I was privileged to attend a workshop spearheaded by Oscar-nominated production designer, Laurence Bennett. Bennett gave life to movies like Crash, In the Valley of Elah and The Artist. The idea of meeting and being mentored by such a prominent production designer left me positively distracted weeks in advance.
Besides of course discussing the sets of Crash and The Artist, the participants of the workshop selected a script and had to analyse and break it up as part of the exercise. How would we approach a narrative, break up the themes, and present visual references if we were to pitch our ideas to a director?
Luz Del Mundo was my challenge from the pile of scripts. The story was set at the time of the Beat Generation, a group of American post war writers in the 1950s who celebrated a liberated lifestyle. They followed a culture that promoted innovations in style, experimentations with drugs and a rejection of materialism. Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac were two important characters that glorified the âBeat Cultureâ in the 1950s. Their way of life led them to many adventures on the road, with cigarettes in pocket, map in hand and rolling behind the wheel of a Hudson. These two characters embraced life, meeting people along the way who took part in their story.
Luz Del Mundo focuses on one of these intoxicated journeys on the road where the characters are teasing, and being chased by, death. The story includes scenes of the present day as well as frequent flashbacks that encompass Nealâs vivid, realistic hallucinations representing death on a horse. A difficult script to read, with many foreign concepts, I re-read the text multiple times and began to ask myself the question, âif I was watching this film, what would I want to see?â
Being new to such an exercise, I tackled it by drawing parallels between an âarchitectural briefâ and the script. The script provided me with an outline for my research. The characters, hypothetical users of our future buildings, are like the clients that we are designing for. What will they wear? Where will they live? What sort of spaces would they inhabit? The site, or locations in the script, provided constraints and put the film in a context, whether it be a world of hallucinations within a characterâs head or the endless Mexican desert.
In architecture, materiality adds to the individuality of a building, giving it a presence and bringing a bare structure to life. On set, it is the colour palette: costumes and set decorations that can help generate mood, atmosphere and individuality of the scene on screen, âbringing a set to life.â
Bennett provided everyone present at the workshop a very human approach to the profession, discussing both the triumphs and hardships one would face on set. Production designers are the unsung heroes of a film crew. When regular moviegoers watch a film, their knowledge might extend to the actors, directors, and perhaps even the cinematographers, but very rarely would someone know the name of a production designer. Yet their role is vital. The conceptual, visual birth of a motion picture happens in the hands of the director, production designer and cinematographer.
I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the workshop and see architecture in yet another light, architecture in the power of storytelling. Laurence Bennett, thank you.

Anoushka Sivaraman