourite set for the series was the character house for Melanie. It encapsulated all the central visual themes perfectly. We found a location that we could hire for the duration of the shoot, it was a blank, slightly decaying canvas. Perfect. As a result of being able to control the space so much, we could work in all our ideas, and have the time to make them work within the framework of the shooting day.
With a wonderful DOP, Tristan Milani, we created opportunities to capture the sense of duplicity, and other themes of the show. Reflective surfaces – which on other shows, usually become the first to go due to shooting time restraints! – such as a hallway of mirrors were used to illustrate a character’s many layers.
Once the shooting started, were you primarily on the set, or off to the next one?
I like to start the shoot day on set. It’s a great time to make sure everything is perfect and reflects the discussions I’ve had with the director. It means I can do the little tweaks prior to the shooting crew starting.
Unfortunately, the practicalities of getting new sets done, and servicing of upcoming storylines prevent you from staying all day. It can be very hard to leave, but you must have faith in your team’s ability to get the job done.
Can you breakdown the work process you commonly use when designing?
After reading the scripts, background material and having done a breakdown of the script requirements, it’s time with the director.
At this point I find creating mood boards and preliminary sketches important to move forward. You absolutely need to be a united front to move the project forward and it is best to do this prior to spending valuable production resources. This is the exciting part of the job for me, finding the solution that best captures the spirit of the script. Absolutely crucial to have done your research thoroughly. Searching for style and language of design that best supports your overall intentions and holds the drama.
I’m still quite fond of a A3 sketch pad. I can do multiple pencil sketches, keep preliminary floor plans, colour, tone references and ideas in the one place. I usually segment these according to set, so I also have any notes kept in the one place. Depending on the scope of the set, I usually do a floor plan, concept drawing., and mood board, which in turn is distributed to H.O.D’s, and my art director. I am lucky to have worked with a talented art director, Stuart Parkyn, on a number of projects now.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
The favourite thing about the job for me is there are so many people whose energies combine to bring a project together. It’s this collaboration that always makes me get up for work. I love the problem solving, and the sometimes absurd nature of what the day brings., the contest of ideas, and making life beautiful, even in it’s most horrible forms.
Do you have any dreams regarding your future as a Production Designer?
I would love to still be working far into the future as a Production Designer, for me it is a way of living. Everywhere you look, it is through the lens of a story, even if the story hasn’t been written. I look for possibilities, of transformation, and of connecting the built environment with the emotional landscape.
What advice would you give an upcoming Production Designer?
My advice for any upcoming Production Designer is to listen and look. Immerse yourself in life’s experiences and create a way of filing the information so you can always draw on it. It could be a photograph of a sign, a texture of a landscape, inspiration can come from many places. Keep searching for visual stimulus as this is the bread and butter of our world.
If you can, build a library at home, and put a beautiful chair in it, scripts will thank you.
Have you watched Secret Bridesmaids’ Business yet?
I haven’t seen the episodes in full yet, only scenes throughout the grading process. I’m looking forward to it as much as everyone.