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S c r e e n l i f e

Understated Guy Chad Keith is a rising star in the film design world. Just don’t try to tell him that

Photograph by Mark steelman

By Gwenyfar Rohler

“The first film I had in Sundance is when I

had four movies there,” recalls Chad Keith, production designer extraordinaire — Take Shelter, Martha Marcy May Marlene, On The Ice, and Restless City. After five years of going out to Sundance to see films and network with potential directors, it was quite a way to return to the festival. Then Take Shelter and Martha Marcy May Marlene both went to Cannes, the legendary film festival on the French Riviera. “I spent more on going to Cannes than I made on either of those movies,” he says with a laugh. The designer in him takes over as he describes the beautiful seatown and all the lavish clothing people wore. Writers remember words, whereas designers remember images.

Keith is a naturally understated kind of guy whose intense, smiling eyes are the key to the good humor that buoys him through life. Usually seen wearing jeans and a paperboy hat with a dog nearby, he always has a grin 16

Salt • Januar y 2015

and a kind word. Truthfully, he looks like any other mid-30s aspiring artist having coffee and chatting about music, art, film gossip and color theory. When I say he’s really understated, I mean this, for example: When we were trying to get times synched to talk for this piece, Chad mentioned that there was another interviewer he had to talk to for a different magazine. “Which magazine?” I asked. “Uh, Variety, I think. Yeah. That’s it.” “Chad! That’s incredible! Is it about a movie you worked on?” “No, it’s like ‘25 Young Filmmakers to Watch’ . . . something like that . . .” He trails off and looks away. Now, if it had been me, I would have rented a billboard to make such an announcement. Not Keith, who has the same excited can-do attitude about the films he’s designing as he did when he was on his first film set as an intern from UNCW on Dawson’s Creek. Keith was a communication studies major at the very beginning of the Film Concentration that morphed into the Film Studies Department at UNCW. He’s just one of a long line of film students at UNCW who began by interning with our local productions and have gone on to solid careers. Like many film technicians, Keith worked for a while as a production assistant until he landed in the art department and then it all came together for him. The literal transformation that a film crew does to a location was captivating: “I saw places changing — it was really The Art & Soul of Wilmington

January Salt 2015  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

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