A person has come into our lives on Tybee that we never knew we needed. But he’s here and he’s making a huge difference on our island. The production designer for “our” movie ” The Last Song”. These are pictures of Nelson in front of the burned out church as well as downtown Tybee and the pier. Here’s a great article which tells of Nelson’s talents and the work he’s done here.
He spruced up a public pier, set up a carnival on the beach and constructed a wood-framed church painted white. What catches the attention of Savannah locals, however, is a teenager associated with the work: Miley Cyrus of “Hannah Montana” fame.
Coates is production designer for “The Last Song,” a film written by Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook”) where Cyrus plays an angry and alienated teen. The movie also stars Kelly Preston (“Sky High”) and Greg Kinnear (“Little Miss Sunshine”) as Cyrus’ divorced parents and up-and-coming Australian Liam Hemsworth as a love interest. Sparks’ book is due in September.
For 11 weeks prior to the start of filming in mid-June, Coates did prep work in Savannah. Shooting on the Walt Disney Pictures project is to wrap up in August for an early 2010 release.
“The Last Song” is the latest in a long list of Coates’ major films and TV shows. Other recent projects include the movies “The Proposal” and “The Express” and several episodes of the 2007 TV show “October Road.”
“I have kept myself from being type-cast. I’ve been fortunate to do period movies, dramas, actions, comedies, futuristics,” Coates said.
A production designer makes a script come alive visually. Location, scenery, room dÃ©cor, clothing, hair and makeup, stunts, color pallet and any other visualizations of a story are the responsibility of the production designer.
Coates reports directly to a movie’s producer and director and oversees a crew of about 125 on an average production.
“I’m known for a high level of detail and at a high level of completion. My sets don’t feel like a set,” Coates said.
Coates usually tackles two films a year, or less if he is hired for a television show. He has worked across the country and in Canada, Bulgaria, Australia, Mexico and England.
“I always tell people my things live in LA (Los Angeles),” Coates said.
Another pivotal project was the 1994 television mini-series “The Stand” by Stephen King. The nine-month project included 220 sets in 110 shooting days in five states representing 25 states in the series. Coates’ work garnered him an Emmy nomination.
“The blessing of my career path is that I had small, complex problems and did well on then. Then you get bigger and bigger and bigger ones,” Coates said.
Movies are not the result of magic, but “possibility thinking,” he said.
For example, the current box office hit “The Proposal,” starring Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson and Betty White, is set in New York City and Alaska, but filming occurred in and around Boston. Coates constructed a set inside a coastal house, giving it an “Architectural Alaska” magazine look, “if there was such a publication,” Coates said.
He then returned the house to its former interior after filming.
Six months after shooting wrapped, Coates said a new ending had to be filmed, but the Boston office building was unavailable. He instead meticulously recreated the set on a California soundstage.
“Either I had to figure it out or the next guy will,” Coates said.
He describes himself as a junior high principal and cheerleader encouraging others to do their best.”