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Department Of Theatre And Media Arts

“It’s Not Just What You Do, It’s Why and How You Do It” Media Arts Alum Nathan Ogilvie on Winning an Emmy Award

Award-winning BYU Media Arts Alum Nathan Ogilvie Answers Questions About His Career, Education and Faith

Nathan Ogilvie With His Award at the 2023 Children & Family Emmys
Photo Courtesy of Nathan Ogilvie

BYU Media Arts alum and professional art director, Nathan Ogilvie (’95), won a 2023 Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design for his work as the art director for the second season of the Disney+ series “The Mysterious Benedict Society.”

Ogilvie has worked on several other series including all five seasons of CW’s “Jane the Virgin” as art director and production designer and the 2020 series “Diary of a Future President” as the production designer. This award is the first he has received for his work.

While talking about his career and different projects he has worked on, Ogilvie opened up about his BYU education, his faith and his family, discussing how these variables have affected and driven his career.

Q: While working on “The Mysterious Benedict Society,” where did you find inspiration?

Ogilvie: It was a combination of many things. We worked on the second season, and they had already done some fun things in the first season. The first season opened the door for us to think about things in a more interesting way. The producers and the writers had framed how they wanted the story to be depicted. Their vision was to create a retro, yet modern, world. We explored all sorts of ideas and visual styles that we thought would be engaging and interesting. We focused on modern contemporary design trends while also keeping it within a retro setting.

The book served as a background for all of that. My daughters are really avid readers, and they have read the entire “Mysterious Benedict Society'' book series. Two of them had even watched the first season when it came out. When I told them that I’d be working on the second season they told me all about it. I had a lot of positive impressions of this series before I even really knew what it was about.

Q: Was “The Mysterious Benedict Society” your first project with Disney?

Ogilvie: I have worked on a few other Disney shows. A couple years ago, I worked as Production Designer on the first season of “Diary of a Future President.” Gina Rodriguez, an actress who I had gotten to know on the show “Jane the Virgin,” was the executive producer for that show, so it was our second time working together. The show follows a girl who will ultimately end up becoming the president of the United States through the beginning of junior high. Thematically, it did well in terms of representing people and letting them be seen.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an art director?

Ogilvie: I have some colleagues who come from an architecture background and they'll say, ‘Yeah, we spent the last two years working on the same building,’ but when you're working in television, it’s a completely different story. I worked for five seasons on “Jane the Virgin,” and we made, I think, 1000 sets. So over the course of 10 days, you might have to build 20 different sets. Now, not all of them are brand new, but there are changes with every one. The volume of design work that you get to explore and experiment in is just amazing.

On “The Mysterious Benedict Society,” we were shooting on the Queen Mary cruise ship, then we’d film in lemon orchards, then we'd film on interior film stages. With the amount of places you get to experience, it's an adventure. It's really stimulating and very enjoyable. Yes, it's incredibly stressful and there's all sorts of challenges, but it's all worth it when you're doing what you love.

Q: How has your BYU education benefited your career?

Ogilvie: From the beginning I realized that BYU offered me a depth and breadth that suited me very well. BYU has great academics, theory of film classes and emphases that made me very comfortable exploring and talking about films. In this industry, you often reference someone else's work, so it's helpful to have that knowledge. I felt, for the most part, that I had a deep and broad experience as an undergraduate that helped me considerably as a grad student at the American Film Institute.

Going forward, my BYU education has continued to serve me well. I have always appreciated that at BYU it's not just what you do, it's why and how you do it. I think that's so important. Usually, I'm working with some other leads that feel the same way. How we do our business, how we conduct ourselves and treat each other is important, and that is really going to affect our final product.

Q: How does your faith impact your work?

Ogilvie: There are some pitfalls in this industry, and this industry is very demanding of your time. I’ve often been asked what famous shows I have worked on; however, maybe the more impressive list is of shows I turned down because they were not projects that I wanted to include in my day-to-day routine. That's where my faith comes in. I’ll keep living according to the truths that I believe in. Sometimes that means a career choice that is illogical in the eyes of my peers.

As a worker in this industry, you are typically hired per project and each new opportunity needs to be evaluated. After hundreds of projects — between commercials, music videos, films and television — I have a trusted process. My wife is my key partner as we discuss, “Is this project a good fit for us and for our family? Will collaborating with these artists be a positive experience?” Often, in a very compressed time frame, we do research, we talk, we pray, we talk some more and usually pray some more and we decide together. We’ve done our best to trust in God and He has watched over our family. So we celebrate the good projects and if a particular project isn’t the right fit, we have faith that there will be other opportunities. For us, that has been the case.