EXCLUSIVE: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ production designer – Ra Vincent – In Conversation

Hello Film Doctor friends.

The 92nd Academy Awards is just a few hours away and we welcome it by sharing our chat with Oscar nominee Ra Vincent, the brilliant mind behind the production design of world war two comedy drama Jojo Rabbit.

Written and directed by multi-hyphenate New Zealander Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit, is an intelligent and sensitively-told satire in contention for five other Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Editing (read our interview with Tom Eagles here) and Best Supporting Actress (for Scarlett Johansson’s turn as Rosie).

Here Ra shares his process, timeframes and challenges on Jojo Rabbit in another Film Doctor In Conversation.  

Imaginary Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) and Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) in the woods
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight
« 1 of 3 »


Tell us a little bit about your work relationship with Taika. 
I have done a few jobs with Taika now. We started our collaborative process back in 2012 with What We Do in the Shadows. A fun little foray into filmmaking for the both of us.
We’d both been making movies beforehand but that one was pretty neat because it allowed me a lot of creative license with the storytelling process.

We worked together on Thor: Ragnarok which was amazing for all the other reasons; like seemingly unlimited budgets and time frames. We could throw our crazy ideas out there and have some of them stick.

Jojo Rabbit is an exceptional collaboration because we had experienced both low and big budget moviemaking. This was a smaller studio job and we could be a little bit more pragmatic about our approach and make sure that we come in on budget but make a great looking product at the same time. 

You shot in Prague. Tell us about the prep work you did.
I had read the script back in 2010, so I already had a bit of a heads up. I knew what kind of film Taika wanted to make and we’d discussed making it in New Zealand on a completely different scale without studio support. Fortunately, it was shelved for a little while because the support wasn’t quite there and then Searchlight came in at just the right time with some financial support and allowing us to do what we wanted. That was perfect timing.

I already had a concept of where I wanted to take it but it wasn’t until we landed in the Czech Republic and looked around at all the locations that used to be on the German side of the border that I realised the true potential for massive scope in this little film that we had. We had abundant location options and also a really talented Czech crew who could help us with set building and stage design.

They’ve got a rich history of filmmaking in the Czech Republic and I think often that goes unnoticed. Because it’s a foreign language place to make movies, it’s overlooked. I think Prague in particular is becoming known for its contribution for making big budget films.

The key to Jojo Rabbit was to use the technicians for what they’re good at and not try to bring in….I never brought in an Art Director or Scenic Artist or a Propmaster with me. I went out there and crewed locally. I think that helped about 1000%. They really became invested in the film.

 

So from landing to shooting, how long did you have?
We had an eight week prep for an eight week shoot. During the prep, I got off the aeroplane, got in a van and circumnavigated the Czech Republic. I was quite jet-lagged as I’d just done a 72-hour world-crossing but I was seeing the most amazing locations and unbeknownst to me I was choosing ones with the most distance from each other. It wasn’t until we were sitting down looking at the logistics that we realised we’d be jumping from one side of the country to the other.

 

Is that what you ended up doing?
Pretty much. All the ones that we chose while I was jet-lagged we used [laughs]. We had quite an elaborate movement order for the crew all the time.

I think us having a little language barrier in the Czech Republic was great because we only had to say things one time. People really pay attention. That doesn’t happen in New Zealand or Australia or America. We take listening for granted a lot of the time. But with English as your second language you’re actually paying so much attention, you don’t let anything go. It was a rewarding part of shooting in that country.

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), "Hitler" (Taika Waititi) and Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) have a meal in Jojo Rabbit
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight
« 4 of 4 »

What were the most challenging sequences to do?
Explosions and battlefields are always logistical and tricky things to perform but the biggest challenge on Jojo Rabbit was designing a house that would function well for two thirds of the script.

We spent a lot of time inside Johannes’s house and wanted to create an environment that didn’t feel claustrophobic, so the design of the house needed a slightly open plan layout and one with viewing portals through to other spaces so that you never felt like you were going to individual little sets. We wanted you to feel you were journeying through a proper house.

We built the upper floor and the downstairs floor on a stage at Barrandov Studios and they served to be a big enough playground for all of those scenes that Taika wanted to do without it feeling too massive, of course. It’s an Art Deco style Baroque cottage.

 

Was it single cam?
There were usually two cameras so we could simultaneously get wides and close ups. That was a really good way of speeding up production but it also meant that a lot of room was required so the obvious choice was to build the house on a stage so we could wire walls and ceilings and give it that shoot-ability.

Then, of course, we went out on location and had all the room in the world. The only consideration there was that the village and street scenes had to be 360 degree environments. That was a bit of a challenge but only because we had a finite number of funds in which to do that.

We had a great team and employed a few tricks, like close to camera set dressing to block lighting in the background and things like that. We were lucky enough to discover two little towns – one called Zatec and the other called Ustek – which were pretty picture perfect when we rolled up and all we did was added a few bits of set dressing and vehicles and we were transported back to the 1940s.

 

What was the design challenge in doing a wartime comedy? 
It was important to get our facts right because it’s a period film and we didn’t want to lose our audience but we also realised that it’s the experience of that child and that automatically gives you permission to paint that world in the way that you want. So we employed a few fantastical palettes.

We had military advisors and specialists giving us insight into how life was but also the story is told from the point of view of a 10-year-old kid who has an optimistic stylised vision of the world anyway. As far as we were concerned we could break the rules a bit.

Adolf Hitler was never really a serious consideration, he was always going to be a fictitious version of a character that a child had heard stories about but never really encountered. So any historical inaccuracies around that were intentional to give it a naivety.

I don’t think the hardcore history buffs will challenge us on this film.

 

Thank you, Ra, and good luck!

 

Check out our other interviews with production designers and our services to take your project to the next level!

Join us on FACEBOOK or TWITTER and sign up to our emails on the right hand side for articles straight to your inbox.

Hello Film Doctor friends.

The 92nd Academy Awards is just a few hours away and we welcome it by sharing our chat with Oscar nominee Ra Vincent, the brilliant mind behind the production design of world war two comedy drama Jojo Rabbit.

Written and directed by multi-hyphenate New Zealander Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit, is an intelligent and sensitively-told satire in contention for five other Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Editing (read our interview with Tom Eagles here) and Best Supporting Actress (for Scarlett Johansson’s turn as Rosie).

Here Ra shares his process, timeframes and challenges on Jojo Rabbit in another Film Doctor In Conversation.  

Imaginary Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) and Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) in the woods
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight
« 1 of 3 »


Tell us a little bit about your work relationship with Taika. 
I have done a few jobs with Taika now. We started our collaborative process back in 2012 with What We Do in the Shadows. A fun little foray into filmmaking for the both of us.
We’d both been making movies beforehand but that one was pretty neat because it allowed me a lot of creative license with the storytelling process.

We worked together on Thor: Ragnarok which was amazing for all the other reasons; like seemingly unlimited budgets and time frames. We could throw our crazy ideas out there and have some of them stick.

Jojo Rabbit is an exceptional collaboration because we had experienced both low and big budget moviemaking. This was a smaller studio job and we could be a little bit more pragmatic about our approach and make sure that we come in on budget but make a great looking product at the same time. 

You shot in Prague. Tell us about the prep work you did.
I had read the script back in 2010, so I already had a bit of a heads up. I knew what kind of film Taika wanted to make and we’d discussed making it in New Zealand on a completely different scale without studio support. Fortunately, it was shelved for a little while because the support wasn’t quite there and then Searchlight came in at just the right time with some financial support and allowing us to do what we wanted. That was perfect timing.

I already had a concept of where I wanted to take it but it wasn’t until we landed in the Czech Republic and looked around at all the locations that used to be on the German side of the border that I realised the true potential for massive scope in this little film that we had. We had abundant location options and also a really talented Czech crew who could help us with set building and stage design.

They’ve got a rich history of filmmaking in the Czech Republic and I think often that goes unnoticed. Because it’s a foreign language place to make movies, it’s overlooked. I think Prague in particular is becoming known for its contribution for making big budget films.

The key to Jojo Rabbit was to use the technicians for what they’re good at and not try to bring in….I never brought in an Art Director or Scenic Artist or a Propmaster with me. I went out there and crewed locally. I think that helped about 1000%. They really became invested in the film.

 

So from landing to shooting, how long did you have?
We had an eight week prep for an eight week shoot. During the prep, I got off the aeroplane, got in a van and circumnavigated the Czech Republic. I was quite jet-lagged as I’d just done a 72-hour world-crossing but I was seeing the most amazing locations and unbeknownst to me I was choosing ones with the most distance from each other. It wasn’t until we were sitting down looking at the logistics that we realised we’d be jumping from one side of the country to the other.

 

Is that what you ended up doing?
Pretty much. All the ones that we chose while I was jet-lagged we used [laughs]. We had quite an elaborate movement order for the crew all the time.

I think us having a little language barrier in the Czech Republic was great because we only had to say things one time. People really pay attention. That doesn’t happen in New Zealand or Australia or America. We take listening for granted a lot of the time. But with English as your second language you’re actually paying so much attention, you don’t let anything go. It was a rewarding part of shooting in that country.

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), "Hitler" (Taika Waititi) and Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) have a meal in Jojo Rabbit
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight
« 4 of 4 »

What were the most challenging sequences to do?
Explosions and battlefields are always logistical and tricky things to perform but the biggest challenge on Jojo Rabbit was designing a house that would function well for two thirds of the script.

We spent a lot of time inside Johannes’s house and wanted to create an environment that didn’t feel claustrophobic, so the design of the house needed a slightly open plan layout and one with viewing portals through to other spaces so that you never felt like you were going to individual little sets. We wanted you to feel you were journeying through a proper house.

We built the upper floor and the downstairs floor on a stage at Barrandov Studios and they served to be a big enough playground for all of those scenes that Taika wanted to do without it feeling too massive, of course. It’s an Art Deco style Baroque cottage.

 

Was it single cam?
There were usually two cameras so we could simultaneously get wides and close ups. That was a really good way of speeding up production but it also meant that a lot of room was required so the obvious choice was to build the house on a stage so we could wire walls and ceilings and give it that shoot-ability.

Then, of course, we went out on location and had all the room in the world. The only consideration there was that the village and street scenes had to be 360 degree environments. That was a bit of a challenge but only because we had a finite number of funds in which to do that.

We had a great team and employed a few tricks, like close to camera set dressing to block lighting in the background and things like that. We were lucky enough to discover two little towns – one called Zatec and the other called Ustek – which were pretty picture perfect when we rolled up and all we did was added a few bits of set dressing and vehicles and we were transported back to the 1940s.

 

What was the design challenge in doing a wartime comedy? 
It was important to get our facts right because it’s a period film and we didn’t want to lose our audience but we also realised that it’s the experience of that child and that automatically gives you permission to paint that world in the way that you want. So we employed a few fantastical palettes.

We had military advisors and specialists giving us insight into how life was but also the story is told from the point of view of a 10-year-old kid who has an optimistic stylised vision of the world anyway. As far as we were concerned we could break the rules a bit.

Adolf Hitler was never really a serious consideration, he was always going to be a fictitious version of a character that a child had heard stories about but never really encountered. So any historical inaccuracies around that were intentional to give it a naivety.

I don’t think the hardcore history buffs will challenge us on this film.

 

Thank you, Ra, and good luck!

 

Check out our other interviews with production designers and our services to take your project to the next level!

Join us on FACEBOOK or TWITTER and sign up to our emails on the right hand side for articles straight to your inbox.

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