Production Designer Mercedes Hachuel: The Dynamics are in the Details

Venezuelan-Spanish production designer Mercedes Hachuel’s lyrical sense of aesthetics, keen professionalism and zesty, enthusiastic creativity allows her to successfully take on just about any type of film job. Equally at home designing for commercials, music videos, motion pictures and television, Hachuel’s dedication and drive have earned her both a strong reputation and fast-growing resume of noteworthy credits.

For Hachuel, a lifelong romance with storytelling and art provided the ideal background for her choice of career. “I was born in Caracas, Venezuela and as a child I’d read books and draw the worlds that I imagined the characters living in.” Hachuel said. “My favorites were Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, so you can imagine that when the films were released I just felt in love with those worlds and wanted to create something like that myself. I loved ideas, I loved creativity so I studied social communication with a major in film in the Andres Bello Catholic University, the best in the country. Meantime I worked in a small advertising agency where we produced all our commercials in-house, and I realized I had to do something related to film That’s when I moved to Los Angeles to study production at UCLA.”

Arriving in Hollywood, she wasted no time. “I met Leslie Dilley, the art director of the first Star Wars and production designer of Aliens, Deep Impact  and many other amazing films.” Hachuel said. “He became my mentor and explained to me that everything I had done up to that point was actually production design. He taught me the secrets and the real magic behind the work. Everything I heard and did made me love production design even more and that’s when I realized it was my passion—what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, to create magic worlds and make fantasies reality. I think that was the best decision I ever made.”

Her industry peers certainly agree. Whether she’s assigned to a dark comedy like He Matado a Mi Marido (“I Killed My Husband”), the bittersweet family dramedy of The Astronaut, an intense thriller like The Cards or famed dancer-singer Brian Puspos’ atmospheric music video Murder She Wrote , Hachuel leaves her own distinctive imprint even as she ensures a seamless production.

“Mercedes is passionate, talented and reliable—characteristics that make her a great asset for any project,” Murder She Wrote producer Gonzalo Wagner said. “She has a great ability to adapt herself to new situations and solve last minute problems. You can rely on her and know that you don’t have to worry because she’s ready for anything.”

Production Design is a necessarily collaborative discipline and Hachuel excels at bringing a team together; her professional background—advertising, set decoration and art department experience—provides a rich cumulative basis which produces invariably superlative results.

“As production designer, I realized how important it is for the audience to be able to immerse themselves in the story, “ Hachuel said. “If we do not achieve that, it doesn’t work. It’s really important to have design and sets that support the narrative and backstory of the film. And to capture that—to set the tone—the art department, camera department, lighting, all have to work together, because only the right mix of set decoration, color, shadows and highlights not only tells the story, they also add depth to it.”

Elie Sfeir
Hachuel, with second assistant director Gavin McFarland, prepares to build another world (photo by Elie Sfeir)

“Mercedes is always attentive and passionate about her work,” Guillermo Polo, director of photography on The Astronaut, said. “She is always ready to change something in order to make the shot perfect, and is always ready for the next shot, which is really great for my department. That attention to detail is what makes her work unique.”

“I really do believe in details,” Hachuel said. “You have to be looking out for them all the time, to add or take them out and you design and build while always thinking about those little elements, because they are what will make what you are creating unique and believable. You can’t create another world if you do not pay attention to what should really be there, and those little details are what make all the difference in the end.”

Even for a short form music video project, Hachuel reliably gives her best, creative all.

“On Murder She Wrote, the director and I discussed every small detail so we could get a shared vision of the artistic concept,” she said. “It was the story of a man that lost everything he cared about and murdered his lover. We played with the idea of having all the sets suspended in a black hole that was infinite, timeless and dead, but it had to look classy at the same time. So, I had to be really careful with the color, since I needed to work with that stark contrast. Finally, I choose a color palette of gold, red and white—these represented the value and purity of love but also, at the same time, the blood and passion of those violent emotions. Experimenting with those colors, I composed and selected each set piece and everyone liked the results.

For Hachuel, every production design assignment is an artistic challenge, and she takes a great measure of satisfaction in crafting the most complimentary and ideal presentations a story requires

“I love projects where I have to create different props and build things,” Hachuel said. “I always do a great deal of research before I actually begin, to give myself enough information to be able to create a believable world. That’s my ultimate goal—to let the audience feel that the world I created could really exist.”

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