Manchester by the Sea, the story of a man who tries to comfort his nephew while coping with a tragedy from his past and the death of his older brother, was a 2017 Oscar nominee for Best Picture. The all-star cast includes Casey Affleck, who was named Best Actor for his role, Michelle Williams and Matthew Broderick. And if you watch the credits, you’ll see Ruth De Jong’s name listed as production designer.
De Jong, a 2004 graduate of TCU, is a production designer for feature firms, commercials and television as well as an interior designer and partner at De Jong & Co., a family-owned design and manufacturing firm.
De Jong shares with us how the movie role came to fruition and how her experiences at TCU contributed to her success.
TCU: Tell us about your current job and career path.
De Jong: My life is two-fold; I am a production designer for feature films and commercials and an interior designer for commercial and residential properties at De Jong & Co., a firm my brothers and I started in Los Angeles after a number of my friends asked me to design their restaurants and homes. We pooled our talents to create the business and now have a line of furniture and small goods we sell in stores across the United States and online, in addition to our design projects. This spring, a pair of restaurants we are designing will open in Santa Monica, California.
On the Hollywood front, I designed the film Manchester by the Sea and was nominated for an Art Director’s Guild Award for Best Production Design for a contemporary film.
Most recently, I designed the upcoming television series, Twin Peaks, airing in May on Showtime, and a television commercial campaign for Nike that aired during the Grammy Awards.
TCU: How has your TCU education created a path for your career?
De Jong: I studied fine arts at TCU and earned my bachelor’s degree in painting and photography under professors Luther Smith and Jim Woodson. Fine arts gave me a great platform for designing sets and interiors; sculpture, painting, photography, drawing and art history supplied me with the essential elements I use to begin a project – the study of light, color and space.
TCU: How did you get your start in movie art and production?
De Jong: After graduating from TCU, I was accepted to the master’s program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The summer before I started graduate school, however, I was visiting my friend, Schuyler Fisk, whose parents are renowned production designer Jack Fisk and actress Sissy Spacek, and Jack suggested I consider a career in art direction versus painting. I deferred graduate school for a year and went to Los Angeles to gain experience. During that time, Jack was gearing up to design There Will Be Blood and he asked me to join his art department. I art directed for him for nearly a decade before launching out on my own.
TCU: How did you get involved with Manchester by the Sea?
De Jong: I received a call from one of the film’s producers, Kevin Walsh. Kevin and I met on The Master, my fourth collaborative film with Jack. Kevin told me about the project and asked if I would read the script. At the same time, my agents sent me the script thinking it would be a good fit. I read it and immediately was interested. I met the writer and director, Kenny Lonergan, in January 2015 while he was in Los Angeles and was asked to join his team. Within the month, we were headed to Cape Ann, Massachusetts, to begin work.
TCU: What makes design exciting for you?
Design takes me all over the world into different locations and environments. It’s a constant education and exploration of the world. I love learning about people and places through working in various environments. Through design, I visit places I otherwise would never be allowed to access; I consider it a privilege to do what I do.