Strap in, action fans.
In this brand new interview, No Film School was pleased to connect with Naz Goshtasbpour via Zoom. She’s the talented production designer behind the visuals of Season 2 of Prime’s Reacher, which finds the titular action hero on a new adventure filled with spycraft, explosions, chase sequences, and more.
Goshtasbpour told us about the creative process that shaped the show’s aesthetic landscape, always favoring practical sets where she could. From conceptualizing key sets to selecting intricate details that resonate with the narrative (some of which are seen, but not always, as you’ll learn), Goshtasbpour provided a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the meticulous work that goes into bringing the world of Reacher to life.
How do you design for action? How do you design on low budgets? Let Goshtasbpour tell you.
‘Reacher’ Season 2 – Official Trailer | Prime Video
Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
No Film School: I know that one big thing for you is that you really care about practical sets and realism. Can you talk a little bit about what that motivation is and how you execute it in your production design?
Naz Goshtasbpour: For me, it is really, most importantly, it’s all about the balance and where to pick and choose your battle and where you’re going to allocate resources and how much time you have, and all of that before, obviously if I could do everything practically, I would 100 percent do it practically, but sometimes you’re up against elements and time and safety and all of that stuff. So that’s where we as a team assess what is the most efficient and the best way for production is, which direction it is to go on, and then that’ll determine what we have to do. But overall, when I’m building a practical set with any show that I’m on, I just try and give as much of the world as I can, specifically with what the actors are going to be standing in front of or interacting with and all of that stuff.
So for me, that part of it is what I try to deliver. If I can’t deliver the entire world, that’s what I like to do, because just always so much better when actors have something concrete to act, like to touch and feel and react to and all of that.
NFS: I would love to know how you consider things like action sequences in your designs, because sets like the New Age R&D were very expansive, but the actors also tore them up quite thoroughly.
Goshtasbpour: The first step is always read the script and then sit with the director and see what they’re thinking for their vision. … For that one, that was quite the fun one to do. I mean, the script was very descriptive, and our showrunner always has a clear vision of the show, and so my first step was to read the script and see what the action is.
And then from there, talking with the director and seeing what they’re thinking in terms of if they’re saying, for example, bad guy shoots the glass, and then Richard jumps through—it’s like, how is that? Are there any obstacles or anything like that in the way? Do we want to make it more dynamic? Do we want to add more sparks or less sparks, or what are the parameters? What do we want to do?
So from there, after reading the script and then talking with the showrunner and having concept meetings and then talking with the director, and then we bring in special effects, and stunts come in, and then we all start discussing what we do and what we need to do and how much time we have to prep and all of that. And then we move forward.
But for me, I always, again, I love action movies, and I like stunt sequences, and I like figuring things out and problem-solving and all of that stuff. So I always, when I see a big fight sequence or a big stunt sequence, the ending in the R&D facility, it’s just—eat it up. It’s so good.
The New Age R&D set in ‘Reacher’Goshtasbpour/Prime Video
NFS: I know that you also integrate things like backstories and Easter eggs into characters in your designs. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you develop those things with the showrunner?
Goshtasbpour: Sometimes I just kind of add things, just little things that I know having worked with this team for a while now, and especially in season two, I got a good sense of what they like and what they don’t like and what more importantly, what the show is all about and the look of the show. And I set the look for Season Two, so I know what the Reacher world should look like for the most part. And of course, I run my designs past our showrunners and the studio and everybody else. So with certain developing characters and stuff, I sometimes run with it because I know it’s just all part of the world that we live in, and sometimes they’re just so background and so little that it’s not, I don’t know. I don’t want to bother people with being like, “Oh, what do you think of if we put an orange coat on the back of this chair?” It’s all part of the overall look of the set.
For example, with the R&D facility for New Age, there were so many different workstations that we were designing. And that’s why also I love our set dec team because sometimes when we sit down and we’re like, okay, well, we have all these stations, they can’t all be exactly the same.
These are scientists and researchers and engineers, and we want to bring in a little bit of life and a little bit of detail to this massive research facility. So as we put in the base layer of their computers and lamps and everything else, and we’re like, okay, well this engineer really likes comic books, then our graphic designers will make comic strips. And we’re like, your inspirations are, I don’t know, Snoopy, for example, or just make comic strips that look like that, or this other person loves reading the New Yorker and cuts the clippings. And then we do that.
And then I always joke that we have this one character that whatever show I’m on, I always bring her onto, it’s like a total background. And if it’s an office environment or the new age research facility, it’s like her name is Trish and she’s a very intelligent woman, but she also likes to party. So we have this leopard print, bright pink and black jacket that we had hanging. You never saw it, but Trish does live in my world.
The 101st in ‘Reacher’Goshtasbpour/Prime Video
NFS: That’s amazing. I love that.
Goshtasbpour: She has her party shoes in the bottom under her desk. Again, you don’t see it, but that’s Trish’s world. Or another thing I love doing is doing a birthday setup. There was an office staff, it’s their birthday, so they had balloons and streamers, just little things to give life to a work environment.
NFS: That’s the kind of detail that I wish I could notice all the time, just because it’s so rich an environment to explore.
Goshtasbpour: But I should also say that if there’s anything more prominent and big, I always run it by our showrunner because I don’t want them to ever be surprised. Like, “What is that?”
NFS: One thing I like to ask of production designers, especially on behalf of lower-budget productions—what advice would you have for making production design work within those confines and still look really good?
Goshtasbpour: Well, funny you say that, because my background, I didn’t start out doing big movies and big TV shows. And it’s only been in the last seven or eight years that I’ve started getting bigger and bigger projects. I started in the industry as a trainee in the art department and also doing independent movies as a production designer.
So applying what I learned in the union world and to the non-union indie movies, the biggest thing I learned is ultimately, anybody who works in film, no matter at what capacity, we’re all storytellers, and we’re all artists trying to bring the words on the pages to life.
And it doesn’t matter—yes, it does matter what the budget is—but sometimes I find that to be secondary. Especially for my position, it’s the creativity that [you] bring to the table that sets you apart from everybody else. And how well you tell that story through the world you create is what is important.
Because when I first started, I think my first movie that I production designed, I was 22, and the budget was—I had $50. And that was 20, 22 years ago. And then we were creative. We found locations that suited the characters 90%, and then we brought in the little props.
Then you get a little bit more money, but you still don’t have enough. And then you just try and be more creative with that.
Helicopter set on ‘Reacher’Goshtasbpour/Prime Video
And another thing I would tell people is just read as many newspapers and interviews about production designers, if that is what you’re interested in. Read, because everybody is a wealth of knowledge. Everybody’s path is so different.
They move up and they learn so many things. And then you take inspiration from that because you never know when you’re going to run into a situation where you heard something from someone, and you’re like, oh, you know what? I could apply this to my set right now.
And even now, I work on productions where you either don’t have money or you don’t have time. You never, regardless of what the budget is, even when I worked on big, big movies as an assistant art director, I would always hear the designer be like, oh, how is it that we don’t have any money?
And it was comforting to me, even at [the] $400 million movie level, there’s always that. You always have to be creative and work within parameters no matter what they are. And then, yeah, just read blogs and interviews, and watch movies and watch behind the scenes.