Learning about various aspects of humanity is a passion of Colombia’s Laura Santoyo Dangond. Originally from Colombia, she has also lived in Peru and Canada, and loves to travel to experience different cultures and learn new languages, fluent in Spanish, English, French, German, and Portuguese. This desire to learn about the world and its people is part of what led her into filmmaking. With every new project she embarks on, she gets to tell a different story and learn something new about history, society, the human mind, and more. Beyond the stories, she works with people from all over the world that have different backgrounds and ways of seeing life, and together they share and experience their differences through their art. As a production designer, Santoyo takes everything she has seen and practiced and channels that into creating visually stunning and captivating sets and props that fully transport audiences into what they are watching.
“I make an effort to stay true to the story and what the characters are. I do a lot of research on the characters and the environment where they live. I also try to have many exchanges with the director where we discuss characters and share research and inspiration images, etc. to understand their vision and the direction they are taking the story to. I like to play with colors and used them to imply aspects of the story that are not explicitly spoken by the characters,” she said.
Santoyo is known for her work on award-winning films such as Lockdown and Tim of the Jungle, both of which made their way to several of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Last year, her film The Plague premiered, reminding audiences of what she is capable of, as Santoyo created a dystopian world. Her most recent film premiered just last month at the Slamdance Festival, and once again Santoyo shows she is unrivaled as a production designer.
“As soon as I finished reading the script I felt like I had to be part of the project. It is one of the most original scripts I have read, very intelligent and I thought that it was a story that had to be told and that I wanted to tell it,” she said. “The script of this film describes a number of absurd situations and uses humor to address subjects that are affecting our society. It was very important that the design of the movie supported the comedic tone without ridiculing the situations.”
The film tells the story of a potentially psychosomatic white man, a woman stuck in a vortex of mansplaining, and a young black man confronted by the racial disconnect of society, each trying to make sense of their lives as their worlds are set on an inevitable collision course in this surrealist comedy.
It was important for Santoyo and the rest of the team to differentiate the three storylines that run parallel to each other and to show the absurdity of the situations without being too over the top. Therefore, they assigned one color to each character.
The first story, about a man who can’t walk, represents the feeling of impotence that someone watching the news at night can feel when they see injustices with no way to help. This character takes the “sickness” he feels to the extreme. Therefore, they decided to use the color blue with him, which is very clinical.
The second story, about a woman who’s caught in male-dominated conversations turmoil, was assigned the color red. She is often angry and frustrated, and all the men that she’s with see her and other women as objects. Santoyo felt red reflected these feelings.
The third story is about a black man, who in the most absurd situation, ends up being shot by the police. The filmmakers gave him the color green, because he’s young and innocent at the beginning and at the end it is his case that makes the man in the first story sick.
“As a society, we are still fighting against racism, social injustice and women’s equality and this film raises awareness on these subjects in a comedic tone. I believe that it is very important to have films like this one because we can start generating discussions that could eventually lead to change,” said Santoyo.
Working on Falling has been one of the most fun experiences Santoyo has had throughout her career. From the first time she read the script, she knew it was going to be challenging because there were many locations with three different stories that at the end become one. Each story had elements of magical realism that could also be difficult to achieve in production design. Santoyo wanted to enhance the experiences of the character through the set, but not overdo it to a point that the messages behind each scene were lost. She managed to find the perfect balance, always keeping in mind the color palette they had decided for each character early on in production.
“I think many things make Laura an excellent designer, collaborator, and professional. The first thing that comes to mind is passion. She’s clearly passionate about what she does – she made it clear that she seeks out work that she connects with on a personal and aesthetic level. Once she’s onboard, she’s obviously all-in. That shows at every phase of a project when you see her initial ideas, the hours she’s putting in, the attitude she brings to every meeting and production day, and the diligence with which she executes. Beyond that, she’s a professional with outstanding training, instincts, and experience. She knows how to present her ideas clearly – both verbally and visually, she has leadership skills, she remains calm under pressure, she knows how to prioritize, stay organized, and keep others motivated to work at a high standard,” said Ewen Wright, Director.
Wright was looking through portfolios and films for a costume designer when Santoyo’s work caught his eye. He asked the costume designer who the production designer was that possessed such talent. He immediately reached out to Santoyo, who was extremely responsive and receptive to the idea of the film. They immediately began a strong partnership and shared ideas about the film.
“Laura has a creative voice, and in a key role on a collaboration that can’t be undervalued. She brings her lifelong sense of design, studied theory, and just pure instinct to her work in a way that gives her work a through-line. I really enjoyed developing a shorthand with her. Lastly, she has a phenomenal attitude and work ethic. She went above and beyond for our production – and even when things went wrong, or the hours ran long, Laura was a reliable source of positivity and joy. As a leader on the team, she set a tone for those around her that I know contributed to all of us doing better. When I was stressed or needed a moment, I always knew I could rely on Laura for a laugh – just as the rest of the time I relied on her for her eye on the image,” Wright continued.
Working with such a committed team was one of Santoyo’s favorite parts about filming Falling. She found everyone came together to tell such an intricate story, and she was constantly inspired by those she worked alongside. However, it was the message behind the film that truly made the experience for the production designer.
“I am so proud to have been a part of this film. I think it’s a story that captures the feeling that something is wrong in the world and the willingness to change it, but not knowing how to go about doing so. I think many people feel that now. I’m thrilled to know that it’s being watched by many people and it can maybe inspire some change in our society,” she said.
Now that Falling has begun its film festival run, Santoyo is looking forward to her next project. Undoubtedly, she has a very bright future ahead of her, and audiences can continue to look for her name rolling past their eyes in movie credits for years to come.
“I want to keep exploring and finding new stories to tell and more talented people to work with. I am looking forward to creating more worlds where magic is possible. I want my work to reach even larger audiences and present stories to the public that entertain them and that touches them. I have a couple of projects in line for this year that hopefully will help me accomplish this,” she concluded.
Top photo by Jesper Duelund