Ahead of its release tomorrow, we’re happy to share with you our interview with Chris Crane, the production designer of IFC Midnight’s Disappearance at Clifton Hill (read our review –HERE). Learn more about how he got involved in this business, his involvement with Disappearance at Clifton Road, upcoming projects, and more. This film hits Cinemas and On-Demand starting February 28th!
PopHorror – Thanks for talking with me, Chris. How did you get involved in this business?
Chris Crane – I first became involved in the film industry when a good friend of mine, whom I had met while she was in film at Ryerson University, and I was there for Photography, suggested film could be a good place for me to work. I had left University after the first year and ended up working as a window visual for H&M. At 25 I had just quit that job and had moved home after a breakup, so the timing seemed right to try something new. I was asked to be the Set Decorator/Props Master on a very very low budget indie feature, shooting in Toronto. With no real idea what either of those roles actually entailed, the film shoot became a crash course on how all the departments in film worked. The project was very difficult and I made about $1250.00 for three months of work. After it was done, I realized how much I had enjoyed myself and was excited to learn more. 11 years later and now I am a Production Designer.
PopHorror – That’s amazing. What do you love about being a production designer?
Chris Crane – I love how creative, stressful, exciting and collaborative being a production designer can be. Every job has me researching things I previously knew nothing about, scouting locations and considering possibilities for sets, creating sets from scratch, pulling colour palettes, going through set dressing photos-you name it. I am always learning, I am always problem solving and I am constantly meeting and working with so many amazing and different types of people. There definitely is stress, but the feeling of coming through the stress and creating an amazing film or series, in the end, makes all the hard work totally and completely worth it.
PopHorror – Were there any films that inspired you to become a production designer?
Chris Crane – Nothing inspired me specifically to become a production designer-mostly because I did not know what it truly meant to be one until I started to work in film and watch other people do it. But I always loved the looks of Alfred Hitchcock films (Psycho and Frenzy), Steven Spielberg films (Jaws and E.T) and David Cronenberg films (Naked Lunch and Dead Ringers) growing up. I also loved Twin Peaks and most David Lynch films for their use of cinematography and colour. Again, I knew I liked these things but had no idea what that meant. I was also obsessed with John Carpenter’s Halloween and most 1980’s slashers, so I paid attention to how they were shot and lit and the types of locations and sets they used.
PopHorror – Those are all phenomenal films. For those who may not know, what all goes into being a production designer?
Chris Crane – Production Design covers many departments and different areas of any film or television series. I start a job by having meetings with the Director and Cinematographer, together and separately, about the overall tone/look that we are going for. For instance, for Disappearance at Clifton Hill, Director Albert Shin and I went through the references he gathered for his film, and I went through mine. Through that, we went over the idea that this isn’t just shooting a film set in Niagara, Falls, Canada. It’s creating the dreary, neon-lit Niagara Falls that we knew as kids. That Niagara Falls has since mostly been updated and torn down. With that in mind, we went over colours and lighting with Cinematographer Catherine Lutes. Then there are location scouts-finding perfect locations and having not-so-perfect locations and making a plan of how to make them work.
The Set Designer will begin drawing up what sets need to be built, I approve those, then get those approved by the Director and Cinematographer-they may have requests/changes needed for camera movement and lighting. We have graphics designers creating the logo for the Rainbow Inn Motel, and for the Clifton Hill street, we created. We’re getting names cleared for signage, I’m constantly going over the budget with the Art Director, the Construction team needs colours for paint and may have notes on the drawings from the Set Designer. Co-ordinating colours with the Costume Designer (so if a room is painted yellow, the actors will not be in colours that blend into that) plus there is the Set Decoration team (going over wallpaper and set dressing for each set) as well as the Props team (making sure hero props are approved) many many meeting about these things and more.
In the end, you hope that your ideas make it from your initial discussion all the way down through all these departments and different people. Sometimes you have to compromise because of cost or the Director had something else in mind that does not match what I was thinking. I start the ball rolling with ideas, and keep that ball rolling, and all these people do their part to hit that mark or bring something even better to the table that I may not have thought of.
PopHorror – Wow. There’s so much involved with it. A very important job – that’s for sure. As you just mentioned, one of your newest projects is IFC Midnight’s Disappearance at Clifton Hill. How did this come about for you?
Chris Crane – In the summer of 2018, I had an interview with the Director of Disappearance at Clifton Hill Albert Shin. I had read the script-loved it-and had put together a package of different references that I thought conveyed the story and/or certain locations and moods. Albert and I hit it off really well and ended up chatting for almost an hour. A month or so later I found out that the show was moving ahead and I was offered the job of Production Designer. Albert and I took a little road trip to Niagara Falls and he went through some of the actual places and locations that he had in mind or was hoping to shoot at. I had not been there in years so it was both a great way for the two of us to get to know each other better as well as see places that Albert had in mind long before we began prepping the film.
PopHorror – You both created something special together! Your work on the film is phenomenal and really helps give that film that spooky atmosphere. Were you happy with the outcome?
Chris Crane – Thank you for saying so! Disappearance at Clifton Hill was a true labour of love. We lost some pretty big locations early on and had a lot of fo trouble finding the right motel for the film. The motel was the most important location and nothing close to the actual Clifton Hill tourist stretch really worked. We realized that we were going to have to create a lot more of that old, creepy, noir-ish Niagara Falls look ourselves. Albert and Catherine actually did not like the look of the motel that we ended up going with. It was in the perfect location but was more 1980’s then 1960’s and had a lot of layout issues. So my challenge was to make it amazing for them. Once we found out we could not shoot on the actual Clifton Hill tourist stretch and had to create that somewhere else in Niagara Falls ourselves, we suddenly had even more control on what this world was going to look like. It ended up being the place in all the reference photos that Albert and I had gone through in my initial interview. Everyone worked so hard that cold winter of 2018 and the hard work really shows in the final film.
PopHorror – Do you have any favorite scenes?
Chris Crane – I love anything that shows off the motel. We created quite a few different spaces with different looks and colour schemes, The scene where Abby (Tuppence Middleton) bring a man she meets at a bar back the motel and they end up in the ‘Honeymoon Suite’ was a great scene. We did a lot of work in that room and it looks great. My favourite scene though is probably the night time chase down our Clifton Hill street set into the haunted house we created. The haunted house was a gutted building that was almost a gym, but the owner gave up. So much work went into that space and I love how the scene plays out inside.
PopHorror – Love those scenes as well! Any other upcoming projects?
Chris Crane – I just finished production designing season 5 of the sketch comedy series Baroness Von Sketch which should be out in the fall. A film I production designed just before Disappearance at Clifton Hill, called Run This Town is coming out in theatres on March 6. It’s about three young people dealing with careers and life issues amidst the Toronto Mayor Rob Ford drug scandal of 2013. It stars Ben Platt, Mena Massoud, Nina Dobrev and Damien Lewis. I am excited to see what people think.