Award-winning set designer tells students how to stay inspired


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Searching London for wardrobes for goth icons The Cure to push off a cliff, designing the gateway to Hell and recreating Rome for $10million – just some of the work which set designer Joseph Bennett has done over the years.

Rome pic
The set for Rome cost about $10million but worth every penny, he said

And he reckons the secret to maintaining such a creative, diverse career has been his open, curious attitude. “I’ve said yes to everything,” he said.

“Genuinely, some of the most interesting stuff I have ever worked on has come from these slightly tangential projects.

“On one job we filled condoms with eels to get a moving light effect. And that was just on the Tuesday…”

event horizon
Event Horizon - a ghost story in space

He was in conversation with documentary maker and DMU lecturer Ulrike Kubatta as part of Cultural eXchanges, De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s annual festival of talks, performances and art.

From his beginnings at St Martin’s College of Art, London, where he studied painting, to getting the chance to work on music videos and then into films, he was passionate about not getting stuck into a rut or a set way of thinking.

AMcQ1  AmcQ2

His collaborations with fashion designer Alexander McQueen were legendary. Creating live events had the element of danger, he said, because
there was always the chance things would go wrong.

Bennet

McQueen, who died in 2010, remains an inspiration to him. “There are furrows that you can get into. People expect things to be done a certain way. Lee would go, ‘how can you make it different?’

“Some people in my position, you know, who had done a few films could have said, ‘oh no, I’m not doing a fashion show’ but I thought, I wonder what I can do with this.”

“He loved doing the shows because he was an artist, fashion was his art. I ended up with really interesting projects working with him. They became almost this performance art. Alexander McQueen is a great person to keep in my mind.”

Close to Me

A shot from the video of The Cure's Close to Me, one of his earliest projects

He talked the audience, many of whom were film students, through the ideas behind some of his most famous films, including Event Horizon – a “haunted house in space” – Jude, starring Kate Winslet, and epic sword-and-sandals HBO series Rome.

He ended on this piece of advice to students: “Ideas are everywhere. Stay curious. Keep saying yes. You never know what might come out of it.”

Posted on Friday 28th February 2020

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