Interview: GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS Production Designer Scott Chambliss On Building A Monstrous World
In just a few days, Godzilla: King of the Monsters will enter theaters, bringing the titular character back to the big screen to shake the Earth once again. Each trailer released to promote the film has shown that catastrophic terror and cataclysmic carnage can not only be thrilling but also intoxicatingly beautiful. Creating such a world is the work of not just the director, Mike Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus), but of an entire collective of hard workers who put gargantuan effort into fleshing out this story.
Today, we have an interview with the film’s production designer, Scott Chambliss (Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Cowboys and Aliens), on what it took to bring such a colossal effort to the screen and to make this world. Read it below to see what goes on in the mind of someone so necessary to the visual aesthetic of a film.
“Members of the crypto-zoological agency Monarch face off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah. When these ancient super-species thought to be mere myths-rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.“
Directed by Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus‘ Michael Dougherty, who co-wrote the film with Zach Shields, Godzilla: King of the Monsters stars Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Aisha Hinds, and Zhang Ziyi.
Dread Central: Let’s go back to the beginning: how did you get into the world of production design?
Scott Chambliss: My undergrad and grad school training was in fine art and set design for theatre. That led me to New York and working on Broadway shows while designing on my own for regional theaters. Because the design community in New York City was relatively small at that time it was possible to cross professional venues and work on Broadway, film, and TV if you were good at what you did. I worked in them all and chose film because it was the medium with ever-expanding creative possibilities. My first feature film- and very low budget at that- production design offer arrived two years later.
Dread Central: You’ve worked on comedies, romances, dramas, sci-fi, and action. What are the challenges and delights you experience working across the realm of storytelling?
Scott Chambliss: First of all, thank you for noticing that I’ve done more than science fiction in my professional life! The industry is apt to typecast anyone involved according to whatever they’ve done most successfully recently, which explains the bulk of my career trajectory. I’m very interested in so many different types of storytelling that I’d really love the opportunity to expand my creative resume at this point. But, at its core, one of the most satisfying aspects of my job is that every story I’m hired to help tell is a unique creation and must be approached as such, no matter what genre it may fit in. I love that. Nothing is ever the same, even if story after story requires a spaceship or five as central visual character environments. No tale is the same as another, even if it is one in a series. And that fact opens the door to new possibilities.
Dread Central: When coming aboard Godzilla: King of the Monsters, was there any concern on your part regarding how to bring such a world to life?
Scott Chambliss: Of course. The overriding concern was in determining what made the effort worthwhile in the first place, followed by what our creative intentions were. Because many of us on the team have longterm affection for these creatures it felt especially important to do right not only to them but to the legacy of their continued storytelling. We wanted to make their story rich and timely of course, but also blissfully engulfing and leaving the viewer wanting more. Only good storytelling and characterizations bring that., and if the visual story helps amplify that then I’ve done my job!
Dread Central: Horror fans know and love the work of Michael Dougherty. Did you look at his previous films, Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus, in order to prepare working with him?
Scott Chambliss: Of course, as that’s basic homework. It’s always good to get a sense of who you might be signing up with. I was very happy to see the imagination and humor and knowledge Michael’s work displayed. And that he was a smart and delightful collaborator was icing on the cake.
Dread Central: With a film that is so grand in scale and scope, how did you manage to keep everything feeling like it was all a part of the same world?
Scott Chambliss: That’s my task, isn’t it? It’s not always simple of course, especially in sci-fi/fantasy. In keeping a tale with extraordinarily diverse storytelling qualities a coherent whole, the question centers on determining what your overriding stylistic approach is going to be. For the Star Trek films I did with JJ, the style was accessible futurism: a future world that is built upon the concepts we live with and understand in our present day. For Godzilla, our style was epic storytelling: operatic in sweep, rooted in extreme human emotions portrayed by classic archetypal characters translated into current day people. When we were first talking about the project Michael told me he wanted this film to have the sweep and visual grandeur of a David Lean movie. Lean’s films always featured characters with intimate stories at their core. Michael hooked me right there as Lean is a production designer’s dream director. A Lawrence of Arabia-style monster movie? I’m in!!!
Dread Central: What is something you really hope people notice when watching the film?
Scott Chambliss: How much heart and soul are in all aspects of the movie’s storytelling and how that can add up to a fucking good ride! I’m not sure that’s a common awareness within this production category.
Dread Central: What was the most joyous moment of working on Godzilla: King of the Monsters?
Scott Chambliss: It happened over and over, actually: when someone on the team offered a vibrant creative thought that brought beautiful fresh life to the story. That I get to be inspired every day by the creativity of the amazing collaborators I work with is an incredible gift and a constant source of joy. This is without a doubt my favorite aspect of my job.