Bowles, Simon (Doomsday)
Like most people who worked on Doomsday, this wasn’t the first time Production Designer Simon Bowles worked alongside director Neil Marshall. Along with being a fantastic director, Marshall inspires a lot of loyalty in everyone who makes movies with him.
The unique challenges of Doomsday are what really got Bowles interested in seeing how it could be pulled off, we discovered through an e-mail interview with him. Check it out below to learn how Doomsday got its unique look!
Johnny Butane: What was your first official gig as a production designer?
Simon Bowles: The first feature film I designed was Edgar Wright's spoof western “A Fistful of Fingers” in 1994. I had an Art Department budget of £100 and came in £1 under, which the Producer gave me on the final day of the shoot. Since then the budgets have been going up, my Doomsday Art Department budget was nearly $4 million dollars.
Weirdly, it doesn’t matter how much you have, it’s just never enough. We’re asked to make ever more impressive films on tighter budgets. This was one of the reasons we shot Doomsday in Cape Town, costs are cheaper, there are experienced teams and the climate is superb.
JB: How much has changed in the industry since then?
SB: These days the choice of country to shoot in is often based on tax incentives, good exchange rate and economic pay scale, these considerations are often as important as where the script is set. I’ve shot Cape Town as Glasgow, Luxembourg as Scotland and Canada, London as Washington and Italy, Morocco as Egypt and London. My skill is to make sure the audience would never know.
JB: How did you and Neil Marshall end up working with one another?
SB:: Before first meeting Neil I held the position of Senior Art Director for a production company in Luxembourg. A film came up called Dog Soldiers for which I and other experienced Production Designers interviewed for. I met the two DS Producers and Neil and we got on really well together. I got the job and together we collaborated to make the film look dynamic and action-packed. We also worked hard to retain a sense of realism to keep the audience from questioning what they’re witnessing.
JB: What are the differences between DS, Descent and now Doomsday when it comes to challenging design?
SB: I’ve been so lucky to work with Neil, he writes films in which the sets really are key characters in the story; in Dog Soldiers it was the Scottish cottage, which I built both the exterior, interior and a miniature to blow up, The Descent I designed and built the labyrinth of caves, and now Doomsday designing futuristic London, hardcore military vehicles and an overgrown Glasgow! I now have the reputation for giving the films I design a look of twice the budget. All the movies I work on are so totally different, that’s the beauty for a designer, there are no similarities.
JB: Why is Neil obsessed with making “D” movies?
SB; Neil is the Demon Dare-Devil Director of Dread and Disorder!
JB: When you sat down to look at Doomsday what did you think would be the most difficult setting to pull off?
SB: The Producers primarily wanted to know how I’d build the 40-foot high, 80 mile long steel wall that is erected in the story to divide Scotland and England. Of course the big wide shots could use CGI, but there were many scenes with vehicles driving through the huge doors, soldiers running along its parapet and Scottish civilians rushing up begging for release. Yes, it could have been a massive green screen, but Neil and I really like as much realism as possible on a set. There are limits to the ability of computer-generated objects and a modern audience is only too aware of them. It really was spine chilling seeing a couple of hundred extras running towards the huge closing metal doors and I think that comes across in the film.
Beyond that, making the streets of Cape Town look like massively overgrown Glasgow was going to be a challenge too, especially as there were some iconic Cape Town locations that we had only a few hours to dress. Under pressure in the middle of a meeting with the producers I came up with an idea to buy large 50 foot square sheets of fine black netting, wire on trails of plastic creepers, fix them onto the top of the buildings on these roads and drop them down, quickly transforming the buildings and also covering up signage such as “Cape Town Quick-E-Mart”. The process was reversed when we wrapped at the end of the shooting day.
JB: Did you draw inspirations from other post-apocalypse movies or did you try and keep it as original as possible?
SB: Any project has its similarities to other films, it’s impossible not to be effected by them, but I always set out to design a look that is new and exciting to enhance the action and envelop the audience.
JB: Should we, as the audience, be looking for any subtle nods to other films?
SB: As with all Neil’s films there are nods to other movies within the dialogue, action and sets, but they’re not for me to point out, more for the fans to spot and list on the IMDB, no spoilers here mate!
JB: The IMDB lists you as PD on Descent 2 … is that by default or are you actually working on it?
SB: I’m working with the Descent 2 Director Jon Harris, (editor on the first film) and his scriptwriters to develop a script for the sequel. We’re eagerly waiting for the project to be green-lit, due any day.
JB: Any director’s you would really like to work under?
SB: As a huge Raiders, Star Wars and Alien fan I’d really love to get the chance to design for Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas and Ridley Scott on their astounding films. But truly, I’d love to keep working with Neil, I’ve had a sneak preview of the other scripts he’s developing and they’re all fantastic! He’s got so many ideas spewing from his fingertips!
Q: What’s next for you?
SB: My wife and I recently had a baby boy, little Indy Bowles. I turned down work to be around for his birth and to see him through his first few months. I’m now reading scripts and meeting directors to discuss their projects. I don’t think an audience could ever guess just how much time and passion it takes Directors and Producers to get funding for their films, so I freely offer any design advice I can give to help get their films made.
The future? I really love working on horror films, but one day I must design a child friendly film for Indy and a beautiful period film that’ll make my dear pacifist parents proud.
Thanks to Simon for taking the time to chat with us! Look for more Doomsday interviews as we approach the release date, Friday March 14th and be sure to visit the official Doomsday site to learn more about the movie! You can learn more about Bowles and the other films he's worked on at his official site, as well!