By Junsui Films | December 2012
The Production Designer chats exclusively to Junsui Films about his progression through the art department, the unique opportunity to push the boundaries, and tells us all about his latest film, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS…
Junsui Films: What was it that attracted you to The Man With The Iron Fists?
Drew Boughton: The chance to do a highly stylised retro-kitch-neo-exploitation genre film was irresistible. And the people involved in the project also happened to be A-List talent I had enormous respect for.
JF: Having established yourself as one of the industry’s leading art director’s how did you find the transition into the role of production designer?
For me personally, it was both vital and essential to master all aspects of the art department before stepping into the role of production designer. Perhaps because as an art director, I had personally seen up close how badly things can go when a production designer is bumped up before they are ready. Or perhaps because I really believe that craft is King and the craft of production design is a lot more complex than meets the eye.
JF: The film is an intoxicating blur of genres, from grindhouse to martial arts to pure fantasy, how challenging was it fusing and balancing so many cinematic influences?
It was very challenging to express those ideas you just outlined through a translator into Chinese! It took a few months before the art department really understood the cultural irreverence that was needed to blur the genres. And blur good taste between East and West. I made lots of very specific drawings and sketches of what I thought we should do and for a while I think they thought I was nuts.
JF: Another highlight is Corey Yuen’s kinetic, [literally] eye-popping fight choreography, how crucial was it that such a hyper-stylized narrative be reflected through your design?
[Director] RZA wanted to really push it stylistically, and so did I. After Corey met with RZA and they discussed the movie, Corey took off like the genius he is and we supported that through strong colour choices and looks to define the various clans and environments. Then Corey would come in and add his enormous talent and experience to the stew. It really was an honour to watch him direct action sequences.
JF: Tell us about your collaborative process with first time director RZA, starting from your work in pre-production all the way through to your time on set.
It started when I interviewed with him at a recording studio in Hollywood. RZA is such an easy guy to relate to and we hit it off almost immediately. I had brought about twenty research boards and sketches of different things along with me, like the sketches of the fists, etcetera. He liked a lot of the same things I had put together and the sketches resonated for him as the look he was looking for. So that was really the beginning of a lot of visual trust between us.
Once officially hired I went off to China to scout locations and started sending back pictures from back-lots and rural locations we could use for the scenes. Then we sat down for about a week at a table to discuss every aspect of the film’s requirements, getting a sense from him stylistically what he liked in terms of stunts, costumes, weapons, of which all were created custom for the film. He’s an amazing talent and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Kung fu films. He would show clips from obscure Shaw Brothers films he had loved as a kid. This was really a cool insight into what he was after and just how edgy he was willing to go visually.
JF: How involved were [co-writer] Eli Roth and [producer] Quentin Tarantino during the design process and did they have any impact on the visual direction of the film?
It is important to say that Quentin Tarantino’s name on the project was so meaningful to me that it pre-designed in my mind a range of choices that would have been dangerous/suicidal to walk into any other job interview with. Because of the film’s association with him I brought some very risky things into the first meeting I had with RZA. Because I felt safe to push it. So his impact on the look of the film is huge.
Eli Roth’s contribution to the film is equally significant. He co-wrote the screenplay with RZA and was with the project from start to finish participating in every aspect in support of RZA. I have to say, I have rarely seen that kind of support in Hollywood.
JF: What was your experience working in China and how did it differ from shooting in the West?
I found it one of the most difficult and most rewarding things I have ever done. I was blessed with a top Chinese Art Department and surrounded by superb production support. So many things were so different that it would be impossible to list. What I want to say is that great things were made possible by the generosity, talent, and incredible hard work of the Chinese crew. I salute them all for an amazing job.
JF: And finally, what next for Drew Boughton?
I am currently working on a television show for Netflix called “Hemlock Grove”. The Pilot was Directed By Eli Roth and when this drops on Netflix in a few months I hope people dig it. I think its really cool!
The Man With The Iron Fists is out now.
©All images and illustrations copyright of Drew Boughton (& the respected production/distribution companies listed) and are displayed here with the Artist’s full permission.