The Taste Makers: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

1. Photograph: Classiq Journal | 2. Photograph: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

 

On Corso Umberto I, 159, tucked away on a quaint little alley in the heart of the city of Modica, Sicilia, is the place where you will find the best chocolate in the world. The oldest chocolate factory in Sicilia, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, has been producing archetypal chocolate for six generations and for more than 150 years. La Dolceria is still in the same place where its founder, Francesco Bonajuto, opened his small confectionary in 1880. Crafted through an old cold-processing method of cocoa used by the Aztecs in 16th-century Mexico (straight from cacao beans, with no cocoa butter or other additives you’ll typically find in chocolate), the Bonajuto chocolate is made exclusively from cocoa mass and sugar and sometimes a little spice or natural essence, each variety having no more than four ingredients in composition. It is the most singular chocolate taste (not too sweet, but extremely rich), with a unique grainy texture that derives from the fact that the added sugar doesn’t completely melt, because the cocoa is processed at a relatively low temperature. Simply put, this is how chocolate should taste like. And, from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that once you have tasted the Bonajuto chocolate, you can forget everything you thought you knew about chocolate.

Tradition is one of the core values of Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. And how could it not be? Its place of birth is Sicilia, a place where man’s main purpose in life is preserving the land, their traditions and values, and where many mainland Italians are turning to in search of that almost forgotten back-to-the-land ideal, a place that has all the history of Rome, but also where lots of Arabic and Greek influences remain, a place that brightens your eyes and enlivens your senses, your spirit and your tastes. And Modica, where Bonajuto was established, is one of the most atmospheric and most historically- and culturally-rich cities in Sicilia, a place La Dolceria is committed to giving back to, as one of its most valuable ambassadors around the world. Culture brings knowledge, which brings consciousness and a sense of responsibility.

But Bonajuto has always been defined by another quality: pushing boundaries and looking into the future. It is not important just to know where they come from, but to always have their own vision and evolve tradition. La Dolceria, under the supervision of the present owner, Pierpaolo Ruta, not only constantly innovates and creates new and unique products, but has committed to being a taste maker, not just a chocolate maker. Educating the public on its very distinctive, raw taste has not been the easy way to find the place it deserves among customers and connoisseurs from all over the world, but the fact that, through patience, perseverance and passion, they have succeeded makes their accomplishment all the more special.

To start off December, a month of storytelling, childlike joys, thoughtfulness and giving, I have invited Alessandra Scucces of Antica Dolceria Bonajuto to walk us through the inspiring journey of la più antica fabbrica di cioccolato di Sicilia.
 

The city of Modica, Sicilia | Photograph: Classiq Journal

 
What makes the Bonajuto chocolate exceptional?
It’s long history always focused on local tradition, vision of future goals and the highest quality possible for each product.

Where do you source the cacao beans and what is the secret to the best quality cacao for chocolate?
We source cocoa beans from Perù and Venezuela plantations, also we select cocoa mass coming from West Africa and single origin varieties such as Madagascar, Tanzania etc. We select cocoa that has several certifications not only about chemical properties, but also about workers conditions in cocoa plantations.

You are artisans, you create chocolate. With more than 159 years of activity, Dolceria Bonajuto is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily and one of the oldest in Italy. Tradition is clearly one of Bonajuto’s cornerstones, but innovation and research are also important. It’s like an evolution of tradition. Is it necessary to learn the rules before you can break them?
Cocoa is a very complex and delicate product with a centuries-old history; knowing its characteristics and fineness is unavoidable to create a good chocolate. Furthermore, our chocolate basically has two ingredients, so it’s even more important to respect raw material and having a deep knowledge about the whole production process.

In the 1990s, you launched a revolutionary process of cultural recovery of old Hyblean recipes, and of the cold-processed chocolate, a real gastronomic “fossil” that was doomed to disappear. Can you tell me a little more about it?
In 1992, Franco and Pierpaolo Ruta leaded a great change in the family’s company, as they decided to focus on chocolate and few others products. It really was a hazard and the beginnings were not so easy: people didn’t know anything about this product, nor was the common taste ready for this rough, simple bar. “Internet” and “food” blew up ten years later so it was a patience work of dedication and love for this chocolate, besides the family history, that allowed the Dolceria to create a new life and value for this ancient chocolate.
 

Fattojo, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto’s Bean to Bar laboratory, Modica | Photograph: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

 

1. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, Corso Umberto I, Modica | 2. Bonajuto single origins chocolate
Photographs: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

 
 
I think you describe so well the taste of the Bonajuto chocolate as rough and simple. And when I first tasted your chocolate, the first thing that came to my mind was: “This is what chocolate should taste like.” How have people learned to appreciate the singular taste of your chocolate?
Communication and storytelling have been key points to “prepare” people for this special taste. We know it’s very different from the commercial chocolate that almost everybody is used to, but our experience also proves that once you try this simple, rough bar, you’ll keep choosing it.

Sicily is well known for the way it values land and tradition. The traditional cold-processing method that has been managed to be preserved to this day in Modica is an example of that. But how challenging is it to resist technology?
Technology is an amazing ally, if used in a proper manner. For instance, the last laboratory we opened is the “Fattojo” where we are able to produce Bean to Bar chocolate: the technological and artisan sides surely go together.

Your chocolate sortiments have very few ingredients, but they are very varied. And I presume your process for selecting ingredients is one that is deeply personal and important. How do you find inspiration for the different flavours?
Sicily is of course a treasure trove of flavours, thanks to its rich gastronomic history and all the different people that have lived here through the centuries. Also, we love to experiment with tasting and spices from different countries and traditions.
 

”Our chocolate basically has two ingredients, so it’s even more important to respect raw material
and having a deep knowledge about the whole production process.” Alessandra Scucces
Photographs: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

 

Antica Dolceria Bonajuto: 159, Corso Umberto I, Modica, Sicilia
bonajuto.it

 

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Photography Is a Feeling: An Interview with Richard Gaston

The Highlands of Scotland | Photograph by Richard Gaston

 
There is a quiet beauty in Richard Gaston’s photographs. They are like a quiet place in themselves. Relieved of any unnecessary detail. What remains is the emotion of the adventure, of the moment, of the element. Isn’t this why we travel? Why we connect with nature? Why we set out in search of places and of the self? Even if I look at hundreds of photos, good or bad, each one of them more staged than the other, the minute I lay my eyes on one of Richard’s photographs, it has the ability to block all the noise of everything else I’ve seen before. Maybe it’s his subject matter of choice, landscape, that focuses your attention on the now and on reality flowing, or the majestic beauty of Scotland, where he often shoots, that commands you to stay still and just be, or his preference for the colder months which naturally invite to reflection, but there is also a man-made quality and the eye of an artist that truly makes them unique.

In the delicate times we are living, when our planet is fast approaching the place of no return in environmental equilibrium, photography plays a contrasting double role. On the one hand, it can contribute to conservation by shedding light on important topics with relevant images. But we don’t think very often at the other side of the medal, that travel photography can also and does lead to increased travel, therefore to an unsustainable impact on our world. Richard Gaston unselfishly acknowledges the photographer’s responsibility and makes it part of the conversation, not necessarily in words, although he does bring it into discussion in our interview, but, most importantly, on a much more subtle level. I sense that he is sparing, in the best possible way, with sharing his visual stories, like each and every one of them are to be part of an exhibition. It is not about the more, but about the better, about making the best of each experience, not checking as many as possible off your list, about how to best capture and transmit a feeling. Because every photograph is unrepeatable and endless.

It is a great pleasure to have Richard Gaston as my guest today, talking about photography and why passion and persistence go together, about appreciating the simpler things, about one of the special hidden places from the wonderlands of Scotland, and about his dream photograph.
 

Bergen | Photograph by Richard Gaston

 
Richard, what does it take to go there, to want to tell a story through your photographs?
Passion and persistence is the key. First of all, passion builds motivation and without passion there wouldn’t be persistence. It’s a long game, but those who power through will come out on top. For me, photography is a feeling. Learn the basics independently and go with what feels right (focus on the subject that one desires) and get out and take photos. You won’t take any good images sitting at home (in relation to landscape photography).

What led you to photography?
A passionate hobby, turned into a profession. A self taught, organic development really; years of fiddling with a camera and spending time in the outdoors achieved a large archive of images. The jobs trickled through and became more and more prominent as I became more experienced. I’ve undertaken internships abroad, assisted photographers and taught myself the skills that were required but, most importantly, focussed on personal projects.

Do you always carry a camera with you?
Not always a DSLR as my subject of choice is landscapes and I live in the city, but I guess nowadays you could say everyone carries a camera, the mobile cameras are so good and do a great job as a backup.
 

The Highlands of Scotland | Photographs by Richard Gaston

 
 


“Do I savour the moment or risk missing it and going below
to fetch my camera? My answer is to get my camera, always.”

 
 
Photography has become ubiquitous. Everyone seems to take and view insane amounts of images every single day. But that does not make everyone a photographer. Which is why I appreciate your photography even more. It is uniquely distinct, it stays with you, it invites to reflection, you sense that it connects the viewer with the world in a very tangible way. Do you see your photography as a much-needed response to social-media generated images?
That’s very kind of you, thank you. I think it’s important to appreciate beautiful places and capture them in a way which isn’t selfish; by that I mean not just a photo of oneself standing in-front of beauty just to show they were there, but instead compliment the landscape with a beautiful image. Personally, I like to focus on the micro, more abstract details of the land.

Are there moments when you simply witness a moment without shooting any picture? Is it true that even photographers keep some of the most special moments they experience to themselves?
I’m often asked a predicament, where I’m on a boat, my camera is below deck and a whale comes to the surface. Do I savour the moment or risk missing it and going below to fetch my camera? My answer is to get my camera, always. I know I would regret not capturing it for myself.

Your project Glas-allt-Shiel documents the landscape of the Balmoral Estate bothy in the Scottish Highlands over the four seasons. You returned to the same location once a season, choosing the same shooting spot. Is it take or make a photograph?
A bit of both really. The majority of my photos are spontaneous and not planned. Just simple moments I have witnessed on my travels. However, I do plan a small amount of my photos. Take “Glas-allt-Shiel”, I planned that series after I had taken the first images in autumn. I thought it would make an interesting project to see the changes in landscape at that one particular place. It was ideal as trees convey the seasonal changes so vividly.
 

Glas-allt-Shiel. Autumn. | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Glas-allt-Shiel. Winter. | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Glas-allt-Shiel. Spring | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Glas-allt-Shiel. Summer. | Photograph by Richard Gaston

 


“It is important to do this responsibly.”

 
 
Your photography often documents the magnificent Scottish landscape. It’s autumn. What is the most scenic road trip in Scotland?
In autumn, a trip to Glen Torridon is a must. The vast array of trees, stunning lochs backed by grand mountains and deep glens.

Your book, Wild Guide Scotland, is a compendium of hidden places, outdoor adventures, artisanal food and inspiring places from the wonderlands of Scotland. Would you be so kind to share one of those places with us?
Kearvaig bothy (a free and open refuge for anyone to use) is a special hidden gem. Located out in the northwesternmost point of mainland Scotland, in the middle of moorland and ocean front views.

In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?
Simpler things. Spending time in the outdoors and camping really emphasises the appreciation for the basics: comfort, safety and food. Instead, we get caught up on insignificant issues, for instance, what other people think of one another instead of focusing on their own instincts. However, it’s great to see the current generations awareness for the environment increasing.

In that regard, do you feel, as a photographer, that you have a responsibility not only to reveal, but also to respond to world events and issues?
I think everyone has their part to play in environmental awareness. In regards to photography, the ideal tools exist to document and to share the issues that we are currently facing so they can be used in beneficial ways. This is not necessarily true for every photographer due to their subject matters not being relevant, however I think the downside to travel photography is the encouragement that leads to others venturing out to the same locations which increases the carbon footprint of the world, so it is important to do this responsibly, limiting the use of flying and reducing the use of plastic.

What is your favourite moment of the day for shooting? Do you swear by the “golden hour”?
Sunrise for me is just that little bit more special; the start of something new and often there alone. However, I would suggest that the golden hour offers a greater window for photography due to the optimal light lasting longer and it’s easier logistically (not having to get up so early, etc.). Summer, for me, is usually a write off and I wait for the darker, colder months.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, preparing to shoot, where would you want to be?
Svalbard. To photograph a polar bear on an ice berg is my dream photograph.
 

The Highlands of Scotland | Photographs by Richard Gaston

 


richardgaston.com | Instagram: @richardgaston

 

Posted by classiq in Interviews, Photography | | Leave a comment

In Pieces: Life Lessons from Sally Field


 
Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone has the talent for it. Sally Field does. Not just that, but she peels off every layer of intimate feelings in doing so, and if with most autobiographies, regardless of how honest they are, you sense that some things remain hidden (and I completely agree with that), Sally Field seems to not hold anything back, and that’s one more reason to admire her and her book for. It’s a courageous act on her part, because she has not had a perfect life. I know, nobody does, but not everyone has the guts to lay it bare, from her lonely and challenging childhood and her on-going loneliness and struggles as a young actress and young mother (and being torn between the two), to the only thing and place that helped her finally find herself, the craft of acting, her lifeline.

I am a voracious reader of memoirs, exactly because, as I’ve said, there is something to learn from every single person. But Sally Field’s words (revelatory, haunting, candid) and life story truly make you dig deep into your own vulnerabilities, your own insecurities, your own mistakes, your own compromises, your own determination to finding your voice, and, most importantly, into your own fight to keep doing what you love and giving your all to do it well and be respected for it – because only that gives you the freedom to be yourself and the force to face your biggest fears and face everything life may throw your way.
 
 

“You can’t dance on the edge, whether emotionally or otherwise;
you had to drown in the character until it was without thought.
No longer acting. That to be excellent at anything,
it must cost you something.”

 
 
I have admired Sally’s acting for years, her naturalness, the way she fiercely yet effortlessly inhabits her roles, from Sybil, (1976), where Sally plays a woman with multiple personality disorder, to Norma Rae (1979) of which she confessed that it called on “skills I didn’t know I owned because I’d never had the opportunity to use them”, to the much-maligned, mentally challenged Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln (2012). And reading her book In Pieces made me aware that that does not come easy. I am not talking about talent, because every single person may have one talent or another but if you don’t work hard towards it, if you don’t foster it, all that talent is in vain. And there’s something else that another great actor I revere, Sissy Spacek, said in her own autobiography that fully applies to Sally as well – “To be an actor, you have to live a life. If you want your work to be real, you have to be a real person yourself.” One might have great achievements, but life comes in pieces, that’s what makes it real.
 
 

”There had been moments in my life when someone believed in me
enough to extend a hand: Madeline Sherwood, Lee Strasberg, and now
these three people. Joanne Woodward, Stewart Stern, and Jackie Babbin.”

 
 
Other stories from the world of film: Lubitsch Can’t Wait, so what are we waiting for? / For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond / Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words

Posted by classiq in Books | | Leave a comment

Film Noir Style: Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy

Film noir style Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy

Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy”, 1950 | United Artists

 

As the clocks turn back and the weather turns cold, I turn back to my favourite genre,
film noir, transforming “Noirvember” into one of my favourite months.

 

Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy came after two other noir couple-on-the-run films, Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937) and Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1949). Unlike the other two, that each presents its amour fou couple within a sentimental framework, Gun Crazy is much more ambiguous and anything but sentimental and rejects any romanticism and suggestion that its protagonists, Bart (John Dall) and Laurie (Peggy Cummins), have a constraining society hostile to the individual to blame for their crimes and destiny. In They Live By Night, Bowie (Farley Granger) and Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell) are an innocent couple in their early twenties. They are poor and they have few options for a better life, but they do hope to attain it in earnest only to find out that their young love is hopeless and that their attempt to escape from a cheap and insensitive reality is doomed. In You Only Live Once, Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) is an ex-con about to marry Joan Graham (Sylvia Sidney). They are a decent couple and Eddie is determined to have a better shot at life as an honest man, but is forced back into an illicit life after a frame-up.
 
 

“We go together, Annie. I don’t know why.
Maybe like guns and ammunition go together.”

Bart Tare

 
 
There is nothing forced-upon or innocent about the couple in Gun Crazy. And there is no obvious explanation for Bart and Laurie’s violent behaviour. They left behind any sentimental theme that somehow often managed to permeate even the bleakest of classic American film, film noir, and instead looked towards Arthur Penn’s lethal couple in the neo-noir Bonnie and Clyde, 1967, a movie that would be so much appreciated for its antiestablishment politics, brutal realism and mesmerizing beauty, all in one. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway may form a more scintillating couple, but Laurie and Bart are the most blatantly sexual couple (“I saw the two of you, the way you were looking at each other tonight, like a couple of wild animals. Almost scared me,” says one of the characters, Packett, to which Laurie replies “It should. He’s a MAN.”), pushing the Production Code as far as it would go, and it is Peggy Cummins’ Annie who is not only more aggressive and venomous than Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie, but she is also, decidedly, one of the deadliest femmes fatales. “You can see the quiver in Laurie’s lips; and you know what this demon is about to do. This kid hasn’t got a chance,” the director, Joseph H. Lewis, said about his female character and her influence on her male counterpart.
 
Film noir style Gun Crazy

Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy”, 1950 | United Artists

 

”I want some action.
I want to do a little living.”

Annie Laurie Starr

 
Annie Laurie Starr is a sharpshooter in a traveling carnival. Bart Tare has had a love-hate relationship with guns since childhood. “For Bart Tare, the gun’s appeal is metaphysical and beyond rational explanation,” writes Geoff Mayer in the book Film Noir: The Directors. “Holding it makes him feel good. For Annie Laurie Starr, its appeal is direct and literal. The gun offers excitement and power.” Annie seduces Dall to marry her and join her in a life of crime – that seams to be her only reason for living. Laurie is certainly the dominant one in the couple, both emotionally and psychologically, and director Joseph H. Lewis makes that clear in every possible shot. From the opening scene, where she is filmed from a low angle as if exerting an inescapable power of attraction over a Bart that is watching her transfixed as she swirls two firing pistols over her head, to the motel scene, where Laurie, dressed in a bathrobe, sits on the bed putting on her stockings while Bart cleans his gun, and he once again succumbs to her desires and commits to an outlaw life to please her, and even when he becomes morally conflicted, not sure of what is real anymore, and she pulls him right back in (“You’re the only thing that is, Laurie. The rest is a nightmare!”) – she is always in command.

What drives her? Newly married, Laurie and Bart soon run out of money and, bored by ordinary life, she wants “things”. The desire for “money and all the things it will buy” is what motivates her and her addiction to violence. Money drives her, but also the means to get it. She is attracted to the danger of getting it because that’s the only way to get it. And she wants to go side by side with Bart to get it. They choose to be criminals. But what first is purely physical attraction, surprisingly evolves into a more deeply emotional connection, leading to one of the most thrilling scenes in the film. After deciding they must part, they drive off in opposite directions. But after going a short distance, they both simultaneously stop, look back at each other, turn around and rejoin each other, a sign that they will remain together against society, against all odds, and then drive off in one car, Bart behind the wheel, with Laurie clinging to him. Her love for him had only seemed less obvious. This condemns them to an early end, but, once again, there was nothing sentimental about them, from the very beginning.
 

Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy”, 1950 | United Artists

 

”Why are you wearing slacks?”

 
Peggy Cummins’ Laurie may be one of the definitive femme fatale characters, but her wardrobe is anything but, a far cry from the look of the classic film noir character and looking into the future, once again to Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie.

Faye Dunaway made her character synonymous with the beret, it was what gave Bonnie identity, confidence and sex appeal. But Arthur Penn actually put her in a beret in an homage to Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy. There is no silky gown in Laurie’s wardrobe (costume design by Norma Koch), but her trench-style coat, wrapped around and tightly belted, is all she needs to indispensably place her in film noir. All her clothes, from her plain sweater (a signature item of the 1940s and 1950s) and her trousers (which leads to her being asked “Why are you wearing slacks?”) are more function than glamour, yet another element that enhances the liberation and unconventionality of the character and the realistic feel of the film, proving that Gun Crazy was ahead of its time.
 
Film noir style - Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy

Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy”, 1950 | United Artists

 
Related content: Film Noir Style: Ava Gardner in The Killers / Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia and Her Star Image Making / Film Noir Style: Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film | | Leave a comment

Interview with Film Graphic Designer Annie Atkins

© Annie Atkins

 
Films feed our imaginations. And it takes imagination, craftsmanship, precision, revision, and practical knowledge to create a detailed fictional world. Everything you see in a film, in a good film at least, is there for a reason. Those hundreds of names you see in the closing credits are there for a reason, and I always stay until the end credits have rolled. Because each of their contributions and talent are what have made the film.

Film graphic design requires intensive research, specialized hand-work and hard work, dedication, an obsessive flare for detail and enough grace to accept that you will most likely remain one of the unsung heroes in a film. There is a whole world dreamt up in a movie, and that world is made up of hundreds of objects in the background that are meant to quietly assist, not distract from the story being told, that add depth, authenticity and a lived-in quality to the environment on screen, especially for the actors who have to convincingly inhabit that world. Newspapers, magazines, books, posters, company logos, signs, postcards, maps, clothing labels, wallpapers, shop and street signage, merchandise packaging are all examples of objects the actors come in contact with or make up their world and which are the responsibility of the graphic designer. And although much of a graphic designer’s work must blend into the setting, there are also moments when the design needs to be the center of attention. And a talented graphic designer knows the importance of those moments.

In few films is that aspect more relevant than in Wes Anderson’s films, and The Grand Budapest Hotel may very well be the Wes Anderson film that takes the cake in that department. The graphic artist behind it is Annie Atkins, one of Wes Anderson’s amazing team of hand-picked production designers who have brought their contribution to the unique visual universe of the filmmaker and whose influence runs so deep with film lovers and artists alike. Annie started her film design with the tv series The Tudors, has worked on Penny Dreadful, The Boxtrolls, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, continued to collaborate with Wes Anderson on Isle of Dogs, and most recently on Joker. In our interview, Annie talks about her creative process, about what it is like to work with Wes and about the biggest misconception on Hollywood.
 

© Annie Atkins

 
 
Annie, you’ve recently designed graphics for Joker. Is it a bad thing I didn’t notice them in the film?
These things are really meant to be invisible… we don’t want to make anything that distracts from the storyline, so, no, it’s not a bad thing! I really only played a very small part in this movie, I dressed two sets with graphics, the social worker’s office and the signage for a Papaya King on a street scene. The social workers office was absolutely full of paperwork: medical records, noticeboards, box files, and it all had to be dressed with completely legible and relevant material. Sometimes these things aren’t made directly for the cinema audience: sometimes they’re really for the cast.

What was the biggest challenge in working on a film whose main character’s story has already been told in different ways?
I don’t really think about other iterations of stories when I’m designing props. I only think about the story at hand. The filmmakers stipulated that this shouldn’t be seen as a Gotham City that we might be familiar with from other DC movies, they really wanted it to be New York in 1981, so I took my reference from real paperwork from that period. I always start each job with real research material, even if it’s for fictitious lands.

Hardly any of your work is visible on screen in a very obvious way, or at least that’s how it is meant to be, but it plays a huge role in helping the actors get into a time and place, into a certain world and atmosphere. Yet, Wes Anderson has created such a unique universe in his movies and he is well known for his painstaking attention to details, therefore every little thing and letter in his movies are an integral part of the storytelling, the props are often filmed in close-up, are meant to be noticed (or at least his influence runs so deep that the viewers have started to look for them more avidly than in any other films), are having their own screen time, are characters in their own right. As was the case with the pink Mendl’s box for The Grand Budapest Hotel. How would you describe your experience working with Wes?
Wes Anderson is an auteur director with his own very distinctive visual style, so working for him is a little different to working on, say, a historical costume drama. But we still start every piece with a real reference from history. It’s just that we then develop that piece to fit into the world that Wes is creating. One of the great joys in working for him is that these things often get a close-up, and they’re often fun, distinctive pieces. I feel like most of the work I create belongs in the blurry background, but with Wes you know at least a handful of the props you make for him will get some screen-time.

From designing and lettering packaging and newspapers (because Wes Anderson writes every story that appears in every single newspaper in his films), to hand-drawing maps and hand-lettered signage, these are all part of your film work. What less obvious props does film graphic design involve? And what is your creative process like, where do you start your research, do you have any unexpected sources of inspiration, how do you attain the authenticity so important in a Wes Anderson production?
The graphic design team basically makes anything with lettering on it, anything with pattern on it, anything with a picture on it, and anything that’s made out of paper. It could be piles of paperwork on someone’s desk or a prison escape map, or a tiny handwritten note. The first step in my research process is usually the internet, but we also go to museums, libraries, flea markets… raiding your grandmother’s attic usually turns up some good finds. The pieces of research material I need aren’t generally particularly beautiful pieces, it might just be an old menu from 1960 or a bus ticket. We then study those pieces to try to really imitate the printing and type setting styles of the time.

I have to bring up your poster for the film as well. Pure graphic beauty, no people in it. Five years have past since the film’s release and I still love it, want to frame it and put it on my wall. And that’s what I believe a good poster does, that it will have a life past the release date, and will always linger as a reminder of the film it represents. What makes a good movie poster in your opinion?
That poster was all Wes, I was purely a technician there! I don’t think I would have thought to make a poster for a film like that without people in it, but it worked beautifully. I’m very proud to have been able to help him execute his ideas on that one.
 

© Annie Atkins

 

You have also worked on Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies. What do you prefer, period or contemporary movies, and why?
I love period movies. I love designing for the mid-century. It’s so fascinating to design for a time before computers. I haven’t really done much contemporary work at all.

How much handicraft and how much digital work does your job involve?
Half and half I think, I’m constantly switching back and forth between my computer and my drawing desk.

You are a maker, your work is about craftsmanship, it’s niche handiwork and you said it is fascinating to design for period films, a time before computers. Has your work become even more challenging with the rise of CGI?
I often create pieces for the VFX team to drop in to scenes. Say, for example, a city street scene shot from a crane or a drone, we might make billboard posters for signs high up above the rooftops. My working process is the same, it’s just that I get to deliver a digital file rather than have to employ a printer for these things.

What led you to film graphic design and what sparked your passion for cinema in the first place?
I loved Spielberg movies when I was a kid, Jaws, ET, Indiana Jones, all those family adventure films. It’s a real treat getting to work on pieces for him now. I studied a masters in film production, but I’d already been a graphic designer for several years, so it was a natural progression for me.

If you could choose one classic or contemporary film to design the graphic props for, which one would it be?
I saw the Melissa McCarthy film Can You Ever Forgive Me and thought that looked like a fun one to design for – it’s all about a woman forging letters from famous authors and selling them to dealers. She has all kinds of different typewriters, she bakes paper in the oven to age it: it’s basically a masterclass in our craft! Much respect to the graphic designer on that film, it looks fantastic.

I know your entire body of work for a film plays a subtle but crucial part in setting the scene and atmosphere for the story, but can you think of a specific moment in your film career when your props helped an actor get into character?
We actually very rarely hear back from the actors! I once heard from Timothy Dalton that he liked a notebook I’d made for him. Did it help his performance? I don’t know, I’d be immodest to say yes!

What is one misconception people have about Hollywood?
That all films are made there. I’ve never set foot in Hollywood!
 

© Annie Atkins

 
 

Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps: Designing Graphic Props for Filmmaking,
by Annie Atkins, is available for pre-order and will be out in February 2020.
Website: annieatkins.com | Instagram: @annieatkins

 

Posted by classiq in Film, Interviews | | 1 Comment