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Production Designer Roy Forge Smith

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Is working beyond the age of 60 in Hollywood part of a carefully constructed career strategy or an unplanned surprise? Most of us consider ourselves lucky to be working at all after 40, whispering personal thanks to a favorite patron saint after nailing the current interview, knowing we will be making the next house payment. Roy Forge Smith, production designer, continues despite it all at the not-so-young age of 77.Trained as a fine artist and architect in London, Smith remains bemused and delighted well into his fourth decade of film work. The rigors of an industry driven by youth culture that, more often than not, dismisses the value of years of accumulated experience, rarely daunt him. His only concern is continuing to do what he loves—designing for film and television.His current assignment on the CBS series Ghost Whisperer presents unique challenges for this septenarian. The episodic format appeals to him despite its torturous eight-day schedule fraught with late scripts, abbreviated prep time with his design staff and, most importantly, little creative time with each new director for 22 subsequent shows per season. This is of particular concern to Smith. “Work begets work, and a consistent track-record ensures some kind of longevity,” he suggests. “Call-backs for me as a designer depend heavily on my ability to work successfully with a director. I only feel comfortable with my performance when I’ve creatively given my director exactly what he or she needs, and that I can do it for the budget without sacrificing any aesthetic quality.”He has stubbornly clung to his mantra of “delivering the goods on time and on the budget” since his first days at the BBC in London. Best known for his work on Far From the Madding Crowd (1967) and Mrs. Soffel (1984) as art director, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I, II and III (1990, 1991, 1993), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), The Hunley (1999-TV), and Helter Skelter (2004) as production designer—Roy Smith endures.”Communication is key to everything,” he says. “It forecasts the success of any project. Without the continuous, healthy dialogue with my team of art director, construction coordinator, lead scenic and specifically my relationship with my brilliant set decorator, Cher Ledwith, and her excellent crew of set dressers, the consistent sparkle of our work on Ghost Whisperer would suffer, or worse, get lost. It is one of the most vital aspects to be learned and relearned in our collaborative business.”Smith’s open, relaxed, inclusive style encourages an environment of free thought and creativity. For him, screenplays and movie scripts are puzzles to be solved with sensible solutions and high levels of practicality. The focus, always, is on the art and never on the personalities involved in its delivery.For Smith, progressive advances in technology haven’t shifted the way he approaches film design. “Having new tools to play with is always a fun thing but nothing has really changed, has it?” he says. “We’re in the business of telling stories. Choosing the correct tool for the job at hand will always be the best advice to be had. There are times when using a computer to do a pencil’s job is silly. We must never overlook the humanity of the story and how we tell it.”

Written by Michael Rizzo

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