An Interview with Production Designer Toni Barton

This week I had the chance to chat with Toni Barton, who’s a production designer in the entertainment industry. Her design career had an eclectic start on both coasts: designing scenery for both theatre + short films while studying architecture in Los Angeles; assisting several Broadway scenic designers, and designing at a themed architecture + an industrial set design firm in New York. Each of these experiences leads to her transition into the design for film + television.

Toni’s design strategy fosters a collaborative environment for the written word. She recently worked on Netflix’s Archive 81, a series based on a supernatural horror podcast. Her credits also include the pilot episode of ABC’s Stumptown and the last season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones.

Where do you find your best inspiration from? What’s your creative process?

With every new project, I always start with the written word, reading the script multiple times so I can start to visualize the story. Often, I will create a playlist to listen to while I sit at my drafting table. 

At the start of Archive 81, I asked Rebecca Sonnenshine, showrunner, for some of her film and musical inspirations and created a 15 hour long music playlist to think,

conceptualize and draw to after watching Rosemary’s Baby, Devs, Ex Machine and Suspiria.

Tell us a little about the projects you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of and why.

Recently, I had the privilege of designing Out/Side of Time, a short film for British Nigerian artist/director Jenn Nkiru, which is installed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room by lead curator Hannah Beachler. 

To have the honor of working with extremely talented creatives that culturally speaking, have my specific interest in mind was not only refreshing, but inspiring.

What was it like to work on Marvel’s Jessica Jones?

Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones season 3. Courtesy of Netflix.

Jessica Jones, along with Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, were my introduction to the street Defenders. Prior to art directing the first seasons of the Marvel Netflix series, I was not familiar with this universe, nor did I truly understand the intersection between the real New York City Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem neighborhoods and their beautifully illustrated comic origins. 

To work on the last season of Jessica Jones and really the last of all the street defenders series, was a wonderful bookend completion for my Marvel journey.

If you could be a part of any project, which show would you choose and why?

If I answered this question two years ago, I would have had a completely different answer. Now I am most interested in collaborating with dynamic storytellers, stretching beyond my knowledge, and perhaps, my comfort zone. 

Archive 81, being a supernatural horror story told over multiple time periods, was a challenge, but the horror aspect alone – completely took me out of my comfort zone and was beyond worth it.

What’s your advice for women aspiring to work in the film/tv industry as a production designer?

That is such an interesting question because, unlike cinematographers and directors, I was surrounded by many woman production designers early in my career. When I first started as an assistant art director, my first few films were with designers Jane Musky, Kalina Ivanov, and art director Patricia Woodbridge.

Often I found myself offering advice about grad school choices, drafting classes, union applications, and portfolio reviews to many young women who are trying their best to navigate this industry. 

Personally, I would love to see the art department culturally diversify better, support and nurture design students of color.

When asked about upcoming projects, Toni mentioned she can’t speak on them due to NDAs, however you can follow her journey on Twitter and check out her website here. We’re sure she’s creating some amazing things and can’t wait to see what she’s up to! 

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