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Exclusive: ‘Luke Cage’s Production Designer Toni Barton Talks Creating Alternate Reality Through Set Design

by Betti Halsell

When dissecting a cinematic body of work, one would cut into formations of people who create an alternate reality. The script works as the spine, keeping the structure of a project together, and the production designer heads the impetus of the written reality.  

Production designer Toni Barton constructed environments that pull the audience into the story. Her transformative abilities have been featured on television, film, and theatre sets. Barton has curated the atmosphere for Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Dare Devil, and Netflix’s Luke Cage series, to name a few.  

We conducted an exclusive interview with the scenic visionary, discussing her journey, passion, and the mindset needed to pursue this career path.

“Everything starts with the written word; there would be no need for design if there was no script,” Barton said, reflecting on the significance of a written outline of a scene. She elaborated on different aspects of filmmaking, calling it a “collaborative effort.”

A production designer absorbs the idea of where a story occurs, takes the proposed setting, and interprets it into physical placement. The painting in one’s mind formulates into the physical world. The seamless performance of a film or play is held together by the set, which the production designer cultivates. Barton developed an eye for what sits in the background and provided a window into what she sees.

Breaking down the process of taking the narrative and breathing life into it, Barton starts with absorbing the scene from reading the script and then diving into the research. After gathering the bones of the project, the architecture can begin. Barton oversees the role of art, sets the direction to build out these worlds, and shares creative synergy with the production’s buyers, graphic designers, illustrators, and many more to tell the given story.

Barton’s introduction to her future career path started on the University of Southern California (USC) campus, where she pursued her degree in architecture. While in school, her friends would call on her to capture scenes of their plays and short films.

 After earning her degree at USC, she looked for specialized theatre training at New York University (NYU), entering a graduate program in set design and art direction. Barton honed her skills to create sceneries for stage and film production.

By her third union film as an assistant art director, Barton’s skills and confidence matured. She worked with veterans of the business, and they took Barton under their tutelage. With real-time hands-on experience, they shaped the rising creative to become the profound designer she is today.

According to Barton, a production designer’s role calls for interest in fashion, art history, and architecture, “Understanding history and helping to tell that story helps us build character, so anybody interested in any aspect of history, sociology, architecture, art, fashion and […] how to tell a story, would potentially be interested in this and more importantly have that skill set to then tell that story.”   

Barton reflected on a moment in her early career development when a friend told her, “when you become a production designer—that’s when you will really make it.” Barton responded with the reassurance that she was exactly where she needed to be at that time – an assistant art director. She owned her current placement, taking the first steps into her journey. Eventually, Barton went from being an assistant art director to becoming an art director while simultaneously teaching at NYU. Later, through her accumulated experience, she became a production designer.  

Getting to that final point takes time, and not everyone understands or is prepared for it, “People think when you get out of school, you have to instantaneously have this title, or you’re not making it.” On the contrary, Barton said, the beginning stages of one’s career are rich with people who are experts, willing to garnish a young mind with wisdom to build a force around their talent.

Passing the torch, in conjunction with being an art director, Barton taught theatre design at NYU for 18 years. “By far, that has been the most rewarding thing I could ever say and do,” she said. The production designer continued to explain the passion of being an art designer while taking it to an academic setting. Her hope is for younger students to identify this as a viable career and be drawn to the scenic route, especially students of color. “I desire more people to know about it younger, in essence, to know every single aspect of design,” she concluded.

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“I Feel Really Bad That He (Smith) Never Apologized”, Chris Rock’s Mother Talks The Oscars Incident

Comedian Chris Rock’s mother Rose Rock spoke about Will Smith slapping her son. She shared her thoughts during her recent interview on WIS’ Billie Jean Shaw.

“You reacted to your wife giving you the side-eye, and you went and made her day because she was mulled over laughing when it happened,” Mrs. Rock said.

According to the mother, her son was looking forward to giving Questlove his Academy Award, and because of Smith, that moment was taken away. “When he slapped Chris, he slapped all of us. He really slapped me. No one even heard his speech. No one was able to just be in the moment because everyone was sitting there like, ‘What just happened?”

Rock’s mother admitted that she initially thought the slap was a skit, but when she heard Will Smith screaming from his seat afterward, she realized it was real.  Rose said she reached out to her son after the incident to make sure he was okay and to commend him on his restraint. 

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‘Martin’ 30th Anniversary Reunion: Here is What We Know

It’s been 30 years since Martin made its TV debut on Fox. And, here we are, three decades later, about to relive some of the most hilarious and memorable moments of the 90s sitcom together with Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Tichina Arnold, and Carl Anthony Payne II.

“To be able to sit here 30 years later with this amazing cast that has had such an impact on pop culture is truly a blessing,” Lawrence told Deadline. “I am always humbled that the fans still want more of the show and its characters. I am looking forward to the reunion special.”

The taping of the special episode took place last month. Here is what we know so far.

The anniversary episode was filmed on Feb. 20 and will launch on BET+ this summer.

Talk of a reunion of sorts has been going on for a minute, as Arnold and Campbell previously appeared on the Tamron Hall Show last April and revealed that the show likely won’t have a reboot following Ford’s death. Arnold said that  “a show can never be a reboot without the original cast,” but that a reunion was “maybe” possible. (source: complex)

The special will focus on the show’s origin and evolution. Hosted by comedian-actor Affion Crockett, the episode will feature interviews with the cast, original directors, special musical performances, and behind-the-scenes commentary of the show’s influence. (source: ABC News)

The anniversary special is also scheduled to feature some “surprise guests.” Celebrity guests stopped by during the taping, including Tracy Morgan, Kim Coles, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, and more. (source: The Grio)

It’s still unclear how the reunion plans to honor castmate Thomas Mikal Ford, who died back in 2016. (source: complex)

Martin, which premiered in 1992, starred Lawrence – who played various characters, Campbell as Martin’s girlfriend and later his wife, Gina; Arnold as Gina’s best friend, Pam; and Martin’s two best friends Cole (Payne) and Tommy (played by the late Thomas Ford). The series concluded with season five namely due to the tensions between the two main cast members. People reported, Campbell sued Lawrence for “repeated and escalating sexual harassment, sexual battery, verbal abuse and related threats” in 1997. The two later reconciled, with Campbell announcing in 2020 that she was “so glad that we’re in a good place right now.”

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‘Master’: Regina Hall Stars in New Horror Movie

Amazon Studios debuted the official trailer for its upcoming thriller titled Master, starring Regina Hall. The film first premiered during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and will be released in theaters and on Prime Video on Friday, March 18.

Written and directed by Mariama Diallo, Master tells the story of three women who strive to find their place at a prestigious New England university whose frosty elitism may disguise something more sinister. Professor Gail Bishop (Hall) has recently been promoted to “Master” of a residence hall, the first time at storied Ancaster College that a Black woman has held the post.

Master REGINA HALL

Determined to breathe new life into a centuries-old tradition, Gail soon finds herself wrapped up in the trials and tribulations of Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), an energetic and optimistic Black freshman. Jasmine’s time at Ancaster hits a snag early on when she’s assigned a dorm room that is rumored to be haunted. Things get worse when Jasmine clashes in the classroom with Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), a professor in the middle of her own racially charged tenure review. As Gail tries to maintain order and fulfill the duties of a Master, the cracks begin to show in Ancaster’s once-immaculate facade. After a career spent fighting to make it into Ancaster’s inner circle, Gail is confronted with the horrifying prospect of what lies beneath, her question ultimately becoming not whether the school is haunted but by whom.

Watch the trailer below.

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