Character study When strangers ask me what I do, I tell them I create art collections for people who don’t exist. Basically, I choose art for films or television to explain who the characters are and what’s happening to them.

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For instance, in Changing Lanes (2002), with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson, much of the film takes place in a law firm, so a way to differentiate each character is by the art in their offices. At one point, Ben Affleck’s character is debating if he should escape the rat race. On his wall, I hung a long landscape by Alex Katz of a man walking on a beach, and the director shot Affleck on the sofa below it. It told you what’s going on in his head.

Tracking shot I’ve worked on quite a few films, inclu­ding Wall Street 2 (2010), Revolutionary Road (2008), The Girl on the Train (2016), The Intern (2015), Trainwreck (2015) and Ocean’s 8 [opening here in June]. In Ocean’s 8, the boyfriend of Sandra Bullock’s character is an art dealer and I did the collection in his New York loft.

For television, I worked on the Billions pilot, Divorce and, more recently, a Scott Rudin-produced pilot called Compliance. I always discuss the choices with the production designer. I suggest artists – for Compliance we had William Kentridge, Gabriel Orozco, Luc Tuymans – and then I’ll make a selection of their artworks.

I think [artists] see it as a way of exhibiting their work. It becomes part of its provenance: it’s been shown in a museum, it’s been shown in a gallery, it’s been shown in a film

Artistic licence We pay a standard clearance fee per art­ist. If it’s contemporary art, I contact the artist or the artist’s gallery for permission. If it’s an artist who’s still under copy­right, which means within 70 years of death, I’ll be contacting the estate. If it’s older than that, it’s in the public domain and then I have to track down a photograph good enough to reproduce.

Some artists ask how they can help, some give me strict guidelines and restrictions. They’ll want it 10 per cent bigger or smaller or exactly the same and they’ll have specific details about framing. If they get really involved, they’ll say, “Oh, that character is just like the person who bought it!” or, “You know what? You should take that work down – this work is more what they’d have of mine.”

Stamped collection Yes, I’ve used originals. I had a US$20 million Cy Twombly on a set for an afternoon. That was for Paranoia (2013). Harrison Ford’s character had it in his office. It was to differentiate him from his rival, Gary Oldman, who had bold, bright artworks in his office. We had to have guards look after it. I was relieved when it left and I waved the truck goodbye.

But most the time we make copies, officially marked and stamped. We had Jenny Holzer walk on to the set of Wall Street 2 and say, “Oh, that’s my painting!” We said, “That’s our copy.” Richard Prince has been on set and I’ve had Thomas Struth come on a visit. I used an Andreas Gursky photograph on The Stepford Wives (2004), he was also very interested.

I think they see it as a way of exhibiting their work. It becomes part of its provenance: it’s been shown in a museum, it’s been shown in a gallery, it’s been shown in a film.

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Slasher flicks At the end of filming, when the studio has approved the negative, which means they don’t need to do reshoots, we go through the process of destruction. Someone takes pictures or films me, or one of my colleagues, slashing the copy – cutting it into pieces if it’s on canvas or paper. Afterwards, we’ll FedEx them to the artist.

On Changing Lanes, we had an Antony Gormley sculpture made of hard­ened styrofoam, then painted. He uses his own body as a mould – it’s his morphology – and he found it fascinating that there was someone, 3,500 miles away from him, making an exact copy. He was extremely generous with his time and information. At the end, we put it on a crane, let it fall to the ground so it exploded into pieces and we sent him the video.

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Copy watch Some artists like to keep the copies. I’ve had several who’ve said, “Oh, I’ll have the canvas back and paint over it.” Instead of having something blank, they want to continue an old work by painting on it. I don’t know if they really do that because I haven’t checked. Maybe they want to just look at their previous work for a while and use it as inspiration for the next.

Eastern promise I only do east coast films. When you’re filming interiors in New York or Philadelphia or Connecticut, that’s where you’re going to see art. I was born in New York, I studied architecture and costume design at Bennington and, after college, I started working at Christie’s in New York, in the public relations department.

One week we were dealing with silver, the next week jewellery, then art nouveau. I went on to work with the founders of Art+Auction magazine, and I dealt with the auction reports worldwide. Later, I produced TV shows but I missed the art part of my life.

I’ve used originals. I had a US$20 million Cy Twombly on a set for an afternoon. That was for Paranoia (2013) [...] I was relieved when it left and I waved the truck goodbye

Cinema scope Then, about 20 years ago, copyright law [the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998] started being enforced. Before that, the production designer would have something made that looked like a (Willem) de Kooning but was not a de Kooning.

Scott Rudin is an avid collector and he said that if they had to do the legal procedure, it should be with someone who knows about art. Whether it’s a graffiti artist on a street corner or a Rothko, it’s the same process. If I have to do a children’s room, I’ll ask the film crew how old their children are and, if the character’s kid is the same age, we’ll use their paintings. But I still have to clear the work for copyright.

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Stress test I’ve always liked the how-to of art, which is why I enjoy what I do. I like to ask artists about the technical side – for them, it’s different from people asking them the intellectual reason for what they do. At Christie’s, I used to meet collectors all the time so most characters are composites in my mind of people I’ve met or heard of.

A key part of my job is that I have to be visually interested in anything, anywhere, in an airport or in a store. I was always that way as a child, I always wanted to re-order and change things. I don’t like to look at a blank wall, it stresses me. Every set is like my home for the duration, the rooms are like my children.

Ocean terminal Films now have characters, and art, from all over the place. I always visit Hong Kong galleries – Pearl Lam, Ben Brown, Edouard Malingue and 10 Chancery Lane – to see Asian artists I’d never see in the United States or Europe.

While I was here for Art Basel, the Ocean’s 8 artwork was being destroyed. So I was having breakfast and going through all the instructions for proof of destruction; then I went to the fair where people had created original art. It was a little surreal on the same day … but this is my life.