July 13, 2022, Hollywood, CA. ———-Superstar Set Designer/Art Director, Gabriella Douglas has so many new credits she can’t even keep up. From Star Trek to Mrs. America, she is a highly sought after Set Designer in Canada, Hollywood and beyond. Her talents have led her on a whirlwind journey of everlasting historic accolades and awards.
Gabriella Douglas is highly educated, with a Masters Degree in Architecture from the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. During both her Master Degree and her Bachelor of Architectural Studies, she majored in Design. During a semester abroad, Gabriella earned a diploma of Civil Engineering and Architecture from the University of Leeds in England, United Kingdom. Her evolving creativity goes beyond what is asked of her by her colleagues, supervisors, and projects. An overachiever, Gabriella Douglas first job right out of school was a feature film in Montreal called Chaos Walking (Lionsgate), based on the best-selling novel by the same name, directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, and Mads Mikkelson. Fluently trilingual in English, French and Spanish, Douglas quickly became an asset to the production, and often had to act as translator between other designers and the construction department.
Since entering the film & television industry in 2017 as a designer, Gabriella has had the privilege to work for FX, Disney, Lionsgate, Apple TV+, and others. Gabriella is currently working on Chucky Season 2, set to air fall 2022. Gabriella Douglas film credits include: Chucky Season 2, SEE Season 2, Rock-a-Bye, SEE Season 3, Mrs. America (which was Emmy nominated for Outstanding Limited Series, and Outstanding Directorial Achievement from the Director’s Guild of Canada). Star Trek Discovery Season 2, Chaos Walking, Sweet Smell of Success, Tall Boyz, Star Trek: Short Treks Season 2, The Truth About Unicorns, The Dinner Party, and The Witchfinder.
Gabriella Douglas takes a well thought out concept through to the vision and transports audiences into an authentic entertainment experience. Gabriella believes that a film’s setting not only functions as a backdrop for the film or a container for the action taking place, but it goes further to reflect the themes and mood, style, and emotions of a film, as well as indicating the historical or geographic context of the production. A set properly conceived and executed expresses the core meaning of the production. Douglas says, “A movie is like an iceberg, all the audience sees is what’s above water but three quarters of the iceberg is below water and that’s all the inspiration, preparation, and perspiration that goes into making a film. I get tremendous intrinsic satisfaction in using my creative and architectural skills each day I’m on set”.
Gabriella Douglas passed her membership take home exam, from the existing script, “Sweet Smell of Success” back in November 2021, for the scenic Design Category of United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, IATSE, and is excited to be a proud member now. She is also a member of the Director’s Guild of Canada (DGC). Gabriella says, “Toronto has been a blessing in disguise for me and my career, I just adore my community of like minded film makers. Toronto offers amazing tax incentives for production companies, I have been honing my craft there, but am super excited about my upcoming projects in New York City, and Hollywood.”
Gabriella Douglas is a rare artist, who really cares about all of those in and around her career. Part of her magic is recreating authentic looking periods in history, and projecting what the future might look like in a post-apocalyptic world. She gives all of her endeavors a highly skilled hand as well as her real life experiences. Gabriella brings her strength, and resources, which will benefit any production, and has proven this time and time again.
Schedule your interview with Gabriella Douglas now!
Gabriella Douglas Q & A
What are your first memories of movies that you loved?
GD: Like many kids born in the early 90s, I was raised on the Disney Black Diamond series (The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, etc.), but the first movie I remember that truly made me marvel at the power of cinemas was Jurassic Park. No one could convince me that the dinosaurs weren’t real after I saw that movie.
Why did you want to become a set designer?
GD: A few weeks after successfully defending my Master of Architecture thesis, my thesis advisor held one-on-one closing interviews. It was in this interview that I declared that I no longer wanted to practice Architecture at the conventional firms. I had fallen out of love with the industry, but not of design. We talked about lateral moves that I could make that would still require a Master Architect degree and he mentioned Production Design in Film and Television. I had never heard of the career before, and was amazed when it was described to me. I grew up fascinated by film and would seek out all the behind the scenes footage from my favorite movies. My thesis advisor connected me with some alumni who had made the jump to the film industry, and I eventually got hired on my first film in Montreal. Five years later, I’m still grateful for that faithful interview with my thesis advisor.
If you were not a set designer what business would you be in?
GD: Definitely still within the field of design, probably furniture design, or graphics.
What is it that you love about your job?
GD: The creative minds that I get to work with. People who don’t work in film have trouble appreciating how many people are involved in every decision on screen. On larger scale productions, there can be literally hundreds of people working on a set from concept design, to architectural drawings, to construction, to scenic, to set decorating, to lighting, to camera, to post and everything in between. It truly takes a team of people working together.
How did your family inspire your career?
GD: My bi-racial parents encouraged my sisters and I to develop interests in different cultures and travel. Through family trips in North and South America, I grew to admire different styles of architecture, foreign cultures and languages.
What is your favorite movie?
GD: Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, Sister Act and Jurassic Park.
Who are your favorite actors?
GD: Robin Williams, Jack Black, and Denzel Washington.
Who are your favorite actresses?
GD: Meryl Streep, Cynthia Erivo, and Cate Blanchett
What is your favorite type of film drama?
GD: Historical Fiction.
What advice would you give someone just starting out in the business?
GD: Never lie about your skill set, it always comes out in the wash.
Who are your favorite directors?
GD: David O’Russell and Emerald Fennell.
Was there something pivotal in your life that changed the trajectory of your career?
GD: After my first film in Montreal, the production designer pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to stick with this career. I said yes, and he said, “Then you should leave Montreal.” Though I am fluent in French, I am not French and therefore – according to him – would be overlooked for jobs. “If you’re starting your career somewhere, better to do it without any barriers.”
How does Toronto film making differ from anywhere else?
GD: I’ve spent the majority of my career working in Toronto so it’s not too fair to compare it to other cities, but I have found that there is pride in Toronto Film. When one production does well (i.e. The Shape of Water won Best Production Designer at the Academy awards in 2018) it feels like a win for the entire city.
What is a typical working day for you?
GD: We work 12 – hour days in the Art Department: 8am to 8pm. It can be exhausting and stressful, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
How do you see your career going in the next 5 years?
GD: In five years I hope to be working in New York City, still in the film and television industry, but as an Art Director. I have every intention to climb the ladder and become the Production Designer one day.
What’s the funniest thing that happened to you on set?
GD: When I worked on CBS Star Trek: Discovery, actress Michelle Yeoh stepped on my open toes in 6-inch heels. She immediately apologized and we laughed about it weeks later at the wrap party.
What is the most joyous time you have had on set so far in your career?
GD: Every show I’ve worked on has had its joyous moments, but my two years on Season 2 and Season 3 of Apple TV+ See stands out. It was an exciting creative opportunity to world-build for that show alongside some of the best designers in the entire city. The art department grew to become very close during our time together, and still keep in touch regularly.
How do you see film in the next 5 years?
GD: Through VR glasses.
How does interior design affect filmmaking?
GD: Interior design – or set decorating – brings the human scale to a set. Furniture, artwork and textiles add an additional dimension to a set, offering the audience another lens through which to perceive the production.
What design trends do you see happening in film right now?
GD: In order to present your design work as photo realistically as possible, designers are developing their rendering skills more than ever before. Softwares light TwinMotion and VRay allow designers to render their digital models to incredible likeness.
What’s your favorite color palate?
GD: Films that wowed me with its beautiful color pallet and phenomenal production design were the John Wick films, particularly the 2nd and 3rd films. The world building is exceptional.
How does CGI affect what you do as a set designer?
GD: If a production incorporates a lot of CGI – that means that the initial production design involved a lot of green screen. This can be frustrating for designers as it takes the actual designing away from us and gives it to the post production crew. Productions that I’ve been fortunate enough to work on have preferred to build as realistic as possible.
What types of greens screen films have you been involved with?
GD: My first production, Chaos Walking, was a sci-fi film that incorporated green screen usage on several sets. After Chaos Walking I moved to Toronto where I worked on CBS Star Trek Discovery Season 2. Star Trek is notorious for heavy usage of green screens, and it was there that I grew to appreciate fully realized sets.
Do you like film or limited series or episodic the most?
GD: I enjoy working in film and television equally. I’ve treated every production the exact same in my career because they are all different ways of telling a story. I was lucky enough to work on the FX limited series Mrs. America, where the production designer referred to the show as an eight – hour film. Even when I was in Architecture School, we were always taught to design a shed with as much attention to detail and sophistication as you would a skyscraper.
Who have been the best actors to work with?
GD: On Lionsgate’s – Chaos Walking I was able to work with Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, and both came to the film with enthusiasm and excitement that rubbed off on the whole crew. On Apple TV+ See, Jason Momoa was very involved in the creative process and was always visiting the art department to see the latest set designs.
How do you find your work?
GD: If you’re a member of your local union, then you’ll have access to the union database containing all members’ contact information and availability dates. The “hot list” is a document sent out weekly that informs union members of what productions are looking to hire and who to contact if you’re interested.
That being said, networks in film are built by word of mouth. It’s a small community where some people have worked for decades together, so reputations are crucial for longevity.
Talk about your work ethic.
GD: I grew up playing competitive ice hockey back where I grew up in Ottawa, and at the age of 15 I broke the season scoring record and I was provincially ranked in my age category. I used that competitive edge I developed to get into the best architecture school in the country, Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism. The acceptance rate of the Bachelor of Architectural Studies was less than 5%, and I was one of the fortunate few. Architecture school, both during my Undergrad and my Masters, challenged my classmates and I in every capacity imaginable. Our confidence, mental strength, stamina, time management, communication skills, hand crafting, artistry, ability to withstand criticism and much more was tested in an exceptionally competitive environment. This process has taught me to trust the process, and to welcome failure when trying something for the first time. Every skill I’ve mastered evolved from no experience at all. I advance my arsenal as a designer to stay competitive in the field, both during and between productions by learning new software programs online (i.e VectorWorks, Rhino, TwinMotion, etc.). Keeping that in mind, I make sure to take time off between shows to travel and reconnect with people in my personal life.
How did you get your start?
GD: In order to become a member of the art department in film and television, an application must be submitted to the union (Director’s Guild of Canada), which is only open once a year, and must include a portfolio of the applicant’s work. Interviews are then conducted between the applicant and the board of submissions. Once the student has been accepted, they are enrolled in a 2 – week training program to learn about the fundamentals of the art department. This is called the GAP program. Should they be fortunate to get hired after the training program, they are given the role of Trainee.
I, however, did not go through any of that. Days after defending my thesis (18 to be exact), I reached out to someone in the film industry with interest in eventually working in the field and they offered me a job right away. The industry was so busy at the time that I was expedited past union regulations and never did the training program. I am a full member of the union, but I bypassed the application, interview and training processes.
I don’t believe I would have bypassed the aforementioned process had I not had my Masters in Architecture and Bachelors in Architecture. It is also important to note that individuals coming from the GAP program need to obtain a certain number of days experience on 3 or more shows before getting upgraded to set designer. I was a set designer on my first job in the industry.
I can’t speak for all of the US film cities, but I have done research on New York and I know a large number of people in the industry come from a Theater background. Those with architecture backgrounds tend to be in much higher demand due to their skills in design and practical construction. So yes, people like me are hard to find.
Do you have a mentor in the business?
GD: Many, on Chaos Walking I worked with Caroline De Bellefeuille and learned how to maintain healthy communication between all the disciplines in the film industry. On Star Trek: Discovery, I learned from our Production Designer Tamara Deverell and fellow set designers Emilie Poulin, Tijana Petrovic, and Esther Kao, who taught me how to manage a sustainable balance between personal and professional life. On Mrs. America I learned from our Production Designer Mara LePere-Schloop, how to bring out the best in your art department and to encourage pride in every task you’re handed. On See, I followed the leadership of people like Caroline Hanania, Dean O’Dell, Brent McGillivray and Danielle VanHelden, to realize our ambitious design dreams come to life.
What kind of skill set does it take to be a set designer?
GD: I always tell people trying to get into the industry to prioritize their time studying the fundamentals of design over honing their digital programming skills. Yes, programs should be treated as the vehicles for creativity and architecture, but a thorough knowledge of shape, scale, light, proportion, color, texture, materiality, art history, design history and physics makes the designer.
What influence did your parents have on you?
GD: My parents have been my biggest influence, but my mother’s personal journey has become stuff of heroes. With my two sisters under the age of two, my mother immigrated from Venezuela to Canada in 1987, without any knowledge of English or Canadian culture. Through hard times and many personal struggles, my mother graduated with her Master in Education from The University of Ottawa summa cum laude, raised three children and has since evolved into the most sought after Learning Specialist for students with permanent learning disabilities in the province. My mother is responsible for my personal drive and ambition.
What influence did your siblings have on you?
GD: Being the youngest of three, I have benefited from learning from my older sisters. Growing up, they protected me and encouraged me in all of my endeavors. We’re all much older now, but I still feel the support and faith my sisters have in me.
What types of schooling did you complete?
GD: In 2017 I earned her Master of Architecture (M.Arch) degree from the renowned Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. During both my Master and my Bachelor of Architectural Studies (B.AS), I majored in Design. During a semester abroad, I also earned a diploma of Civil Engineering and Architecture from the University of Leeds in England, United Kingdom.
Why did you want to move to the US?
GD: Ever since my first visit to NYC I knew that I could see myself living in this city. I love the energy, the eclectic cultures, the food, the arts, the pop-ups and so much more. It helps to know that there are many film productions that want to hire me.
What cities have you traveled to?
GD: My parents packed my sisters and I in a van one summer and drove from our house in Ottawa to Vancouver, and then next summer we drove from Ottawa to New Brunswick, so I’ve literally been coast to coast in Canada.
As for the US cities I’ve been to: Chicago, NY, Boston, Miami, Orlando, Syracuse, Portland.
And the countries I’ve visited on my travels are: The Bahamas, Cuba, Curacao, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Ireland, England, Scotland, NRI, Wales, The Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, The Vatican, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Czechia, Poland, Australia, New Zealand and Figi. My travel photos can be seen on my website here:
How do you see your career changing in the next 5 years?
GD: I see my role expanding to Art Director with the promise of moving to Production Designer.
Define your style?
GD: It’s hard to have a style when you’re a designer working for a Production designer, because you’re the vessel for the Production Designer’s vision. That being said, I have enjoyed working with John Dondertman on NBC’s Chucky Season 2 and learning his creative process and realizing his vision.
Who would you say influenced you the most in your career trajectory?
GD: There is a community of women in the Toronto set designers scene that have formed a transparent, safe and supportive environment. I have half a dozen friends in the industry who offer wonderful guidance. We are proud to champion one another.
Do you have any tricks of the trade?
GD: Don’t be late, always have a good attitude, know your job description and never lie.
What are your assets?
GD: My leadership, critical thinking, design intuition, interpersonal skills, competitive nature, communication skills and my drive.
How do you find your stamina?
GD: I don’t drink caffeine so sleep is vital. I practice yoga every morning and do something cardio related in the evening when I return from work. My building has a great pool, cardio and weight room that I frequent. Sitting all day is awful for your body so I use a standing desk for about half of my day.
What are your health regimes?
GD: When I’m working on a production, I opt out of the catering and bring my own meals. I’m not a diet person, but I subscribe to the Keto lifestyle that excludes the consumption of sugar and carbs. That being said, popcorn and hot chocolate are the vices that I succumb to regularly. But I make all my meals on Sunday with healthy ingredients and suitable portion sizes.
What are your favorite scenes from a movie?
GD: I love rallying speeches. Remember The Titans, The Lord of The Rings Trilogy, and The Count of Monte Cristo.
How do you do your research?
GD: I keep an extensive library in my apartment of art history textbooks, design anthologies and publications relating to the film and television industry. But like all millenials, the internet is my best friend.
How are the unions in your business?
GD: I am both a member of the Director’s Guild of Canada (DGC) here in Toronto and IATSE 829 in New York City. I bypassed the required trainee experience while in the DGC because of my architectural background, but applying to IATSE 829 demanded interviews, massive portfolios and take-home exams that rivaled the application process to the M.Arch program. I was accepted into 829 at the first wave and was later told in the zoom interview that my application was the strongest they’d seen in years.
How do you prep for a shoot?
GD: I am hired by either the Production designer or the Art Director as many weeks before we hit camera and they can spare. No matter if it’s 8 weeks or 2, there is always stress and pressure at the beginning of the show to develop and produce amort sets (sets that will be static in the studio and reoccur during the course of the season). There is usually a day before your official start date where you can read the scripts and acclimate yourself to the vibe of the show. Like most industries, it takes time to develop relationships and constructive communication between members of the art department.
How many people are on your team?
GD: Presently I am working under John Dondertman and Danny Haeberlin on Chucky Season 2, and I’m one of two senior set designers on the show. We have 4 juniors below us, two graphic designers and one trainee, making up a small art department. This opportunity has given me full reins on more than 70% of the sets that have been designed on the show.
Are you a good role model to others on your team?
GD: I was the assistant captain and eventual captain of my U-18 girls team for the final 3 years of my ice hockey career. Even at such a young age, I knew that the attention had the momentum to turn into an ego, so I focused my young development on my ability to listen and respond as a good teammate. In those final years of my playing career in Canada, our team won 2 provincial championships and 3 scoring titles.
That leadership has stayed with me through my film and television career in that I study the work of people more talented than myself and constantly try to evolve my listening skills. I regularly receive calls from hiring art directors asking to give recommendations for junior designers who have worked under me.
My goal is to not only be the most capable production designer in New York and or Hollywood, but to be the most sought after employer to work under. Even at crunch time, I always give instructions calmly and concisely to my coworkers because I believe leaders don’t project their stress onto their teammates. I have an open door policy and I’m not afraid to stand up for myself or admit when I’ve done wrong. Every position in our industry is a learning position, so professional evolution is never ending.
Are you a good boss?
GD: I believe I am a good boss. I have a strong reputation in the industry here in Toronto and have been offered repeat work by multiple production designers and art directors I’ve had the privilege of working with years prior. Case and point, I’ve worked with 2020 Academy Award Nominated Production Designer Tamara Deverell twice so far in my career.
What types of meetings do you take with production before you start a project?
GD: As a set designer, there aren’t many meetings that take place before I start officially working on a show. If I haven’t worked with the Production Designer or Art Director before, there would be an interview of some sorts over the phone. But as I’ve mentioned before, the industry is reputation based and word of mouth, so people are already pretty familiar with your work before you start.
Are you very hands on?
GD: I try not to interfere with the process between the production designer and other set designers. Should a junior designer need guidance, however, I am always available for constructive criticism and encouragement.
Are you involved with a project from the very start?
GD: The art director or production designer will try to involve me as soon as they get their staffing budget. Being a senior set designer means I develop and create all the construction drawings for the sets on the production, so the sooner I’m hired, the better for everyone involved in the building, scenic application and set decorating process.
Are you able to give your opinion to the director at the start of a project?
GD: It depends on the relationship with the director. Some are collaborative and some prefer everyone to stick to their specialty.
How are your scenic designers?
GD: The scenic teams in Toronto are first class. Construction builds our designs in the physical world, but the scenic team breathes life into the finishes of a space. Making foam look like stone, aging, quality of finish, color balance and accents pieces are some of the few ways that the scenic teams bring depth to a set.
How are your carpenters?
GD: I feel the same way about our scenic teams as I do our carpenters in Toronto and the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). Through their massive teams of skilled laborers, they achieve ridiculous deadlines in record times. Their ability to interpret our designs and bring them to the real world is a phenomenal and extremely valuable skill.
How is the prop house that you deal with?
GD: When working on Star Trek DiscoveryI collaborated with the props department on things like phasers and communication devices. Boasting of some of the most iconic props in the film and television industry, I found the props team to take founded pride in their designs.
How are the rental houses that you deal with?
GD: I have had the pleasure to work in both Cinespace Studios and Pinewood Studios here in Toronto. Both are first class studios with ample space and responsive maintenance teams.
What has been your favorite project that you have worked on?
GD: I have loved each production in my resume for different reasons. Chaos Walking was my first production and I learned so much about film having graduated on M.Arch a week before starting. Star Trek Discovery was an iconic production that pushed the boundaries of sci-fi and design. Mrs. America was the strongest written limited series I’ve ever seen, and I was proud to be a part of such a fantastic ensemble. See was a total joy to work on because of the crew and the ambitious designs that we were able to execute. TallBoyz was a labor of love for all things Canadian, and as a proud Canadian it was an honor to contribute to the show. And lastly, Chucky has been iconic in pop culture and a benchmark production for me professionally.
Are you proud of your work?
GD: I am very proud of my work. I love what I do and I am lucky that it loves me back. I take pride in how much I’ve grown as a designer and leader from my first days on Chaos Walking, and I’m so excited for my journey ahead.
SEE SEASON 2