By Kaylee BrewsterSome aspects of film take center stage and others fade to the background. The latter is where you’ll find Alec Hammond.
The Pullman native now lives in Los Angeles and works in Hollywood as a production designer. He is responsible for the overall look of a film, including sets, furniture, wallpaper, paint, colors, vehicles and the general feel of costumes.
Hammond said it’s a collaborative process with the five to 70 or more people who help.
“I’m only as good of a designer as the people who I can get to work for me, and who work with me and collaborate with me,” he said.
Hammond is working on the “Divergent” series. He worked on “Insurgent,” the second film in the series, which was released March 20. He is now at work on “Allegiant: Part 1,” which is scheduled for release in March 2016. He wasn’t able to discuss the movie, other than to say, “It’s going to be fantastic” and that the audience will see some new places.
The “Divergent” series takes place in a futuristic society in which people are sorted into factions — Dauntless, Amity, Candor, Abnegation and Erudite — based on certain virtues and characteristics.
“Every faction, in the look and the architecture, is an absolute concrete version of the ideas behind that faction,” Hammond said.
With Candor, a faction that represents truth and honesty, Hammond and his team worked the concepts into the set by using black and white shades and glass for transparency.
“So whatever you were saying and whatever you were doing was immediately apparent to everybody else that was there,” he said.
With Amity, which represents peace and love, and also grows all the food for the society, “there was a very strong idea of the people of Amity being grounded, being tied to the land,” Hammond said. So he and his team created a glass dome building that allows the audience to see Amity’s relationship to nature, connecting the inside and the outside.
Hammond first started designing sets for school plays at Pullman High School, where he graduated in 1988. He initially wanted to be a doctor or a scientist, but caught the design bug and pursued it as a career.
Despite his work in film, Hammond said he will never stop designing sets for theatrical performances.
“When there are live people sitting in the theater watching other live people on stage there is something that happens, which is, we all know that it isn’t real, but it is at the same time,” Hammond said. “That said, I also hate designing for the theater because you don’t have resources.”
One challenge in working in film is how to make room for a big camera in a small space, like a plane. This was the case in two films Hammond worked on, “Flightplan” and “Non-Stop.” For “Flightplan,” using some engineering, the crew built walls on the window side of the plane so they could be lifted up with a pulley to film from the outside. They also installed circular rails on the ceiling so the camera could hang and film from there. In “Non-Stop” they also used rails that went between the two aisles so the camera could move from side to side.
“It took the fact that we were in a little tiny can, with a whole bunch of people, in a place that is very difficult to move a camera through, and made it a very smooth, effortless way to film those scenes,” Hammond said.
Hammond also worked on the cult-classic film “Donnie Darko.” Even though it was a low-budget film and “we had no money to make it,” Hammond believes the film’s success is partly due to director and writer Richard Kelly’s clear vision for the project and the creative team he hired, which included Hammond, cinematographer Steven Poster and costume designer April Ferry.
“It felt true,” Hammond said. “I don’t know if there’s a better way for me to describe it than that, but it felt like it was telling a true story.
“Because at the end of the day we’re all storytellers,” he added. “I don’t tell my stories with words, I tell them with pictures. But you have to actually then decide which pictures are right, what is the actual story you’re telling, and how can you best tell it.”
FILM: “Insurgent,” “Non-Stop,” “RED,” “Flightplan,” “Donnie Darko,” “Southland Tales,” “The Contender”
TV: “Sleepy Hollow,” “Capital City,” “12 Miles of Bad Road,” “Wedding Chapel.”
STAGE: “To Kill a Mockingbird”
AWARDS: Princess Grace Foundation’s inaugural Fabergé Award for Scenic Design, 1995; Princess Grace Foundation’s Statue award, 2008; Oenslager Prize winner at Yale School of Drama.