Charles Garrad is a person who thinks about and understands the world through images, colours, shapes and sensations. He observes and analyses reality in a unique way, seeking out a different meaning and creating a parallel dimension of unconventional beauty. He creates the visual design of the world of the film. This world helps to tell the story in the same way that dialogue, casting, and lighting do. He always manages to see things from the least expected perspective and he is open to new challenges and adventures. Charles studied Fine Art at Cardiff and Chelsea. He spent the early part of his career making and exhibiting his own work and teaching in many art schools. In the 1980’s he cut his teeth as a designer in the world of commercials and pop promos then moved on to TV drama and feature ﬁlms. His works include “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain” (1995), “The Serpent’s Kiss” (1997) and “Second Sight” (1999) and he’s about to make his directorial début with the film “Waiting for You” a British mystery drama film about a young man who goes to France to look for something valuable he thinks is owed to his dead father. Charles Garrad is an artist who knows how to captivate every single observer of his work, a creator with a magnetic authenticity.
Are you in constant contact with the director and the cinematographer when designing the sets?
This depends on the project. Usually I am in close contact with the director to begin with . In my experience the DOP usually comes on much later. I like to work out an approach on my own or in collaboration with the director then I go off and come up with ideas for sets or possible locations which I show the director. Later the DOP will get involved as we work out ways of shooting the film. It is always a collaborative process.
“I follow everyday life and always try to look for something authentic
whatever I am doing.”
What are the most important aspects of the production design and art style that you try to keep in mind as you work with different artists?
My artwork in the past has been concerned with time, memory, the atmospheric quality of places and the significance of objects. I follow everyday life and always try to look for something authentic whatever I am doing. When I am working as a production designer each project has a different character and I look for something that suits that character. I am guided by my sense of place. Invariably I look for one thing and end up finding something different but better than what I had imagined.
If it is a period film and I am looking at a house that might become a location I might scrape off a few layers of paint in an out of the way place to see what the paint colour was at an earlier time and use that as a starting point.
How often are you working on a production during the year on average?
I work very intermittently as a production designer as I am also a director and work as an artist as well.
What are your thoughts on digital tools that allow you to extend or augment your external sets in post-production? Is digital the way of the future?
Digital may be a way of the future but it is not mine. I am steeped in reality. I like to observe and develop from real places and situations. Digital tools are amazing for enhancing reality in the most subtle ways but when the page is blank real life is the place to start.
“Digital tools are amazing for enhancing reality in the most subtle ways
but when the page is blank real life is the place to start.”
Is it easy for you to view work of your peers, to see a movie that you haven’t worked on? Do you immerse yourself in the story, or do you look at the particular aspects of the production design?
I often start by observing and analysing the work but then if a film absorbs me I am lost and cease to think about how it is made.
“Every job is different and there is always creative freedom.”
As a production designer, which job or project has given you the most creative freedom?
Every job is different and there is always creative freedom. It is the variety of subject matter that I enjoy and also the huge range of different challenges. I love the set I built for Waiting For Godot. It was a completely theatrical set built in a studio entirely out of real materials : rock , earth ,grass and water against a painted sky with one carefully placed tree and mountains in the background cut from plywood with road scrapings piled in front of them. At one time totally real and completely false. A landscape for Beckett. I also love the pub set I built for The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. The front exterior is in a village in Wales. I built the interiors at Pinewood the rear garden in a Welsh farmyard selected its view of the hill and the hilltop in two other locations and in the film it all becomes one imaginary but totally real place.
You once said that “Waiting for You”, the first film you’ve directed and which is now in the post-production stage, is a “lyrical mystery”. What do you think will surprise the audience the most?
I think the film has a strong sense of place. I visited more that 40 crumbling houses in the South of France before preproduction started before choosing the right place to set the film. The house is ghostly and magical and is a key character in the film. I hope the audience will be immersed with the feel of the place and the way it contributes to the story as well as with the characters who are within it. Faces and places.
“I hope the audience will be immersed with the feel of the place and the way it contributes to the story as well as with the characters who are within it."
And as a director, what was your relationship like with the cast and crew?
I very much enjoyed directing my first feature film. I had a remarkable cast and crew all of whom were very committed to the project. I used the same method with the casting as I have done with choosing locations in the past. I saw the characters I wanted in the individuals I cast and they inhabited them. All I had to do was watch and nudge as they did remarkable work. Sometimes I became so engrossed in what they were doing that I forgot to say cut !
“I very much enjoyed directing my first feature film. I had a remarkable cast and crew all of whom were very committed to the project.”
Images courtesy of Charles Garrad
2007 – I Really Hate My Job
2005 – Whiskey Echo
2003 – The Private Life of Samuel Pepys
2001 – Chica de Río
2001 – Waiting for Godot
2000 – Act Without Words I
2000/1 – Paranoid
1999 – Second Sight
1998 – Amongst Women (4 episodes)
1997 The Serpent’s Kiss
1995 – The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain
1989/1991 – 4 Play (2 episodes)
1986 – Mae’n Talu Withe
2016 – Waiting for You (post-production)
2000 – That Time
1992 – One Year
1992 – Wedding Day
1992 – Nine O’Clock
1992 – Eight Minutes
1992 – The Tide
1992 – The Past
2016 – Waiting for You (post-production)