What’s In A Name?

A lot, if your name is Zazu Myers.

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Photographer, Steph Martyniuk. Special thanks to the Queen West Antique Centre.

Named after American silent film actress ZaSu Pitts, it’s not hard to see that Miss Myers was destined for a life in film, but not the life you might expect. The fact that she landed on the other side of the camera – production design – is another story completely. A crafty and art-filled upbringing, a short-stint in pastry arts and one fateful day with Annie Leibovitz have all contributed to the strong-willed, artistic fire-cracker she is today. There’s no doubt that we’ll see the name ‘Zazu’ back in bright lights again soon.

Patricia Montle: Can you give the readers of OTM a quick synopsis of your life as a production designer? How have you gotten to where you are today?
Zazu Myers: I think I owe most of where I am today to my parents. My mom was a visual artist and my dad designs and builds houses – a contractor, so to speak. They really set the foundation for me to be the creative person I am today. I went to Ryerson for Film and during that time, while also completing school projects, I worked on a ton of external projects with some local Toronto directors.Those side projects led to designing my first feature-length film almost immediately after graduating.

PM: You just wrote, directed and produced your own film, In Lieu of Flowers. What was your inspiration behind this film? And why the desire to jump from designer to director?
ZM: Well, I’ve always wanted to do a 1920s period piece and since I had yet to stumble across a script that spoke to that time period, I decided to do one myself! There was this one scene that we had to wait until spring to shoot. It was this antique streetcar from the 1910s or sometime around then that I just had to have in the film, but on the day we were scheduled to shoot it, a huge tree fell down on the electrical line, obstructing the track that the streetcar ran on. But, as it were, the show must go on…I just continued along as if nothing was wrong and in the end we were able to get a pretty believable train sequence. Although, what you don’t see is how slow the train is really going. [laughs]

PM: You’ve also dabbled in a little music video production design for Shoulders & Turns and Autoerotique.Can you tell us the differences between feature film production design and music video production design? Are there any?
ZM: Organization is the biggest difference between music videos and doing a feature film. Esthetically, there’s a level of realism that needs to be maintained when you’re doing a movie feature. All of that sort of goes out the window when you’re doing a music video. You can be as crazy, off-the-wall as you’d like! Music videos are about making the lyrics of a song come to life visually, so that can be really interesting as a production designer. It allows for more creativity. Like, on the shoot forAutoerotique’s song Turn Up The Volume, I got to blow-up cakes onto someone’s face! That was a lot of fun. Especially since I’ve got a bit of a background as a cake-baker for Frangipane in Toronto!

PM: Your esthetic seems to have a very vintage, grainy feel. Is there any particular reason behind this?
ZM: Again, I’d have to say my mom. The paintings she did are based on woman’s lingerie ads from the 50s. Of course there is femininity to these paintings, but there’s also a feeling that these woman are self-aware, strong individuals.I like that. And, of course, the old black and whites we used to watch growing up also speak to my overall esthetic.

PM: What are some of your biggest inspirations? Favourite films, music videos, books, people?
ZM: Well, obviously my parents have been huge influences. I used to watch tons of classic Hollywood films with my mom when I was younger. My favourites were classics like Funny FaceHow to Marry a MillionaireWhite Christmas and also Indiana Jones. On the other end of the spectrum, another influence of mine isMary Howard, who I had the privilege of interning for last summer in New York. This one shoot I got to work on was for GAP China and Annie Leibovitz was the photographer – she even took my photo! Which sounds way more awesome than it really was; I was just standing in as she tested a few shots. I’m sure she deleted it right away. But it makes for a good story, no?

PM: What’s next for Zazu? Can you give the readers a sneak-peak into some upcoming projects that we can look forward to?
ZM: I’ve got so many projects on the go right now.I’m working on a stop-animated children’s film entitled Fox and the Chickadee, which is all two-dimensional paper animations – its hard work! – very tedious. I’m also about to start working on the new Rural Alberta Advantage music video, which should be a lot of fun.

PM: So, on the whole, what’s it like being a production designer in Toronto? Love it? Hate it?
ZM: I love it. There are tons of great directors, people and places in the city that I’m still excited to explore. I would, of course, still like to try my hand out in Los Angeles and again in New York just for comparison’s sake. But maybe one day I could have my own studio here in Toronto? Who knows…