Donald Graham Burt on making a career in production design

The Oscar-winning production designer discusses his journey from night janitor to one of David Fincher’s most trusted collaborators, plus his work on the director’s latest film Mank

In a career spanning over three decades, Donald Graham Burt has carved out a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand production designers. He’s lent his talents to everything from 90s crime drama Donnie Brasco to Netflix’s historic action flick Outlaw King, but is arguably best known for his partnership with David Fincher. Their multi-decade collaboration has seen Burt create striking sets for instant classics including The Social Network and Gone Girl.

Despite his impressive CV of critically acclaimed films, the production designer’s place in the movie business wasn’t always so certain. “I never intended to be a production designer,” he tells CR. “In fact, I didn’t even know what it was growing up. I grew up in the Midwest in a small town, and I wasn’t really exposed to that many movies.”

Burt ended up going to art school in Arizona, where an experimental degree in fine art taught him the value of lateral thinking and creative collaboration. “It was during the whole conceptual area, when it was more about the way you think and being inventive and breaking the rules than it was about sitting down and drawing a vase,” he says.

Top: Still from Burt’s latest collaboration with David Fincher on Mank. Above: A scene from Netflix historic action flick, Outlaw King

After graduating, Burt took a job as a night janitor, which he cites as one of the best experiences of his life. The 12 months that he spent cleaning stores by himself at night gave him plenty of time for soul searching, before an opportunity came up in the form of some of his university friends setting up a small scenery shop in Arizona.

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes