Martin Scorsese once said this of production designers: “How does one separate cinema from production design? You can’t! A designer has images in their mind, pictures in their head, and are uniquely capable of getting those visual moments onto the screen.” Indeed, while it’s the screenwriter who types “The Fleets meet” or “Atlanta burns,” it’s the production designer who researches and assembles the fleet or designs and builds the town so the torch of possibilities can be lit and passed from one artist to another.
With that goal of creative connection in mind, production designers from around the world recently met for the first time at a new event called The Gathering, where they discussed art, their craft, technology, and survival in an ever-evolving global workplace.
The Gathering took place on Oct. 21 on the Greek island of Spetses — 120 nautical miles southwest of Athens — where the local community warmly welcomed a group of 260 travelers that included production designers, students, companions, and sponsors from around the globe, all of whom assembled for a five-day, immersive collaborative event and social experience.
The Gathering was both a dream and passion project of Production Designers Inbal Weinberg and Kalina Ivanov, founders of the Production Designers Collective, an international society representing 900+ professional members. Their venture provided the first-ever opportunity for production designers from around the world to meet and share techniques, technologies, and stories, strengthening bonds within the community while decompressing from what has become a very stressful work environment of late.
Signature panels and workshops addressed timely topics such as “Fostering Creativity,” “What Makes a Great Art Department,” “Well-being at Work,” “Building Worlds on Screen,” “VFX Collaborations,” “Research and Inspiration,” “Sustainable Production Design,” and “Production Designers United.”
Leading designers shared their experiences and moderated creative and informational workshops covering a wide array of topics, including virtual production, backdrop technologies, storytelling, film and TV production, commercials, PD education, emerging PDs, starting out, book clubs, sketching, PD advocacy, and gallery talks. Most importantly, time was dedicated to community building through yoga and plein air sketching opportunities, island hikes, Aegean swims, communal dining, and many exuberant social celebrations and interactions.
Participants at the Gathering included many Oscar and Emmy winners and nominees, such as Rick Carter (Lincoln), Grant Major (Lord of the Rings), David and Sandy Wasco (La La Land), Jack Fisk (The Revenant), Fiona Crombie (The Favourite), Sarah Greenwood (Atonement), K. K. Barrett (Her), Anne Seibel (Midnight in Paris), James Chinlund (The Batman), Jeremy Hindle (Top Gun: Maverick), and Beth Mickle (The Suicide Squad).
The Gathering brought together production designers from 35 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Turkey, the UK, and the USA.
Friendships were both created and renewed, and the event provided many with indelible memories that are best summarized by the following participants:
“We are overjoyed by the event’s success, and feel strengthened by the gratitude and generosity of our community, which was on full display during the Gathering. The sense of camaraderie and passion for the craft united all participants regardless of resume, experience level, or country. Over those few days on a small Greek island, we discovered that we all speak the same language.” — Inbal Weinberg, Production Designer and Founding Partner
“Five days that were managed like in a dream, with fluidity and incredible organization. A brilliant cast of icons, of creative geniuses, of incredible human beings, mixed to the future of production design. There are many ways of channeling this great energy you created.” — Jean Vincent Puzos, Production Designer and Panelist
“They say you go on a journey when you travel alone and an adventure when you share it with others. This weekend was my journey to reconnect with my craft and it ended up being the adventure of a lifetime, shared among 260 production designers from all around the world.” — Melanie Garros, Production Designer
The Gathering was presented by Oxbelly, a Greek non-profit organization whose mission is the championing and empowering of storytellers and independent creators, and the Production Designers Collective. The leading partners and underwriters include Astek, On Air Design, ArtStation, Earth Angel, Epic, Faliro House, Greek Film Centre, Hellenic Film Commission, Pulp Art, Rosco, Salonki Thes Film Commission, ShotDeck, and Unreal Engine. Affiliates include the Art Directors Guild 800, ARTSCENICO, Australian Production Design Guild, European Federation for Costume and Production Design, BRA.DA Brazil, and United Scenic Artists 829. Donors include APA, CAA, Claire Best & Associates, LUX, Murtha Skouras Agency, AMPAS, Anne Coco, and the Margaret Herrick Library.
Production Design for motion pictures has always been an international movement and one first established at the turn of the 20th Century in Paris, France. Over five remarkable days in Greece, a cornerstone of possibilities was finally placed so that a professional society might unite and advance this essential cinema art form. Stay tuned for information about the next Gathering, which is eyeing a 2024 date at a location that has yet to be determined.