The Idea of a Castle: The Tragedy of Macbeth Production Designer Stefan Dechant on Carving Sets ‘Out of Light and Shadow’


Producer Stefan Dechant has worked on television in combination Call of The Wild, Kong: Skull Island and Jarhead – projects that describe them as “real-life monkeys,” with the exception of occasional adult monkeys.

But a few years ago, he saw the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola Dracula of Bram Stoker, an extremely entertaining film.

“Guys, I want to do such a thing,” she recalls. “What Faust says, all the symbolic pictures – I want to dig into something.”

One week later, Dechant received a phone call about Shakespeare’s new change Macbeth from Joel Coen, making his first direct tour without his brother Ethan. Coen’s wife, Frances McDormand, will be performing with stars such as Lady Macbeth. Denzel Washington was Macbeth assassin. French filmmaker Bruno Delbonnel, formerly of Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, will shoot the film.

Dechant got involved in making 11 weeks from the shoot. He knew from his first meeting with Coen that his opportunity to do things freely with art had arrived.

He says: “Somewhere back in nature I was calling to her and she somehow responded. “Not understanding Oprah about this. I just felt better.”

Below, Stefan Dechant describes his role in Macbeth’s Tragedy. -CH

As told by Caleb Hammond

Denzel Washington and Macbeth in Joel Coen’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth play.

When I first sat down with Joel and his producer, Bob Graf, Joel said, “Listen, this is going to be a great decoration. Think of German Expressionism, and note that sometimes a palace is not a palace. Joel did not want to deny that Macbeth’s original writings were playful. It had to be presented before a living audience. He did not want to lose that, but he did not want to make it into a drama.

He and Bruno have been working in photography for about a year before I started. They had made a group of pictures, and we went through: This is Inverness. This is Dunsinane. This is the difference.

Some were filmed on various movies: Carl Dreyer’s Joan’s love for Arc he was a great danger, Night of the Hunter, Another Fritz Lang was in it, Hitchcock Rabeka.

It is not a palace, it is a palace idea. How do we do that? We began to talk about what the German Expressionists were doing. What happened to the making of the Dreyer film? Joel showed me a black and white photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto of Casa Luis Barragán. For me, that is Inverness.

If you think about Akira Kurosawa’s He ran, the man didn’t think he would be able to make the film, so he shot the whole movie – he had a way of expressing himself. So for Joel and Bruno, the images were a reflection of what was in their minds. And then my job was to start making more pictures, and show the video to them, and go: Are we in the right ballpark? Then start making that place and the world that can hold Joel’s film. Sets do not appear to be real. It has nothing to do with 11th Century Scotland – nothing.

Many sets do not exist before or after what happens in it. If you look at where the second series of appearances are taking place, Denzel is in the small room and he looks up and sees the witches in the circles. The set was not only designed to include images, but also to have a sense of what is going on in the scene. For every reason from clothing to props – these are the only items available. That’s all there is to it. It was there at the event, and its design is to look up and see the witches and for the environment to be cooked.

So instead of the honesty of the set it is thought of as the loyalty of the world in which it is created, and of the honesty of the events that take place in it.

When you start working, you dig what is known, and you put people in it. Let’s start collecting these things, so we can get them in front of the facilitator.

The Second Apparition Chamber in The Tragedy of Macbeth - Photo courtesy of Apple[SLASH]A24

Second visible room Macbeth’s Tragedy, produced by Stefan Dechant. Photos courtesy of Apple / A24

The second ghost room was not known. I worked with a set designer and we had pictures of Joel. So we tied them up and put them on the walls. There was nothing in that room.

But there was one picture, one day I just went in, and I was like, I do not know what this is. I took a Sharpie, and kind of painted the room, the way it comes out now, on that picture. I had a knack for making a set that was able to go: I think I know what you’re talking about. He compared the room and it didn’t really change.

We did well, and we enjoyed the way the roofs worked for the witches. We made several illustrations. I caught them because I was not comfortable showing them Joel. But all these things were on our server. One day Joel came into my room and I was going out, I love the ghost room. I think it works. So he would find them by simply digging into our files and looking at them.

From then on it was about refinement, foolish things like, What kind of wings does the crow have? to make sure it can pass through the window. It’s all nonsense. But what you want to do is maintain the integrity of the design mind.

You always make a shot to shoot. But in Macbeth’s Tragedy, cinematography refers to the components of the set, in terms of the content, because they are not only made of wood and plastic and all these other materials – they draw from light and shade.

The tragedy of Macbeth Stefan Dechant

The Crossroads is coming Macbeth’s Tragedy, directed by Joel Coen and production by Stefan Dechant

When Joel talked about getting rid of images at the first meeting, the first way to do that was to go for black and white. That’s what led to the Expressionism of it. Then, even though the figure was based on the Academy score – 1.37: 1. That was the basis, and then discussions came later, especially with Bruno, about the shadows in groups. Let’s start lifting as we go around the corner, let’s start painting down the black bars, and put our shadows in it. You can probably do things in color. But you sure as hell can leave with a lot of black and white.

Read more: The French Dispatch: Orson Welles’ 1962 Film Promotes Prison Designs

We were always playing with those shadows, and the darkness in there, and how we could push it. Eventually, I started to move from gray to black. When Bruno lights the set, the black one can be 50% gray. So the room looks like a witch up there in the bars – which goes to the dark black top. And then when it is lit, you find its structure in it. That is when you should just rely on your DP. And if it’s Bruno, you just trust him – he’s smart. After that darkness, it will be all right.

Macbeth’s Tragedy, directed by Joel Coen and production productions from Stefan Dechant, is available for broadcast on Apple TV + on Friday.

Main photo: Joel Coen and Frances McDormand on set Macbeth’s Tragedy. Photos courtesy of Apple / A24.


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