To many film audiences and viewers of television, the role of the Production Designer appears invisible.
Yet, they are the creative people who slave away behind the scenes breathing life into a production.
Such is young and enterprising Ghanaian art director, Tony Tomety, who picked an award for Achievement in Production Design for Leila Dzansi’s Northern Affair at the recent Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) held in Nigeria.
The award winning Production Designer is currently working on an American studio production, Beast of No Nation, partly being filmed in Ghana by renowned American director, Cary Kafunaga.
Tony was relaxed when he met this writer for an interview. Describing his role as Production Designer, he said “the nature of my job is really tedious because there are so many different elements that come together to make it one.
The most comparable job to my work is architecture where the architect designs the structural elements and all the other disciplines come in to do their job.
“As a Production Designer, I design the entire look of the film. I’m there with all the different personnel like carpenters, painters, set dressers, metal works guys, props people and everybody who come together to create the design elements for a scene or a story. It’s a job that starts when the script is done and given to you and it’s also a job that takes you all the way to the end when the film is done”.
Even for one who has won a number of awards at the Ghana Movie Awards, Tony admits the initial lack of recognition bites. “In the beginning it was frustrating because nobody knew the amount of hard work that had gone into making the things I create, but gradually when I started creating things and people started noticing that my work was different, I became content that someone had noticed my efforts”, he disclosed.
One secret to Tony’s success is his desire to always create a fresh design or look for the films and television programmes he works on.
On how he’s able to keep up a fresh look for each project, he reveals “It’s a personal thing from my beginning days at film school in NAFTI. I always had a habit of looking at the works of those before me, and I tried to find out fresh ways of creating these designs to make them better”.
On a good day, some admirers of legendary African American actor, Will Smith, would stop Tony for an autograph. He has such semblance with the ‘Wild Wild West’ actor he never fails to cause a stir on flights or his travels out of the country.
With a broad smile, Tony recounted how a guy stood by the car in which he sat just so he could say hi. “You see people smiling at you and you know what they’re going to say. I get this anywhere in the world.
“ I was grabbing a bite of KFC in LA in a car that was rolled up and a guy waited for me to finish eating only for him to introduce himself and congratulate me on my works.
I really didn’t get it at first but the director I was with told me later the guy had mistaken me for Will Smith. I felt sorry for him and thought my looks had deceived him”, he reminisced.
Another time, he boarded a Delta Airline flight and was greeted by cheers from some admirers of Will Smith who yelled “Will Smith is on the plane!”
Tony’s creativity and his works have been noticed beyond the borders of Africa and have taken him many places in the world. Although permanently based in Ghana, he could be described as a ‘citizen of the world’.
Some of the global film production companies and celebrities he’s worked for include: the Ford Brothers from the UK, director Raj Taruf from India, Leila Djansi based in LA, Gear House in South Africa, director Cary Kafunaga from US, actor Jimmy John Lewis, Lean Whitfield, Gazelle Bovet and Brian White.
Talking about how he’s quietly influencing the global film industry from his base in Accra, he said “for me, it’s been good to travel out and see how things are done. In my field things are not too different…the things we practice here in film school aren’t different from what they do out there.
The advantage for us is because we often have to improvise with what we have in order to create designs, you go the extra mile and when you go abroad to work, things are very easy. They stand back and wonder how you’ve been able achieve something they never thought you could create”, Tony intimated.
Commenting on the seemingly lack of creativity and the situation where almost everything in the country is imported from abroad, Tony suggested “the best way to get out of this situation as young creative people would be to avoid thinking of making profit first when we create things.
If I can convince you first by giving you a sample of what I can do and it can work exactly the same way elsewhere in the world and you’ll buy it, I can then think of how to make money from it. But if I think of making profit first before I produce the thing, then I’ll lose some little detail which will affect my production. And when people use the thing I’ve produced, it may not work well”.
According to Tony, if creative people in the country would create things to meet international specifications then that would give the nation a head start. “Government also has to support. For what I do, I don’t get direct support from government.
The only support I get is from people in the creative industry who keep coming to me for set designs because they want a good product and a good finish. This makes it possible for me to continue churning out different designs.
I also believe that, before government can do this, it will have to be convinced that what is being produced is marketable”, he stated.
In the entertainment industry, most good looking and creative guys can hardly escape from the ladies. Tony admits this is quite a challenge and that being a diplomatic person, he finds very nice ways of keeping the ladies at bay.
“You’ve got to be nice to people and when you see it’s getting to the point where you don’t wish for it to go, you just have to tell them”, he said.
Source: Graphic Showbiz
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