How Australian creatives have made it in New York (pt2)

Sabine Brix

In part two of our 'Australian creatives in New York' series we speak with production designer Marc Barold about making contacts, being expendable and working with Will Ferrell.
How Australian creatives have made it in New York (pt2)

Marc Barold worked on many designs at the Museum of Ice Cream including this hundreds and thousands pool. Image via Museum of Ice Cream.

How do you know when you’ve made it in New York? For Marc Barold, an award-winning Australian production designer, the moment came while working with Will Ferrell and running the art department on the Chris Gethard Show.

‘One day I got asked by Will Ferrell to recreate a scene from Eyes Wide Shut as a cult ceremony,’ Barold said. ‘I had to design and fabricate a 9 foot tall vagina in three days, then cover our lead presenter in lubricant and blood while pushing him through the opening as a rebirthing ceremonial act. Meanwhile, my mum is texting me saying: “Hi honey, what are you up to today?" And I am thinking, “If only you fucking knew,’” he laughs.

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Although Barold has created an enviable portfolio of work across a diverse range of projects in New York, settling in the city took time and patience.

Read: How Australians creatives have made it in New York (pt1)

On holidaying versus being a resident

Initially I did the three-month test to see if I liked it and that was four years ago,’ he said. ‘I had a taste and people heard about what I do and they said: “you need to be over here.” I started thinking about it – I was in a relationship at the time – and when I went back to Australia I couldn’t get New York out of my head.

‘But living here is a whole different kettle of fish. I came over with the view to do production design, which is what I did back home. When I was here for three months, I was meeting all the right people through my circle, but it took me doubly as long to get settled and get my shit sorted.

‘The rate of pay in Australia is much better and to join the union here is actually $8000 as a production designer, so initially I just did non-union work.

‘The first year was especially tough and at one point I had to sell my camera and Airbnb my bedroom out, whilst sleeping on my living room floor. It was tough because I didn’t have the contacts,’ Barold recalls.

Brooklyn Bridge at the miniatures museum, Gulliver's Gate. Image: Supplied

On being flexible

‘One minute I was the head of the art department on Chris Gethard’s show and when that wrapped, I was driving trucks for Katy Perry that had $500,000 sets in them which had to be installed on Saturday Night Live; that’s the lowest you could be in the art department.

‘My first gig in the film industry was on Home and Away where I crashed a truck and nearly got fired, so I’ve got this phobia around driving trucks, but I can do it if I have to.’

On workplace competition

‘Americans think completely differently to Australians; people are more expendable. You think the culture in America would be similar compared with Australia, but when you live here it’s absolutely nothing like that.

‘In my experience, Australians are more community-minded and we treat our fellow man with more respect and dignity. Here, they’ll just wipe their hands and move onto the next person, because so many people are trying to make it – there are three million people coming in and going out at any given moment.

‘I would say per capita, there are more creatives here than anywhere else in the world; I am talking photographers, painters, mural artists, et cetera, you name it. Every fourth or fifth person does something creative, even if it’s just growing their fruit in a weird fucking way.’

Re-creation of Eyes Wide Shut on The Chris Gethard Show' image supplied.

On motivation/opportunity

‘Overall, I’ve found that Americans think big and make shit happen, which is mainly why I moved here.

‘I feel very lucky to have worked on such amazing projects that frankly wouldn’t exist on this scale back home – the experience has been very rewarding.

‘Looking back, I realise I had to lift my game as a result of working here as a production designer because things happen much faster and the creative output expected is quicker.

‘The cool thing I’ve done since I’ve been here has been to work on Gulliver’s Gate, which is the biggest miniature museum in the world. They’ve literally built 80 or so countries and iconic landmarks from around the world,’ Barold said.

‘I also worked at the Museum of Ice Cream as the lead sculptor where I made rides resembling ice-cream and created pools which were made up of millions of fractals of hundreds and thousands.’

On the lessons of comedy

With the current global market and the craziness of Trumpville and American politics, you watch the news and go, "did I just see that? Is that fucking real?" And then when you’re in comedy – which I’d never worked in previously – and they’re joking about the politics day after day, it literally forces you to start thinking that life is too short to take seriously.

‘Those comedians who have made a living out of what they do –- they’re like a machine gun of thought, spraying comedic bullets and you’re jumping over their bullets,’ Barold notes. ‘They’re some of the smartest people on the planet because they have to think really quickly and you have to keep up with them.

‘It’s an amazing universe to experience at least once and it really taught me about taking life with a grain of salt.’

Read: How Australian creatives have made it in New York (pt1)

About the author

Sabine Brix is a writer, editor, podcaster and electronic musician with a specific interest in personal storytelling that captures the essence of why people create. She was the former Online Content Producer at Archer Magazine and editor of the LGBTI website: Gay News Network.

She has produced sound art for BBC's Radio4  and composed music for the web series Starting From Now, which screened on SBS. She also produces the ‘80s music podcast Neon Mullet.

Follow Sabine on Twitter @sabinebrix