Imagos Films has a lively art crew hard at work on Motivational Growth. It consists of Rae Deslich, Ellie Kushner, Eric Frankel, and Jean Higgins. Their team was responsible for constructing and decorating everything from a spaceship to an entire 1990′s apartment building in the upstairs floor of a Chicago warehouse. They took a break from constantly decorating shots and running to and fro to answer some questions.
Q. How did you get started doing art and set design?
Rae: I have been crafting and making things my whole life – sewing, woodworking, and making metal art. When I went to film school, it was only natural that I would apply those skills to filmmaking.
Ellie: I am a really short girl from Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a level of awesomeness that trumps my height by miles. Being skilled at really random things has left me ultimately prepared for life in the art department. My career choice wasn’t so much a choice but a happy accident, so I’m happy making it through life one moldy bathroom at a time.
Eric: Eric Frankel was born from the streets. Growing up in New York City, New Jersey, and Chicago, Eric is an American machine fueled on blood, sweat, and communist tears.
Q. How did you get involved with Imagos films?
Rae: Imagos films contacted me. I’m still not sure how they got my number.
Ellie: I was shopping at the Target in South Loop when Don walked up and asked if I knew how to make an apartment look disgusting. I said yes and BOOSH! – started working on this movie.
Jean: Rae called me and asked if I could work. I said, “What exactly do you want me to do? But… yes.”
Eric: Rae, the production designer, called me and asked if I wanted to be part of her ragtag team.
Q. What cool projects have you worked on previously?
Rae: I’ve production designed a heist movie starring Eric Roberts and Don Gibbs, designed a ton of genre movies that can be found in Blockbuster and on Netflix, decorated a music video for a girl pop group, etc.
Ellie: I have worked on a TON of cool projects. Most people would be jealous.
Eric: Children of the Corn, Leading Ladies, and a few other features.
Jean: I worked with beluga whales, dolphins, and penguins in a movie. That’s cool.
Q. Have you hidden anything on the sets that the casual observer might miss?
Rae: Everything on set is either justified by the character and their environment, or else it’s an inside joke to ourselves. Sometimes it’s both. In particular, we have several band posters in the apartment for bands that are both in period (1991), appropriate for Ian’s character, and that we’ve received clearance from their record label to use.
Jean: I think so, but I can’t find it.
Ellie: The Dog Homie Bro backdrop is full of inside jokes and things that mean a lot to me. “Om nom nom”, “I got you girl grocery bag”, “dinosaurs”, “UPO9”, and a “Sankofa” are some of my favorites.
Eric: I usually paint myself into the set.
Q. What’s it like working with Don?
Eric: Romantic and scandalous
Rae: Don is a very trusting director. I feel a great amount of artistic freedom working with him because he believes in his crew and lets us make the aesthetic choices that we feel are correct.
Jean: Oh… it’s …. great.
Ellie: Don is super neat to work with. He’s always been very nice and encouraging to our team. He thinks we are rad, and we think he is rad. It’s been real FUN!
Q. How long did it take you to put everything together?
Rae: We started on-location prep in late September. Build took about two weeks, and scenic painting, and set dress took a similar amount of time. The longest part of prep was honestly the design process: phone meetings, script breakdown, overheads and floor plans, pre-visualization, etc.
Ellie: Well, Rae was already super awesome and had designed one heck of a set. With Johnny, our carpenter, building like a mad cat, we got all the scenic painting, dressing and shopping done in about 2 weeks.
Jean: I made a T.V. in 30 minutes with Ellie.
Eric: Time is relative.
Q. Ian has a lot of expired and moldy food on his coffee table… Why doesn’t it stink?
Eric: Black magic.
Rae: It’s all dehydrated, packaged food, mixed with Elmer’s Glue, and covered in clear shellack. One of the challenges in dressing this set was planning for everything to stay exactly the same for two months. In the same vein, the fish tank doesn’t actually have any water in it; it’s painted to give the illusion of green, algae-filled water. The dead fish next to it are also fake. Movie magic!
Jean: Because we are not filming in Smell-o-Vision. Yet.
Ellie: The moldy food in Ian’s house Is actually from the future. Mold doesn’t stink in the future.
Q. What was your reaction to the screenplay when you first read it?
Rae: The script was an incredibly fun read. It reminds me of a lot of cult-classics like Repo Man, Weird Science, They Live, etc. I was actually telling a colleague of mine a few months ago that I really wanted to make a movie like that, and I feel like we are.
Ellie: “BOGUE!”, stomach-vomit motion, and then: “I’d light it on fire.” All in the good way.
Jean: It was the opposite of the Dead Poet’s Society.
Eric: I’m still waiting for it.
At this point, Eric proposed an additional question for the interview:
Q. You are on a desert island. What two things will you bring? Oh… And the soundtrack to Valkyrie is on repeat and you can’t turn it off.
Jean: Could you hum the Valkyrie soundtrack for me? I can’t think…
Rae: It’s boring but I’d take a knife and a bandanna. You can do a lot with just those two things.
Ellie: My desert island 2 things would be peanut butter and Oreos.
Eric: I would never let that happen.