After an arduous search, production designer Therese DePrez and director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) had finally settled on a mansion in Nashville to serve as the central location for the Fox Searchlight thriller “Stoker,” but the edifice was still little more than an empty shell.
With only four weeks to go until the late August start date, DePrez still had to design, demo, paint and dress the long-vacant property. She was so eager to see how her latest paint choices would look in the daylight, she went down to the production office parking lot at dawn one morning and laid all the color swatches out on the ground.
Then the sprinklers came on.
“I had probably been up for a month straight already,” recalls DePrez. “I stood there with both me and all the paint samples soaking wet, and all I could do was laugh.”
After 20 years in as a production designer with more than 30 films to her credit — including collaborations with directors Terry Gilliam (“Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium”), Spike Lee (“Summer of Sam”) and Stephen Frears (“High Fidelity”) — DePrez is well-acclimated to the insane vagaries of filmmaking.
On “Stoker,” however, she faced a new challenge — both director Park and the film’s cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon are Koreans who speak limited English, working on their first Hollywood film.
But Park’s English turned out to be “better than we all thought,” DePrez says. “He’s an incredibly intelligent man and the translator he has, who is also the associate producer, speaks English better than most Americans.
Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., the daughter of a business executive father and a social worker mother, DePrez made Super 8 movies with her brother Michael. Later, when he was at NYU film school and she was a student at nearby Parson’s School of Design, she helped on his student films. She scored her first feature credit as a production designer on the low-budget horror spoof “Refrigerator” in 1992 and went on to craft the look for such acclaimed indie films as “Living in Oblivion,” “I Shot Andy Warhol” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
Last year, DePrez hit a major prize when she took home an Art Directors Guild Award for her work on Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.”
As she prepared to wrap “Stoker” late last month, DePrez was eager to get back to the converted 1790s Dutch barn in upstate New York she shares with her husband Joe Stefko, a drummer who’s worked with John Cale, Meatloaf and the Turtles, and who runs the limited-edition publishing company, Charnel House. But she doubted she’d be able to sit still for long.
“I’m very much a doer,” says DePrez, who also has writer/director David Koepp’s “Premium Rush” in the can. “After about five months with probably two weekends off, you’d think I’d come home and just want to relax for two weeks, but after two days, I’m starting to tinker around the house.”