Production designer extraordinaire, design graduate Deborah Riley
NIDA News caught up with Deborah Riley while she was recently in the country in between filming, to speak about her work as production designer for arguably the most popular television series in the world, Games of Thrones, and what advice she has for students entering the industry.
How has it been working on Games of Thrones so far?
Working on Game of Thrones has been a huge experience in every respect. In terms of the work itself, the people, the places and the opportunities that it has brought are all more than I would have ever imagined.
Having worked on major film projects in the past, is there much difference between working on a TV project and a film project?
No one on Game of Thrones thinks of it as television. It is more like five feature films that we are working on at once. The work load is enormous and the pace at which we work is much faster than anything else. Game of Thrones is its own beast.
You have worked on such a diverse range of projects to date including Moulin Rouge, The Matrix, 21 Grams and now Game of Thrones – can you tell us a bit about your design process for a screen project and how you work with the immediate and wider team?
The design process is the same on Game of Thrones as it is with any other project. It all starts with a lot of research. Then we create concept art and construction drawings that are costed and approved. I then visit the sets frequently as they are being built and painted.
Working with the team is also the same as it is on a smaller project, there is just more team to work with. I deal very closely with the concept artists and art directors and as the set goes through the various stages of being built, my focus changes to the plasterers, painters and set decoration team and so forth.
Do you have a preferred style aesthetic, such as period dramas, science fiction, medieval, futuristic?
No, I think that is the beauty of being a production designer: the fact that we can work in any time period is one of the joys of the job.
How did NIDA training set you up for your career as a designer/art director?
NIDA provided me with the discipline and rigor required for a career in the film industry. At the time that I graduated from NIDA, it had a reputation as a very tough school and to have survived it was an achievement. As a reward, it did prepare me for the realities of working in the business. The same perseverance and determination that brought me back through the door every day is the same determination that I have needed as a freelance person.
Have you always wanted to work in film and television in a design capacity?
No, I found the entertainment industry along the way, while I was studying architecture.
What advice do you have for NIDA design students about to branch into the industry?
Work hard is a very obvious thing to say. What is often not mentioned is just how brave you have to be to survive – being freelance is challenging and at times, very difficult. It is also project-based work and it is important to be a good, kind and generous team member. No one wants to hire someone to be part of their crew who is not willing to see themselves as part of the team. Being in the art department is being part of the wider machine and it is crucial to remember that: being able to work with and negotiate with others is one of the most basic building blocks.
Photography on behalf of HBO, Season 6, Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones, Season 6 airs Monday April 25 at 11am, same time as the US on Foxtel’s showcase.