I’ve had the privilege of working with Adrian Smith on two feature films. Adrian is an extraordinary and talented production designer who awes everyone with his understated ability to breathe life, colour and energy into the projects he works on. His attention to detail and his artistic vision are universally respected. His credits have included ‘The Warrior’, ‘Bronson’ and ‘The History of Mr Polly’ which he won a BAFTA for. Once filming on his latest feature ‘Jadoo’ had wrapped, I sat down with Adrian to chat about filmmaking and the experience of working on Jadoo.
What does it take to be a good production designer?
It very much depends on the film itself. But generally I feel the production designer is responsible for filling in the backstory around the film itself…. that you’re creating the world that the actors and the script itself inhabits. So that you’re really filling in the blank spaces and joining the dots for the whole narrative structure of the film.
What was it about the script Jadoo that made you want to be a part of it?
It was a comedy and the last comedy piece that I designed was Shameless and I always really enjoy working on comedies. They allow you to exercise a bit of wit in the look, style and feel of the film. The script was lovely, very funny, warm and interesting. It was also set in Leicester which is one of those places that everybody goes through and never stops and looks at. It was just interesting seeing it because in a lot of ways it told a story of recent contemporary British social history. It was an interesting place in a very surprising way.
What was the atmosphere in Leicester like?
I designed two films in India and spent a fair bit of time painting there. I’ve watched it over the last five or ten years and it’s changed a lot. The strange thing about Leicester is that it’s almost a vision of India that has largely disappeared. It’s almost like a retro version of Mumbai or Deli.
How has the local community got involved with the making of this film?
They’ve been really fantastic! Everybody really went out of their way to help us. A lot of people were extremely generous with a lot of the locations and I found the people in Leicester very lovely, warm and generous.
What look have you gone for in Jadoo?
What we’ve tried to do is avoid any cliches for the whole look and feel of British Asian life. It meant we had to be ruthlessly honest of what we found and what we saw. The reality of what we saw was very unexpected. A lot more minimal and paired down. The overall palette that we tried to do was not going completely overboard but to build it to a climax in the Kings of Curry competition. So up to that point, with a few exceptions everything was very muted and not completely over the top.
Why did you and Amit decide to show similarities between the two feuding brothers?
The idea that Amit wanted was that two brothers had almost copied each other. That there’s a similarity all the way through. Right the way down to the ripped up recipe book. This was to show that really these two brothers in reality were very close and shared a lot of common taste.
What is it like working with director Amit Gupta?
Amit is a really interesting director and I really enjoy working with him. This is the second film I’ve done with him now and it’s always very good working on a second, third or fourth film with a director as you start to develop a shorthand. You also start to build up a degree of trust in each other in terms of the aesthetic, you bring to the look of the film. Amit has got a wonderfully visual imagination. Some directors find it very difficult to visualize anything but I’ve found with Amit you can talk through ideas and then can do sketches or models. You then develop the ideas and take them on. It was very good working on this with him as he was very clear about exactly what we wants and doesn’t want. While at the same time allowing for a lot of creative freedom.
What was it like re-creating the Holi Festival of Colour?
It was an interesting challenge because we had to create the idea that there was an absolute mass of people and that the whole anarchic quality of Holi. We had to basically re-create that with a very limited number of extras so we found a location which in fact where the real Holi festival takes place in Leicester. We then set about to create a very skeletal sense of colour by using a small marquee and put lots of coloured banners all round and just fenced off an area so that it feels like an area of the park that is given over to the Holi Festival. It all worked out fine and went really well.
Why is food such an important part of Jadoo?
I think it’s a crucial part of the film because it’s around food that the story hangs. At the very heart of the story is the cookery book that is divided by the two brothers. It was quite important in the film that the food actually stands out and is only ever swamped, colour wise, in the cooking competition at the end of the film.
How did you and your team make the recipe book look and feel so authentic?
What we wanted in a sense is that this had been a notebook or a file in India 40 or 50 years ago. So we had this progression from Hindi in India and then slowly, as time progresses, the recipes turn into English- and then from being handwritten to an early type writer. It was a fantastic, a really considered piece of work.
What is the most rewarding part of being a production designer?
I think one of the most rewarding things about being a production designer is that you actually get to see into worlds that normally you’d never get to see and also have the ability to re-create them. I’m always surprised on every film that I work on. It’s like coming to a sealed room and opening the door and going into another complete world you’d never imagine.