Julie Toche, Production Designer

Julie Toche

Julie Toche of Biloxi has worked on films in the art department as a production designer (From Black, The Getback), art director (Joe Baby, Hallowed Ground), and set dresser (The Card Counter, Adam the First) as well as on numerous commercial and film projects as a makeup artist. She is a member of the Art Director’s Guild and currently serves as a delegate for IATSE Local 478.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up for the most part here in Biloxi and attended Biloxi High. I did a little bit of college at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, and then continued on to cosmetology school in Gulfport.

At what moment did you discover an interest in working in Film/ TV?

I was on the path of film when I was in cosmetology school to do hair and makeup. That’s kind of where I started. And then life got in the way, I got married and had kids, and everything got put on the backburner, and then I later just kind of fell into it again. I started doing makeup at the Terror on the Coast haunted house in Gulfport. And one day somebody came in and said, hey, we need some people for a movie in Mobile. So, that’s when I decided to be one of those people full time, and I haven’t stopped since.

How did you transition to production design?

It’s a funny story, actually. I applied to be the makeup artist on a movie and the director-writer said, hey, I don’t have a production designer, are you interested in doing that? And I said, I have no idea what I’m doing. And he said, that’s okay, you’ll learn. So, I took on the role, and quickly realized that hair and makeup was not where I wanted to be. That was my turning point of not pursuing hair and makeup full time.

At this point, you’ve done way more production design and art department stuff than hair and makeup, right?

Yes, as far as film is concerned. I’ve done a ton of commercials for hair and makeup, but the majority of my film work has been in art department or set decoration.

At what point did you realize you could take steps to pursue your dream from Mississippi?

That came about in the very beginning of my career. I didn’t want to move to Atlanta or New Orleans and uproot my family. So, I just kind of took on the mindset that I could either find the work, or if I was good enough at my job, they would seek me out.

Once you figured out what you wanted to do, did you pursue any formal training?

Once I figured out that I wanted to move into more of the art department and production design world, I started looking into joining the Art Directors Guild and seeing what they had to offer, which really helped me out. They offered tons of classes and I’ve really been able to expand my world that way. As far as I know, I am currently the only ADG member in the state of Mississippi. I’m dual union, I’m Local 478 as well as an on-set dresser, which I still love to do.

What was your very first film job?

My first movie was called Blunt Force (AKA Breakout), and it filmed here on the coast. And I was the art director’s intern. That was the very first film I ever worked on, before I pursued film full-time.

I came to the game kind of late. I’ve only been doing this full-time since 2017. I’ve been able to move up the ladder fairly quickly. I’ve had a lot of people in the industry say that they would take somebody with a great attitude who is willing to learn over somebody that has all the knowledge and a bad attitude.

Are you working on any current/recent projects?

We just wrapped up The Ritual in Natchez recently. I love Natchez. I’ve filmed there almost every year for the last five or six years. It’s very a very welcoming film town. I also worked on Armored on the coast recently in a couple of different capacities. I think that’s pretty much all I’ve done this year. The strikes put a lot of stuff on hold and pushed things back.

One I did that was just released and screened at the Oxford Film Festival was Adam the First. That was filmed in Mississippi a little over three years ago. I was the on-set dresser for that. I had a handful of friends, and my son worked on that. We’re a film family in this house. Three of the five of us work in film. My husband Perry and I are both art department. My son has worked in the art department, but he’s more interested in the production side. Now I’ve just got to get the other two interested in film so we can be the traveling Toches. (laughs)

What has been the most surprising thing about working in the film industry?

Realizing the amount of real-life crafts that it takes to get a movie done. When you’re on the outside looking in, you don’t realize that you need electricians or people that can cook, you know? And then once you start working on a crew or once you’re on a film set, you realize there’s all of these different cogs in the machine to make things work. And it’s everyday tasks, not just specialized tasks. So, for example, if you’re an electrician and looking to get into the film industry, then there’s probably a job for you.

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

There have been people that have definitely helped me along the way. Mary Goodson and John Read and my husband Perry and Dayton Douglass. Mary took a chance on me when I was younger and starting out in the art department. I love that. And Dayton and my husband are my two best kept secrets in the art department. (laughs)

And any project that I have the chance to work with John Read is great. I’ll sing it from the rooftop: any movie that John Read is a location manager, I know that’s it’s going to be okay. If the art department doesn’t get along with the locations manager, it can make or break a film for your department and definitely make things way harder than they should be. And like I said, when John’s on a film, I don’t have to worry about that.

It really is everybody that I’ve worked with. There have been producers, directors, actors, multiple crew members. I’ve worked under some designers that were just absolutely fabulous and I learned so much. Gabor Norman, who I worked with on Joe Baby, is one that I can call out as being that way.

If you could create a scene built around one location in Mississippi, where would that be and why?

That’s a hard question because there’s a lot of really good locations to build a scene around in Mississippi. John brought us to a location on Adam the First called Red Bluff. It looked otherworldly, so out of place to be here in Mississippi. It looked like we were in the middle of a desert, so it was really cool to see that here in the middle of Mississippi. Being from here you think of things like woods, we have lots of woods. But I also live on the coast, so we have the water. There’s so many options. Of course, because horror is my favorite genre, I would pick a place to make a horror movie, but, any of those locations would work perfectly.

Well, we like to say one of the best things about filming in Mississippi are the authentic locations. I might go as far to say they make your job easier, as there might be less work to decorate a set to make it look real. Do you ever find that?

I do find that Mississippi has a lot of on location surprises that lend more authenticity to the design, for sure.  When we filmed From Black, which was also in Natchez, there is a whole sequence at a trailer. And I can honestly say that that was not all production design. (laughs) And people here are very excited about and amicable to film, which is always a plus, especially when it comes to using assets at locations.

Do you have a favorite moment working on a project?

Wow, there’s a ton of memorable moments from each one. I think my favorite thing of all about film, period, is watching something come to fruition. You literally start with words on a paper. And then by the end of the project, you have this living, breathing thing that is never going to go away. And it’s kind of cool to see the world you built and put together between everybody on the crew. That is always the most memorable thing for me working in film. To see how it all finally comes together.

What would you say to convince/encourage a producer to bring their project to Mississippi?

Locations, locations, locations. (laughs) We also have one of the best art departments. I know that that’s biased, but we really do. And I don’t know, I haven’t tried to sell a producer on coming to Mississippi. That’s a tough question for me. By the time I get the phone call, they’re already coming.

What are your hopes for the film industry in the state?

My ultimate wish is that all our film crew here in the state would join the union so that we have stronger backing and a foundation of working professionals. It’s almost kind of like a graduation in this industry. It’s like taking that next step to say, okay, this is what I do. This is my career now. And that is really my hope so that we can just continue to work and build the crew base here. That’s the one thing that Mississippi is lacking, other than an actual studio. If we had one on the coast and one in Jackson and one in Natchez, it’d be awesome, we’d be able to house all sorts of different projects, not just on-location movies. And then work on getting the incentive cap raised to attract bigger studio projects.

You’re never going to come across a more hardworking close-knit family of crew than you are in Mississippi. We all know each other. We all work well together. We all support each other. So, it’s very much like a family. And that’s one of the reasons why I continue to choose living and working in Mississippi over many other places.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to get into the industry?

Start wherever you can. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’ll quickly figure out if that’s the department for you or not. And if you don’t know, start as a production assistant. Being a PA will show you all of the different departments in little bits.

And also: it’s never too late. I started the thought of wanting to get into the industry right after high school. And like I said, life in general got in the way. And then it came back around. So it’s never too late to start something.

That’s also 100% my husband’s story. He had the same job for 22 years and realized that he was never going to be able to progress more than where he was. He couldn’t climb the ladder anymore. So he said, I’m tired of it. And I said, okay, what do you want to do? And he said, well, maybe I’ll join the circus with you. And I supported it. And in a little over two years he has worked on around ten films, and he has joined the union.

Honestly, I’m so fortunate as a production designer to be able to have the art crew that I have here in the state. But unfortunately, we don’t all live in the same area. I would love to figure out some way to boost our crew members here. So that we have a coast-based crew and we have a Jackson-based crew and we have a Natchez-based crew, and so on. I would ultimately love to do that.