Dennis Gassner

podcast / president / alumni / film
February 26, 2020
Produced by: Christine Spines

Change Lab Episode 33

Dennis Gassner on the ‘method’ behind his Oscar-winning production design

Dennis Gassner was born in Canada; but storytelling is his mother tongue. It’s the language – and the context -- though which the ArtCenter alum and legendary production designer processes the ideas of a script; and it fundamentally shapes the worlds his characters inhabit on screen.

The six-time Oscar nominee is best known for the technically ambitious and artfully realized environments he has created for six Coen Bros films, the last four James Bond movies, Blade Runner 2049 and Bugsy – for which he won an Academy Award. Dennis received his most recent Oscar nomination for his stunning work on 1917, a World War 1 epic for which he designed, built and destroyed French villages and battlefields all, seemingly, filmed in one-take. The film also presented him with the rare opportunity to go to war with his longtime collaborators, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins – two major talents with whom he’s found great success in the moviemaking trenches.

The passion I had for 1917 was unlike anything I’d ever done. So, if you’re gonna go to war, go with Sam Mendes.

Dennis Gassner

On the eve of the most recent Academy Awards show, Change Lab’s Lorne Buchman interviewed Dennis in his home, which is steeped in Hollywood history and filled with artifacts from his films and the places they’ve taken him. As we sat facing each other on two art deco couches he used to furnish a lavish set in The Hudsucker Proxy, we discussed his transition from architecture to production design, his discovery (while at ArtCenter) that facing fear is fundamental to creativity and his conviction that successful storytelling is best measured by the heart rather than the head.

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