Naz started her career in the Costume Department in 2006 before transitioning into Production Design. Naz has designed notable features and television shows like Our House, directed by Anthony Scott Burns, the CW series In the Dark and, most recently, the sixth season of Supergirl.
What led you to a career in the art department?
I’ve been interested in working in film and TV for as long as I remember. I knew I wanted to be in the entertainment business, I just didn’t know in what capacity. When my family and I moved to Canada from Iran in ‘97, I thought I wanted to be an actress. After I learned English my mom took me to a talent agent, but in the end, I felt it just wasn’t really for me. In high school drama class, I auditioned to act in the school play and didn’t get the role, but I still wanted to get involved somehow. The drama teachers said to me, “Well, we don’t have anyone to design and build the sets. Do you want to do it since you like art and painting?” I ended up painting two theatre flats that were four by eight with a skyline, and it was for two plays back to back, so I had to design it in such a way that would be a quick transition from the skyline to a park scene. I gathered up some dead leaves from the school parking lot and put them on stage. It was very fun!
How did you first enter the industry?
I got into Ryerson for film, but the summer before I started, I was working in a clothing store on Queen Street. One day, the Costume Designer, Production Designer and Art Director of a movie walked in to buy some things. When they presented their tax exemption form, I saw that it was for Universal Studios, and I said, “Hey, guys, I’m starting Film School in three weeks. Let me know if you need a volunteer!” Sure enough, two days later, they offered me a job in the very busy wardrobe department when I was 18. I ended up learning a lot about the Art Department, and I got to shadow the Designer to see how she designed Toronto and turned it into New York. I stayed in touch with the Designer and the Art Director all throughout university and built up my portfolio. Then, after graduating, I applied to the Guild and became a Trainee!
What influences do you draw on in your work?
It really depends on the project, but what I try to do between projects is to go to as many museums and galleries as I can, and watch as many movies and TV shows as I can. Sometimes I go back and watch older series that I watched when I was younger, just to see if there are any ideas I can draw from them. For example, this is really embarrassing, but I started re-watching Dawson’s Creek, and they had really interesting ideas for practicals. On tables in restaurants, they used real lamps. I thought that was kind of cool because it’s not often that you have a practical on a table in a restaurant.
Lately, I’ve really been into brutalist architecture. When I was hired for CW’s Supergirl, one of my pitches was to use brutalist inspiration for the Phantom Zone.
In terms of arts and artists, I really like the composition and lighting in the work of the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi. He paints all these beautiful, very stark interiors. And often if there’s a figure in it, they’re always turned away from the camera.
What do you feel people do not understand about what you do as a Production Designer?
Everyone always assumes that the set is the way that it is, like they found this location where they’re like, “isn’t it lucky that this house came exactly the way that it was supposed to?” We can change the design to fit the location. But finding the perfect location is almost never possible. You’re never going to find something that’s exactly as it was written in the script.
If you could work in another position in the film or media industry what would you do?
Episodic directing. It’s just so appealing. You come in, you do the work. You make sure you get your shots, make sure the actor’s performances are working, and then you’re on to the next project. It’s nice to come to set and not worry about making sure things are delivered. It’s just all there. I think Production Designers could make good Directors. We interpret the story, the characters, we design our sets, and at certain times, we sort of pick the shots or suggest the angles that would be better for the sets we’re designing. My experience on Supergirl was so collaborative. Everyone was so respectful and open to listening and hearing ideas.
Lightning Round questions
Analog or digital?
Oh, analog. There are plusses to digital too, but with analog, you get the real graininess. You can touch it and feel it. Digital is so glossy, and no matter how much you work on it, it’s not gonna be as good as analog, but I do like both.
What is your favourite non-work activity?
I love boxing. When I go back to BC, I have a couple of trainers that I meet with.
Do you have any dream trips or vacations planned?
I want to do the Silk Road tour, all the way from China to the other side of Asia. If I ever had time to do it, I would just look at the map from centuries ago, and then try and be as close to the actual route as possible, because I don’t know if that exact road still exists.
White or red?
Favourite crew lunch?
When I was a trainee, there was this show that I worked on when there was no other work happening in Toronto. It was like, one of two shows. It was a tier D and on their last day of shooting, they had crab legs for lunch for the crew! And I just love crab legs.
What’s the best thing about living in Toronto?
Oh, the summers. Patio drinking!
fiction or nonfiction?
Nonfiction. Which is funny, because I’m a Production Designer. When I’m reading or listening to podcasts and stuff, nonfiction is always preferred over fiction, but obviously, movies are great.