Academy Award–winning production designer Brigitte Broch talked to Emerson students this week about what goes into production design and her experience with big-name directors. Broch has worked on many renowned films including Moulin Rouge, Vantage Point, Babel, and The Reader. Her most recent production design credit is on the upcoming film Safe House, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds.
Broch told a packed Bright Family Screening Room that production design is challenging at times, but worth the hard work. Her presentation was interspersed with movie clips from her filmography.
One clip she showed was from The Reader, a story that takes place in post–World War II Germany. Broch is originally from Germany, but explained that she moved to Mexico because she wanted to separate herself from German culture and the shame she felt about her country’s role in the Holocaust. Good production designers have to do a lot of grueling research, Broch said, in order to build a set accurate to the movie’s time period and setting. The Reader’s set involved a concentration camp so Broch had to confront the tragedy she had tried to get away from earlier in her life when working on the film.
“I had to do a lot of Holocaust research, which was emotionally so hard. But afterwards, I felt like a phoenix reborn, finally facing myself with these facts that I knew but I didn’t want to confront,” Broch said.
Struggling with her own identity isn’t the only hurdle Broch has faced as a production designer. Collaborating with 12-time Academy Award–nominated director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu on all of his films was sometimes difficult, Broch said. A production designer must have an intimate relationship with the director in order to make a successful movie, she explained, and although Iñárritu is her favorite director to work with, he can be challenging.
“He is so demanding that I’ve thought it was beyond my capabilities, the physical and emotional exhaustion he put me through. But I learned to give the very best of myself because of him,” Broch said. “And what he demands of his crew, he also demands of himself.”
There are many people Broch has had the opportunity to work with: directors, directors of photography, and actors, but she admitted that sometimes the most difficult is herself.
Broch wrapped up by advising Emerson students interested in production design that it’s all about passion. She said there are some aspects you have to use your brain for, but passion and drive are what make the best production designers.