It was late summer 1998 when I received a call from TV producer Paul Smith asking me to meet him at his office. As Paul explained the format of his new quiz show ' CASH MOUNTAIN ' and the need for tension and drama in the show ( quiz shows previously had been fluffy fun and jolly affairs) It was one of those Eureka moments where I spoke without thinking it thru " why don't we do it in the round, like a coliseum, that will add drama " Little did I know that in that one stupid statement I had re worked the visual format of quiz shows which had strayed little from the standard physical layout pioneered in the 1950's It's dramatic OK I admit it even a tad cocky to claim that I re invented the visual look of quiz shows but truth is I really did, turn on your TV today and watch any quiz show and you will see elements of Millionaire, of course today it feels so normal but pre millionaire there was a very different aesthetic style, so forgive my pride but god damn it I did usher in change.
As I sat on the train ride back to my office from that first meeting with Paul Smith I sketched furiously as the set had to be designed built and standing in the studio just 3 and a half weeks later, at the time that was no problem I was used to quick turnarounds but I have often pondered how differently I may have felt had I have known that I had a couple of days to not only design my most important life work but what would become the most duplicated scenic design in history. Qdos to my assistants John Stevenson and Mark Livesey who helped me turn around a scale model in just 48 hours and the brilliant John Frost Scenery who built the set in less than 3 weeks.
When we shot the first show we had a contestant who was a nurse, she was up to perhaps thirty thousand pounds and she paused for a drink of water while the host teased her with " is that your final answer " I will never forget her hand shaking so much that the water was spilling all over my plexi glass floor, I knew in that instant that this was like no other show I had ever seen or worked on, this little game show was going to change her life forever, she was about to earn a year and a half's income with the answer of a simple multiple choice question. The Morning after the first show every newspaper in the UK had photos of the nurse and host Chris Tarrant on the front page and so the roller coaster ride began. The show literally took over the world, in America it was water cooler TV, in India there where power cuts as the majority of the country tuned in at the same time and over stretched the electrical supply. The show broke even more ground when Paul Smith made the brilliant decision to sell the show around the world not just as a quiz format but as a complete package turning TV into McDonalds franchise cookie cutter television. ( now standard practice but Millionaire was the first) If you wanted to buy the show and make it in your own country you had to agree that the host would be wearing the same Armani suit, worn by the original British host , that the music be un touched, that every lighting que be the same and most importantly that the set be identical down to the last detail. My original blueprints where dispatched across the globe and in all 108 duplicate copies of my set where built ( there where even two versions in Disney land and Disney world ) If only I had known during those two crazed days making that model that what we where creating would be built all over the world more than any other scenic design in history and to this day ( 2009 ) you can turn on a TV in any developed country on earth and see my design for Millionaire.
Everything is interesting in retrospect, I write this the same month that Movie SLUM DOG MILLIONAIRE is taking the award circuit by storm winning a Golden Globe and nominated for TEN Oscars. In a country where Bollywood movies are one of the biggest industries this movie is now the single most successful Indian movie in history. The film heavily features my set linking a series of gritty dirty locations together like chrome and plexi glass glue. It is with great pride that something I designed in 3 days ten years ago will now truly have a permanent place in world cultural history. I never dreamt that one day I could sit in a movie theater anywhere in the world and see my set thirty feet wide. I consider MILLIONAIRE to be my most important work, the one show I will look back at from set design heaven and say " wow I did that ".