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Tales from the set of The Great Gatsby

by Pip Bulbeck

Ian Gracie, supervising art director

LAST FIVE INTERNATIONAL CREDITS: Alien: Covenant; Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales; Gods Of Egypt; The Wolverine; The Great Gatsby.

DESCRIBE YOUR JOB: The right hand of the production designer, their conscience and confidante and being responsible for all things art department. Along with my art director(s) we direct all the elements of the art department fiscally and creatively.

TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE MORE MEMORABLE PROJECTS YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED IN: The Thin Red Line is one of my favourites. It was the whole package – the crew were great, recreating an iconic period of World War II, the varied locations and my son was born during the shoot – it was right up there. Star Wars: Episode II. I thought “Jesus, I’ve just worked on Star Wars” and then being asked back for Episode III. Until The End of The World – working with Wim Wenders and Robby Muller. Moulin Rouge! First film with Catherine Martin and I’m still working with her all these years on. Red Dog was the first film I designed. There really was something special about that.

MOST CHALLENGING REQUEST ON AN INTERNATIONAL FILM SHOOT: In Tunisia for Stars Wars: Episode II we had to recreate Luke Skywalker’s desert home with no existing drawings, all based on screen grabs of Episode IV.

Probably recreating 1920s New York in Sydney for The Great Gatsby was the biggest challenge. The accuracy of that period, it had to be perfect. In the end, you struggled to notice the set builds I’d like to think. We had the most incredibly talented art department.

HOW DID YOU MEET THE CHALLENGE? Preparation was the key. We couldn’t have done it if we hadn’t had the prep time in NYC and Long Island. Originally it was planned to shoot in New York but it became too expensive and just too difficult to achieve. If we’d had the 20 week shoot in Australia without the initial prep time in the US we couldn’t have done it.

CRAZIEST MOMENT ON SET: I wouldn’t work again if I told you, however our idea of crazy is jaded; what’s crazy for some is just normal on a film set.

FAVOURITE PART OF AUSTRALIA: Both the deserts and the mountains.


IF I WASN’T WORKING IN FILM AND TELEVISION I WOULD BE… Probably living in the mountains and maybe even running a ski shop. I would have loved to been in those Warren Miller films.

I’D LOVE TO WORK WITH… I appreciate the straightforward storytelling of Clint Eastwood and the Coen brothers but wouldn’t have said no to John Ford or David Lean either.

I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK IN FILM AND TELEVISION WHEN… Initially I had no particular interest in film or TV; however after graduating from the National Art School and through pure chance I was offered one week’s work on a TV series. I’ve never looked back or indeed done anything else professionally since.

WHAT IS YOUR WORK MOTTO OR PHILOSOPHY? If your instinct tells you it needs to be done, just do it. However make sure you do it well.

Article originally published as part of Ausfilm’s Wizards of Oz campaign. Read it here.