As production designer for dozens of projects representing a wide range of genres, Beth Mickle is no stranger to adapting her vision on the fly. Whether it’s joining an indie film with very little prep time and starting racing, or tackling the complex nuances of managing multiple assets in DC and Marvel movies, Mickle has quickly climbed the ranks of a department that, including the others, is historically known for its lack of female-made garments – but according to Mickle, things are changing.
“It’s starting to change a bit,” Mickle said AwardsDaily’s Jazz Tangcay in 2019. “In the indie world where movie budgets are $ 5,000,000 or less. It starts to be around 50/50. In the higher budget world, I can’t tell you how many people come to me and say, “I’ve never been on set with a female production designer.” He’s crazy. Of the top 20 names of set designers that everyone knows, only three or four are women “.
At the time of the AwardsDaily interview, Mickle was doing printing for Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” for which he had won a Satellite Award for Best Art and Production Design. She had already made a name for herself in the world of set design several years earlier, thanks to collaborations with directors such as Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”), Stuart Blumberg (“Thanks for sharing”) and Tanya Hamilton (“Night Catches Noi”). .
Mickle has worked on everything from indie “The Family Fang”, with Jason Batemen directing and opposite Nicole Kidman and Kathryn Hahn, to action films like “2 Guns,” with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, and ” Whiskey Tango Foxtrot “, with Tina Fey. The HBO drama “The Deuce” and the film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” are among his most recent credits.
inside interview with Pushing Pixels in 2012Mickle credits Refn with giving her an “incredibly lucky” career opportunity with what would become a classic on “Drive,” though she identified a much earlier Ryan Gosling film as the one that kicked off the his career.
Having collaborated with her brother Jim Mickle on short projects while at NYU in the late 1990s, her network expanded when two other NYU graduates, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, invited her to join their 2006 low budget indie “Half Nelson.” The drama about a well-meaning high school teacher struggling with drug use would continue to receive critical acclaim, earning Gosling and his young co-star Shareeka Epps a string of award nominations, including one nomination. Oscar for Gosling.
Of course, Hollywood is an industry that depends on strong working relationships with various creators. Mickle would go on to collaborate with Boden and Fleck on a few other independent films in the following years, while also staying in touch with Gosling. When Refn needed a production designer for 2012’s “Drive,” Gosling recommended Mickle for the concert.
“One of the reasons I love working with Nicolas is that he agrees with the idea of going further visually,” he told Pushing Pixels. “He agrees with the idea of going in a more visually intense direction, taking some risks to play a little more with the graphics.”
The fact that Mickle was able to truly honor her art in the low- and low-budget indie space doesn’t seem to be lost on her, even as her projects have grown more prominent over time. You have devised an artistic method that you apply to projects of all types of budgets. As you said Matteo Toffolo in 2016, “The low-budget world is where you learn to be resourceful, where you can somehow make safe mistakes that can be made up for, where you learn the complete fundamentals of how a movie is made. I try to approach every production, big or small, with a calm character, and I think it comes from being in the trenches for so many years and learning to adapt. “
He also discussed with Toffolo how those indie roots sometimes clashed with Hollywood sets and rigid union rules. “In an independent film, everyone moves, touches and paints everything … In a union film, none of it flies,” she stressed. “At first I resisted union delineations, preferring the all-out team approach, but after shooting over 20 union films and seeing crews are treated so fairly and safety is so strong, I see the benefits. to have a regulated system “.
It’s a common change that many indie creators have to make once they’re given the opportunity to work with larger budgets, as well as more experienced resources and crews than they had on previous projects. The very gritty and unassuming nature that allows smaller films to thrive under the care of humble artists must therefore be fused with the hierarchical and methodical practices followed on the larger sets, practices that not only help keep the film on time and in the budget, but also promote the safety of the set.
In recent years, Mickle has been firmly rooted in world-building for two offbeat superhero franchises, DC’s “The Suicide Squad” and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” both directed by director James Gunn.
“With a firmly rooted background in modest budget independent films, I was incredibly surprised when director James Gunn hired me to design ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 3,'” said Mickle. Collective of set designers in 2020. “The good advice I got was to try to design in a way that would guarantee the physical construction of at least part of the set. Over and over again we feel how disorienting it is for the actors and crew to work in an entirely green or blue screen environment, and I sincerely believe that the disorientation manifests itself in the film. “
When it comes to preparing for a meeting with a director, Mickle has broken down his presentation with pushing pixels, explaining that he has two main elements that he leads to every interview. “The first is my portfolio which contains paper photos of all the main sets I’ve made and I always include ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos,” she said. “They show the places before we started working on them, completely empty stages or sets in a warehouse, and then after we did our work to rebuild or decorate from scratch. This shows the transformations and the possibilities “. Mickle continued: “The other thing I bring to the interview is an inspirational photo book that I put together after reading the script and envisioning my vision for it.” He explained: “I take hundreds of reference photos for the overall tone and color, then extract the first five or six sets from the script and show the reference images for each so that the director can see the direction I am envisioning for the set”.
Mickle hasn’t shy away from offering advice and insights into his creative process over the years, helping to clarify directors’ needs and best practices for successful production designers. “A director is looking for a creative collaborator in a production designer,” he told Toffolo. “The best production designers are the ones who go way beyond what’s on the script page and really try to create a complete world for the film.” He urged production designers to “shape the overall tone” and to “create authentic and rich spaces for the characters, consider locations / sets that aren’t scripted but could help make the film.[the] the best it can be. “
Mickle’s latest two projects, “Dear Evan Hansen” and “The Suicide Squad”, are both available on HBO and HBO Max. Learn more about Beth Mickle’s work at bethmickle.com.