By Olivia Tracey
While many of Ireland’s movie stars constantly feature in the glossies, behind the scenes lurks another great talent, quietly making comparable strides in the Hollywood film world, and loving every second of it. She is production designer Martina Buckley, a “Norrie” from Mayfield in Cork.
I met recently with the artistic lass in her cutesy Venice bungalow, where we indulged in a marathon four-hour breakfast and real Irish tea, complete with china cups and saucers. No mugs here. Despite the fact that she had just moved to her new abode two days earlier with her fiance, Paul Fishback (their Cork wedding set for September), everything seemed just about organized.
This is not to say that she likes everything to be just so. Quite the opposite. In fact, her whole personality is a blend of interesting contradictions which no doubt make her the great artist that she is. Organized yet unrestricted, business-like yet free-spirited, serious yet fun-loving and earthy yet ethereal, she cannot resist the off-beat appeal of, for example, mismatched china, that sense of taking liberties with convention.
Nor should we assume that her choice to work behind the scenes suggests a certain shyness. On the contrary, she is a true Leo, strong, gregarious, a born leader. She is also a woman who knows exactly what she wants and recalls with much mirth her teenage hunger-strike threat, inspired by Bobby Sands, in an effort to persuade her parents to send her to the less restrictive co-ed Mayfield Community School, where she wanted to learn from an early age how to operate in a man’s world.
And operating very nicely she is. Since her arrival in Connecticut in the mid-1980s, she has earned a degree in literature and fine art while working at everything from nanny and waitress to house-cleaner. It was there in Connecticut’s Trinity College that she discovered her talent for painting and so decided to study design at New York’s prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology. Despite a great love for New York, after three years working in fashion designing for Polo Ralph Lauren, she started itching for fresh pastures and so drove across America with her then boyfriend to start anew in L.A
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Though somewhat lonely for the first few years, she focussed on her career, and started getting odd jobs in costuming for movies. As she watched the crews go about their work, she discovered that their world was where she wanted to be. So, she moved into art directing and very soon got a break with renowned still photographer, Gregory Heisler, who, on completion of the project, told her that she was the best art director he had ever worked with.
Various low-budget projects followed, and under the influence of director of photography Darko Suvah and his wife, Ivana, she began moving away from art direction to production designing, organizing props and furniture for film sets in such a way as to support the movie’s theme. What she loves most about her job as production designer is the team spirit, a group of creative people working toward the same goal and, by all accounts, having lots of fun along the way. I suspect that Martina’s jovial presence can take much credit for the fun element, and that she is a welcome addition to the film crew. Despite her position of authority, she treats the crew like her peers, and even incorporates an art department dinner at her home as part of her work ethic.
From what I hear, dinner at Martina’s house is not to be missed, as her talents clearly extend into the culinary department, not to mention oodles of Irish craic to go with it. She also loves to sew, with various cushions and bedspreads in her home as evidence. However, it is her art work that is truly exceptional, especially her depiction of the American Dream as a rusted “All You Can Eat” slogan, and an exquisite Madonna-and-child portrait which she quietly came up with for a Paramount contract.
Apart from her extraordinary creative talent and her acute intelligence, much of Martina’s success could be attributed to her ability to think ahead and plan accordingly. In the case of the movie “Some Girls,” starring Juliette Lewis and Michael Rappaport, she was so busy with other projects while awaiting a green light on the film that she pre-booked her choice of props and furniture from Paramount in anticipation of getting the movie. While she also works on commercials (Guess, Gucci, Godiva, Macy’s), and television (Warner Brothers’ “Your Mind and Body”), she describes film as her “heart’s desire” and, consequently, can’t resist a good script or a good production team, regardless of the budget.
Barely four years working in production, she has succeeded in building a solid reputation and is already in a position to pick and choose her projects. She refuses to work with people she dislikes or with directors whose vision or “‘sthetic” she cannot share. This level of integrity, along with her talent and professionalism, has secured for her the avid attention of her agent, the very select Smith-Gosnell-Nicholson. Always in demand, the scripts keep rolling in and she makes her choices.
She is now looking forward to the simultaneous pre-Christmas release of no less than three movies, including “Some Girls,” whose director, Rory Kelly, won Best Director at the L.A. Film Festival; “The Last Big Thing,” written, directed, acted and storyboarded by Dan Zukovic (“X-Files,” “Millenium”) on a shoestring $200,000 budget and already a huge success at the Galway Film Festival, and, finally, “Outside Ozona,” originally starring J.T. Walsh, who, sadly, died on the day that shooting was to begin and was replaced by Academy Award nominee Robert Forester. Directed by Joe Cardone, the film can boast quite a cast, including Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Pollak, Swoozie Kurtz, Sherylin Fenn, Meatloaf and Grammy winner Taj Mahal. The ultimate coup was Columbia Tristar’s purchase of the movie based on the dailies after only three weeks of shooting.
Next on the horizon is “Burn in Heaven,” a $5 million film directed again by Joe Carone and due to begin shooting this summer in New Orleans. As Martina herself puts it, she now has “three bullets in the chamber.” Hopefully the next shot will be the big one.