Movies. There is so much that goes into the making of the movie. What you see on the screen takes 100’s of people, thousands of hours, and a lot of cooperation.
Jordan Ninkovich is an accomplished film production designer for film and television. In the past, he has worked with networks such as Hallmark, Lifetime, Fox, TUBI, A&E, amongst many others. Jordan’s outstanding work ethic and leadership skills are evident in his craftsmanship.
Jordan Ninkovich, the production designer behind the magical designs in this years Hallmark movies The Holiday Sitter and Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas sat down to speak with us about what being a production designer is, how things come together and just what it means for him to work in the movies.
Fangirlish: We love to speak to people behind the scenes. I’ve worked on quite a few movies in my life and I think that a lot of times people that are behind the scenes don’t get the recognition that they deserve.
Jordan: Yes. Sometimes we don’t yet.
Fangirlish: I don’t think a lot of people understand exactly how much goes into making a movie. I think that it’s definitely a great thing to expose that and to bring people– because you’re an artist.
Jordan: Yes. It is. In the moment, the producers and the directors and the cast are very grateful for myself and my position, and all the crew at that in those moments. Especially for being the head of the art department, the production designer in charge of absolutely everything visual that everybody enjoys and that weight on your shoulders, don’t get me wrong, I love it, that’s why I do this, but to articulate and to create these worlds based on the parameters that we have and the vision that the director wants, of course, and the vision that producers and network want, it’s amazing the amount of things that we have to do to really make it magical for everyone to enjoy.
Fangirlish: Do you mind just describing what a production designer is just for people who wouldn’t know?
Jordan: Yes, absolutely. A production designer is the head of the art department. Basically, underneath us is everything visual from all different color palettes, the sets, the look, tone, and feel, wardrobe, props, you name it. Everything that is seen, even cars, any vehicles in the in the shows, it all has to match our madness that we create. A lot of people don’t–
It’s a lot and it’s fun to see it all work and flow together. That is the bare bones of what production designer responsibilities are, overlooking that entire umbrella. Taking the words and sometimes very brief descriptions of certain locations and sets and imagining not only what the audience wants, what network wants, what producers want, what the director envisions, but who these characters are, why these places exist, what’s happening.
Then we have to take that little paragraph and imagine a world and start painting it and designing it and sketching it and building it. Then in a short period of time you see it in front of the camera, man, and it’s a beautiful process.
Fangirlish: Have you always wanted to do something like this or were you into art as a child?
Jordan: Believe it or not, I started off as the complete opposite. My brother was the actor, believe it or not. My brother was in the arts. I was very inspired by him. He’s an older brother of mine. I thought, “Wow, I don’t know how anyone does that.” I was more the sports. I played basketball and had fun with that, but very shortly during that time, I was so inspired by my brother as an actor I thought I would try it out.
I started off as a stage actor and went into film and television quickly after and got my first break on TV series called Psych. Then from there did a bunch of stunts. I still act to this day.
During that journey of hoping I actually get a path to becoming a really good actor or a busy one, so to speak, I found myself mesmerized by all the different environments and sets I was so lucky to be a part of. That was everything from X-Files to Stargate, Stargate Atlantis, Night at the Museum series. I saw all these beautiful locations in these sets and I was like, “Wow, unless you’re here and you see this, it’s amazing what people have done.”
There was a moment where something clicked with me. I found myself mesmerized more with the environments, and the sets, and the textiles, and the tones, and the feel of everything than being in front of the camera. I said to myself, as much as that’s my first love, I love it, don’t get me wrong, I’ll laugh every day of the week, but I wanted to entertain that.
Of course, as a kid I loved Lego and building things and constructing stuff. It was definitely a early on passion. I decided to go back to university and become a registered interior designer. Through that, I always had one toe in the door with film and auditioning and doing a little bit of props and knowing that one day my ultimate goal is to be a production designer.
I wanted to bring something different to the table. I always felt that, especially in this industry, if it’s your unique approach to, as an actor or your look or as a director, amazing visions that every director has a different type of style, what can make me separate myself from every other production designer? It is not a prerequisite to become a registered interior designer before you become a production designer. It is an asset.
Through that, I had the pleasure of building some luxury homes in some commercial spaces and enjoying that side of design. In that moment of, I’ve really enjoyed that and I felt, “I’m going to drop everything and pursue my ultimate dream.” That’s to remain in this film industry and go full blown as a production designer. That journey I lean on and allow it to speak through my work.
I think one of the unique things that I believe, and I’ve been complimented on it is that my approach to being a production designer and creating these sets and these worlds is that my experience as an actor and understanding film on all spectrums front end, in front of the camera and behind really determines the type of designs and the sets I do. Why that’s been important is that if I were to design you a living room right now, the spatial awareness of that room would be completely different compared to the same identical mirrored living room as if we were going to do a set.
Even though it’s exact same furniture, exact same dimensions, it’s the flow of the actors, movements, camera, cast, crew, everything that’s involved in that space. To the naked eye, you’ll never see the difference through the camera, but in the space itself, the dynamic is different. When I walk onto a set, understanding the movements of actors, understanding cameras, directors, all that stuff of that experience, I save time. Trust me, the directors love it and the cast do because I think about their needs as much as all the other needs that are on my shoulders all ready, is to deliver a beautiful set.
It’s been a really fun approach and it’s definitely being recognized in a way that it’s time saved. Of course, production loves that, and I get a lot of compliments from cast because they don’t feel constrained, or they love the layers I bring to a set because I’m thinking about their needs as much as mine.
Fangirlish: I think that some of the best production designers that I’ve ever seen or worked with, they’re choreographers without the dancing, if that makes sense.
Jordan: Exactly, because sometimes we’re given an impossible task to be able to create a spatial plan and a set that can flow and can work. It doesn’t look like it’s just a room with a bunch of furniture in it or something that doesn’t make sense to the viewer. The footwork that we must do mentally is fun. That’s a great way to put it because that’s exactly what it’s.
Fangirlish: know you’ve worked on a lot of movies and I know that one of the things they asked me about was Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas because I loved the movie, but I honestly think that one of the most important things that you have worked on is The Holiday Sitter.
Fangirlish: I spoke to Jonathan Bennett like six weeks ago. I haven’t put out the interview yet, but we were just given a paragraph about the movie and asked to interview him. I sat and spoke to him and he said to me that The Holiday Sitter is one of the most important things that he’s done and that bringing a movie that has LGBTQ right at the forefront and the main characters in the movie is something that he’s most proud of when it comes to Hallmark. My question for you is, I know you worked closely with Jonathan during the movie, why was it important for you to work on this movie and what was working with him like?
Jordan: Great question. When I remember the day I was just finishing up another movie and I got the honor, so to speak, to be given the opportunity to productions around this amazing script, this great opportunity for Hallmark, great opportunity for all of us to put this, first and foremost, center stage to create a movie like this, first on many levels. It’s important to me. For myself as a person, my friends and family and my community that I’m involved in, it was an honor to be given this, to be able to to create this world. I know it’s a big deal and I’m really excited for it to come out.
Of course, having the opportunity to work with Jonathan, I can’t say no to that. I was like, “Yes, absolutely.” When I started getting deep into the script and creating this world, it speaks very closely to me, and of course, it just resonates with just everything. It’s just so many things. There are so many layers to this movie, which is so beautiful. I wanted to be able to transcend that into every aspect of this film, every which way. It’s my mandate, my goal to do with every film I do, but in this particular case, especially working with the extremely talented Maura Dunbar, she held me at a very high pedestal, so I had to deliver. I was like, “Maura, let’s have some fun with this.” It was great.
One of the most challenging, fun, and beautiful moments, and the whole movie was beautiful, every day was– it didn’t feel like a movie. The cast, the crew, the sets, the vibe, it was magical. It really was. It’s such a beautiful story and beautiful moment. One of my best memories, and there was a lot, and sometimes this happens, is that things happen behind the scenes, or it could be location change or there’s an issue or something happens and it’s our duty to spring into action and solve problems instantaneously.
There was a set, which is actually Jonathan’s condo or place, this is New York condo in the movie. We had this beautiful location. We ended up losing it just due to logistics and my only other option was this. I’ll playfully say that the place should have been condemned. It was a spiderweb infested– looked like more out of a horror movie than anything else.
I remember Maura, Ali, and even Celeste from the Tim Johnson Group standing there looking at me and said, “Jordan, you could make this look like a $10 million New York condo.” I said, “Yes, how much time do I have?” He said, “You got like 48 hours.” I said, “Of course, I do. Let’s have some fun with this.” At first, it’s daunting, but maybe it’s just who I am. If I’m not climbing a mountain, I feel like I’m not working hard enough. When something’s put in front of me like this, it gives me an opportunity to really shine.
It was given in a way not that it was, “Oh, hey, create or design a typical set.” It actually 100% leaned on my background, because I had to take a space and completely renovate it in a way– if I was an interior designer, in this case, luckily, I was, I was able to take that space and really completely night and day change it. I took about an hour or so, sat in the space, meditated on it and just envision who Jonathan is, who he is as a person, what this movie means for all of us, and really what his character is.
He loves Christmas, but there’s not much Christmas in there. He wants to go to Hawaii, doesn’t want to really spend much time with the family. He’s successful, all these other things, what can we do to really change this space? Luckily, the bones of this space naturally had a nice undertone of something that you’d see in an older building in New York, very rustic, very exposed brick, and just has a story of its own to tell.
I wanted to play up on that and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to really make this vibrant,” because it’s also important for me, especially when we do multiple Christmas movies, is that I’m not in the game to rinse and repeat ever on any of the work I do. It’s always what is the next type of trend or what is the next type of color palette I can use for this different Christmas movie and what maybe can inspire a new Christmas trend or whatever the case is. We’re always trying to bend the envelop to create new content and new vision.
In this case, I wanted to keep it retro. I wanted to keep it really cool and really fun with his character and have things that not normally you see in a traditional Hallmark movie and just have some fun with it and bend that envelop. I went with a new age art deco/art nouveau vibe to it with brighten it up a bit. Of course, I had the deep rich world blues and some offset golds and some things like that. Then I wanted to pop a bunch of other different color and there was some nice, beautiful turquoises and other different rich colors.
I called in some favors and then, of course, being an interior designer, you got some people when you need to. I said, “Look, guys, Jonathan’s awesome, his character is amazing. He’s really funny, but he’s also super successful. I need some high-end furniture. I need some high-end furniture now. Let’s fly all this in. What favors can I do?” I literally called in all these favors. I had some beautiful just a slightly darker tone, turquoise sexual couch, which was huge. It was almost like 12-feet long. It was stunning.
This space was very elongated. Think of a huge like rectangle. I wanted to emphasize the lengths because it ended with these beautiful windows. I said, “We can’t look out to what actually people see. Let’s put a beautiful backdrop of a New York City skyline behind those windows and totally get people lost in the moment. I want to really emphasize that’s the focal point of this space and have everything almost pointing in that direction.”
Then I found this beautiful, almost vintage airplane wing style dining table with these leather chairs to compliment it and a beautiful middle bar that had little Hawaii accents. I’m known for going layer upon layer upon layers. When I get to meet the cast and get to understand the characters and the cast individually, I put a bunch of Ester eggs in all the shows I do.
I even put Jonathan’s favorite candy, personally, on his desk and in a bowl and at the bar and just think that he likes. As an actor, you step into the scene like that, you feel more at home. You’re just going to make your job that much easier. I transformed the space, and I tell you, I can’t wait for you all to see it. I know they capture as much as they can of that space. A lot of people don’t understand this, it’s something that’s so minimal and such a beautiful movie that has so many stories to tell. It had its own story to tell.
When Ali and Maura, they were texting me and they were just wrapping for the night on other set and they’re like, “Look, is it done?” I said, “You know what? Come on in.” At that point, I even had some incense going, because I’m all about senses. Visually it’s important for the audience to get loss in it, but it’s also important for the cast, crew, and myself to have all the senses triggered so it makes the environment that much over easier to play in. I had some incense going. I even heard little Frank Sinatra music in the background. This thing totally just set the mood.
Maura and Ali walk in, and I’m telling you, those two are amazing and they’re hard to get a reaction of. They could love you, but their face won’t tell you. That being said, they walked in, they didn’t say anything at first, I was like, “Okay, let them just take it all in,” and almost at the same time, they turned to me, I didn’t realize at the time because their back was to me, they were shedding a tear. They turned to me and we embraced each other and it was a three-way hug there, and Maura was like, “This is why I’ll not hire a [chuckles] production designer that’s not an interior designer. This is absolutely unbelievable.”
That moment I’ll never forget because it not only just– because they were very stressed out about this. This was a stressful situation behind the scenes, and I dealt with it for them without them even knowing it was such a beautiful moment. They shed a tear. We all did. It was such a beautiful space. They were mesmerized and dumbfounded on how it transformed.
Of course, the next morning, [laughs] I was just fine-tuning at the far end of the set while the cast were walking in. All of a sudden, I hear this bellow of a cry out saying, “Oh my God,” and it’s Jonathan because he’d just walked in for the first time. He’s like, “Jordan, Jordan.” I’m like, “Where are you?” He saw me and he ran across the thing and gave me a big hug and I think even a kiss on the cheek. He is like, “This is–” and he was just blown off. He loved every– He wanted to take everything home. He loved it all. He wanted to say, “Hey, can I take you home, redesign my place?” Honestly, this is what the moments I live for and these are moments why we do what we do. It was such a beautiful experience, really. That was one I’ll never forget, for sure.
Fangirlish: I love that you put Easter eggs on there. That was one of my questions, because a lot of people always wonder, “Is there things that I’m supposed to be looking for?” I think Taylor Swift in a way has brought that to the limelight that there’s Easter eggs in everything.
Jordan: Yes, there is.
Fangirlish: I love that you did that. Now, my last question for you is, if you could describe The Holiday Sitter in three colors, what would it be?
Jordan: Oh, great question. Oh, wow. Oh, good question. I would say it would be turquoise, pink, and gold. Those would be my colors.
Fangirlish: I’m so intrigued right now because Jonathan told me that he had pitched this movie as a modern-day Uncle Buck. Those are definitely colors I never saw coming with how he described the movie to me.
Jordan: There you go. Your response right there, when you ask for that question, it solidifies this is a new movie. This is something that I can expect and in many good ways. I think the colors I just mentioned completely describe what to expect, what you’re going to watch, and what you’re going to feel right after with just the slight little accents of tradition, and I think it’s a beautiful thing.
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