21 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
IFTA Q&A Series: Steve Kingston on Production Design
11 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Steve Kingston
To mark the 21st anniversary of the IFTA awards, we are showcasing Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry.

We find out about their approach to craft, working on the projects they’ve been nominated for, and the best piece of advice they’ve been given in their career.

Steve Kingston is IFTA-nominated for Best Production Design for Double Blind. Kingston has previously been nominated for Best Production Design for his work on Trouble with Sex, directed by Fintan Connolly (Barber) and starring Aidan Gillen (Kin). His other recent credits include Clean Sweep and Broken: A Lockdown Story.

IFTN: What was your favourite moment on the production?

STEVE: “We filmed down in Limerick in one location. iT was just an empty industrial space when we got there, so I enjoyed the challenge of designing and constructing a full-fledged medical facility set from scratch with a tight timeline. It was a substantial undertaking, especially considering the scale and complexity involved, so the most gratifying moment for me was witnessing it coming together with my team and seeing all the actors on set on our first day of filming.”

IFTN: How was your collaborative process with the director?

STEVE: “Right from the start, Ian had a really strong vision for Double Blind, and his passion for the project was palpable and he was always open to bouncing off ideas. I came with my conceptual designs, and ideas for visual cues, palettes and bringing in elements like the Japanese Pear Tree. The two of us also had a lot of meetings with Narayan in pre-production, and those conversations laid a really solid foundation, so we could all get on with it then once we started shooting.”

IFTN: What tips can you share with budding Production Designers looking to break into the film industry?

STEVE: “There’s no shortcuts, it takes years, so just keep at it and get as much experience in as many different roles as you possibly can. Understanding how the painters, carpenters and other essential art department members work is so important. Watch as many films as you can, go to art galleries, understand composition and colour, know the history of architecture and design: the more references you have the better your work will be. Make sure you’re enjoying it, but most importantly don’t be precious. Be good to your team and crew in general.”

IFTN: How do you balance creative vision with practical considerations, such as budget and logistics, when designing sets and props?

STEVE: “Budgeting and the breakdown is an extremely important part of the whole process. It’s a skill in itself, so it’s all about finding that sweet spot. It’s a lot of problem solving because you’re always dealing with practicalities. I start by identifying the core elements of the vision that are non-negotiable, once you've got those locked in, you can roll up your sleeves and get creative.”

“Whether it's finding different suppliers, repurposing existing props/sets, using lighting, there are always innovative ways to get what you want within budget without sacrificing your vision. I have years of experience on lower budget jobs, so I picked up a lot of practical solutions.”

“I also have a great team and we bounce ideas off one another, and leverage each other's experience to find ways to make it work within the parameters.”

“Lastly, stay flexible. Sometimes constraints can lead to the best ideas. Be open to tweaking your design as you go along to adapt to any curveballs that come your way. It's all about striking that balance between staying true to the vision while making practical choices that keep everything running smoothly.”

IFTN: Production design plays an important role in making the world of a film feel real. How do you approach creating a sense of authenticity in your designs?

STEVE: “I do loads of research before I even delve into the time period, geographical location or cultural context. I always read the script and place myself in the characters' shoes to gain a deeper understanding of their world. I have an acting background which helps with that. By getting their perspective, I can then get my head around the script better and create designs that feel more organic and real.”

“On Double Blind, my focus was on creating an atmosphere of sterility and bleakness that permeated every scene, although it was huge in scale we needed it to have a growing sense of claustrophobia. I crafted the visual elements, such as colour palettes, furniture, practical lighting, and props, to evoke a sense of sanitation and impersonality in each set.”

“The dormitories were designed to feel cold and devoid of individuality, reflecting the characters' restricted freedom and lack of personal connection. The medical facility, on the other hand, needed to feel tense and claustrophobic.”

“Obviously each job is different so whether it's sourcing period-appropriate items, custom-building props, or adding subtle touches that add layers to the story, I like to create environments with character that feel lived-in, with history.”

“Ultimately, the production design is about more than just the look. It's an extension of the story that transports the audience into a world that feels compelling and, above all, real.”

IFTN: Is there one thing about your craft that you would like the public to be more aware of?

STEVE: “The public only gets to see the final result on screen, so they don’t get to see the countless hours of physical work, the building, planning and execution that went into creating that visual experience. That’s the magic of cinema though.”

IFTN: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

STEVE: “Treat everyone well and don’t be precious about it, ultimately it’s the director's film and you want to do the best job you can.”

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