NYWIFT @ Tribeca: In Conversation with Kristi Zea

By Tammy Reese

NYWIFT member Kristi Zea, an acclaimed production designer, costume designer, producer and director has once again showcased her exceptional talent at the 2024 Tribeca Festival. Zea’s impressive career spans over three decades, with notable works including designing Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs.

Her latest project, Daddio, directed by Christy Hall and starring Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson, shows her ability to create compelling visual narratives even in small places. With Daddio, Zea masterfully uses the confined space of a taxi to tell a powerful story, proving her enduring influence in the film industry.

NYWIFT Member Kristi Zea (photo courtesy of Kristi Zea)


Congratulations on such an outstanding and inspirational career in producing, directing, costume and production design for some of the most iconic movies and TV series. How do you stay inspired and motivated after so many years in the industry?

I’ve been very lucky to be in the right place at the right time throughout my career. All my work has been inspired by good scripts. Inspiration flows when there’s a good story to tell!


Still from Daddio (Image Courtesy of Tribeca Festival)


Daddio is your latest project showcasing at the Tribeca Festival. Please tell us about your design process for this film.

The story of Daddio is simple: two strangers get stuck together in a taxi for over an hour in bad traffic. What happens as a result of that event is why this film is so important. The taxi is the primary container. The props we see in the taxi help tell the story. Our prop person Diana Burton is brilliant.

We combed the internet for photos of taxi interiors from all over the world and picked our favorites. Then I talked to director Christy Hall and Sean Penn (Clark) to get their feedback. It was great fun to figure out the clues to Clark’s life and personality by what he had in his cab.

The other complicated issue was how and where to shoot this film. There are only three locations plus the interior of the cab. We were based in New Jersey because of the tax credit. Therefore we shot plates for the drive from JFK to NYC using the Array photographic system. The DP Phedon Papamichael is a magician… 80% of the film was shot inside the cab on stage with giant LED screens provided by 4Wall. The decision to establish the story at night helped conceal the cheat for NYC while setting the tone of intimacy and mystery. Our location manager Daniel McCarthy was tireless in finding just the right matches.


Director Christy Hall, Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, Production Designer Kristi Zea at the 2024 Tribeca Festival premiere of Daddio (photo courtesy of Kristi Zea)


What inspired you to join NYWIFT and how has your experience been with the organization so far?

I love NYWIFT! It’s a powerful organization and it supports women as they attempt to shine in a very male-dominated business. It also engages women of color and gives them a much-needed voice in this crazy industry.


Kristi Zea and producer Ro Donnelly at the 2024 Tribeca Festival premiere of Daddio (photo courtesy of Kristi Zea)


What are some upcoming projects you’re working on?

I have two passion projects: one, directing and producing a documentary called On Tap is about an amazing improvisational tap dancer named Michela Marino Lerman who has been in the trenches tap dancing ever since she was a child. Talk about a male-dominated world! Thankfully Buster Brown, Gregory Hines and Wynton Marsalis took her under their wings. She is now a force!

The other project, is adapting a TV series based on a collection of wonderful books called Wilde Grove about a contemporary sleepy town in England that’s home to a coven of witches who are still wrestling with the past when a long lost adopted child arrives to claim a cottage that belonged to her witchy grandmother. It’s a modern-day hero’s journey all wrapped up with time travel, the Otherworld, passionate love and the recognition of the glorious power of Nature.


DP Phedon Papamichael and Kristi Zea at the 2024 Tribeca Festival premiere of Daddio (photo courtesy of Kristi Zea)


Looking back on your extensive career, what are you most proud of?

Tough question! The directors I’ve worked with are all geniuses. As a Production Designer, Silence of the Lambs was a wonderful and satisfying surprise. That film garnered so much attention! So did Goodfellas, The Departed, and Philadelphia. Not to mention Beloved and producing As Good As It Gets!

The list goes on… starting with my very first costume design job for Fame followed by Terms of Endearment.

Directing Anna Deavere Smith in Notes From the Field for HBO was an honor. I guess I am proud of all my films!


Still from Daddio (Image Courtesy of Tribeca Festival)


What advice would you give to anyone who is inspired by your career path?

Be patient, persistent and passionate about your work. Learn as much as you can from experts in the industry. Respect the collaboration process. Be kind. Don’t forget to laugh!



Keep up with Kristi Zea on her website www.kristizea.com and connect with her on Instagram at @kgzea.



Tammy Reese

Tammy Reese Tammy Reese is CEO of Visionary Minds PR & Media, and a New York award winning Actress, Writer, and Journalist.

View all posts by Tammy Reese

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