Cinefantastique, Volume 22, Number 5, April 1992, p. 18

Naked Lunch

Production Design

Carol Spier came up with the look of Burroughīs Interzone, Tangier on a movie set.

By Gary Kimber

Carol Spier production designer

Spier on her indoor market set, built in Toronto when location shooting in Tangier, Morocco - where Burroughs wrote the book - was scrapped due to war with Iraq


Production designer Carol Spier ended up having to recreate Tangier on a movie set when plans to film NAKED LUNCH on location in Morocco went out the window with the outbreak of war with Iraq early last year. "We had been in Tangier for a couple of weeks and had found all our locations," said Spier. "We had started designing when the war started. Fortunately, we took a lot of photographs, references of architectural styles, paint finishes and textures. My art director, James McAteer, stayed behind one extra day, taking hundreds of photos while I flew to London for a meeting. They proved invaluable." Tangier had changed radically from the early fifties setting of the film so articles from old National Geographic magazines were also consulted.

When the location work was scrapped, Spier noted, "The picture became a more internal story. Everything is happening in the protagonistīs mind anyway. The external scenes became more internal. Beaches were inside a building. The street scenes became smaller in scope. You didnīt know whether you were in New York or Interzone. In truth the protagonist never leaves New York, he just thinks heīs in this exotic place."

Spier noted that Cronenberg vetoed the idea of any extreme stylization. "With David you can only go so far with stylizing," said Spier. "He likes his settings pretty normal because all the other things happening in his films are so abnormal. He likes things to have a natural, realistic appearance. We stylized subtly, no paintings or odd angles. We tried to make the scenes look real, but with kind of an edge to them. Itīs real but thereīs just something about it you canīt be sure about."

NAKED LUNCH was Spierīs eighth design collaboration with Cronenberg, whom she met while working on FAST COMPANY, a dragracing story starring William Smith, an atypical work-for-hire Cronenberg directed in the summer of 1977. "David and I hit it off immediately and Iīve been working with him ever since," said Spier.

After so many film together, a personal rapport has evolved. "I know what he does and does not like," said Spier. "I certain situations I can second guess what he wants. Things like colors, how the action might be staged. I know he tries to shoot almost 360 degrees, so I try to accomodate him. Itīs a mental awareness we share. I donīt have to go to him as much as when I first started."

Spierīs set of Tangier were all housed in a large building converted to filmmaking in Torontoīs lakefront. "It was quite surreal," said Spier of the filming. "It was night and tons and tons of sand were brought in. We build little sand dunes, and tents, with Bedouin Arabs, camels and goats standing around for background."

Without seing the finished product, only some ruhes, Spier had not formed a conclusive opinion about how the film turned out, but is confident of its quality. "Sometimes David can do incredible things in the editing room that surpise you," she said. "I didnīt think THE FLY would turn into a love story when we were shooting. Iīm sure David knew what he was doing while directing, but he didnīt tell a soul."