Production Designer Jess Gonchor on ‘Hail, Caesar!’, the Coen Brothers, and ‘Live by Night’

     February 8, 2016

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While we post a lot of interviews with actors, directors, and producers, the staff and I decided it’s time to talk with more people who don’t necessarily get the spotlight. The fact is that a movie only is only as good as its “below the line” crew, and we all feel that they aren’t given enough credit. To try and rectify this, you can look forward to more interviews with Costume Designers, Production Designers, Composers, Editors, Cinematographers, and other craftspeople who work to bring these stories to life.

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Image via Universal Pictures

In this spirit, I recently sat down with Hail, Caesar! production designer Jess Gonchor. Unlike most interviews where we tend to focus on one film, I used my time with him to talk about the job as a whole, and what goes on behind the scenes. Of course, we also talked about making Hail, Caesar!, collaborating with the Coen brothers, working with cinematographer Roger Deakins, memorable moments from filming, his advice for people who want to break into art direction, what it’s been like working for director Ben Affleck on Live by Night, and more. If you’re interested in what it’s really like to be a production designer on a big movie, you’re going to love this conversation.

Hail, Caesar!, which is now in theaters, Josh Brolin stars as Eddie Mannix, an old-time Hollywood fixer who has a reputation for keeping actors’ scandals out of the press. But when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped and held for ransom by a group calling themselves “The Future”, Mannix is tasked with collecting the $100,000 demand and rescuing the star. It’s a classic Coen Brothers set-up and it gives them their first opportunity to delve into the madness of Hollywood since Barton FinkHail, Caesar! also stars Channing TatumScarlett JohanssonTilda SwintonFrances McDormand, Ralph FiennesJonah Hill, and Alden Ehrenreich. For more on the film read Matt’s review.


Jess Gonchor: 

  • 1:00 – What makes the Coen Brothers unique as filmmakers.
  • 1:52 – How the script compares to the finished film.
  • 2:29 – Most memorable moments from filming.
  • 3:46 – What he looked at for inspiration.
  • 4:34 – His collaboration process with the Coen Brothers.
  • 5:32 – The differences and similarities in the Coens’ personalities.
  • 6:18 – Working with cinematographer Roger Deakins.
  • 7:36 – The hardest part of his job.
  • 8:51 – When he decided he wanted to be a production designer.
  • 10:52 – Anyone he credits with his big break.
  • 12:00 – Advice for people who want to break into art direction.
  • 13:10 – On working with Ben Affleck for Live by Night.
  • 14:26 – Future projects.

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