With Shelby Hamet, the wardrobe supervisor.  Love this girl!

Finding Love for the Art Department

10-10-13

 

I'm not permitted to write about specifics of this movie, but The Tribunal was the best first gig a person could ask for.  All through college I had been funneled into the art department due to my background in art and, thankfully, an eye for detail and composition.  While I never loathed working in the art department, usually heading up a team as head designer and having no budget to work with, it was never my first choice.  Often times in college, my fellow aspiring filmmakers had no appreciation or understanding of what it meant to have a good art department, and there was rarely ever a thank you involved in my process.  I can't relate enough how very down and underappreciated I felt with my work as production designer/ art director in school.  Even on the short film, A Human Condition, where I had a great team and a few "good job"s, there were those (who weren't even the director) that saw the work, said nothing, and then proceeded to ask why I didn't have certain set pieces just two hours before cameras rolled on our first day--items which had never before been asked of me.  With these experiences, though I had personally enjoyed my work and patted myself on the back, I knew that I wanted to find my way free of the underappreicated art department as quickly as possible once entering the professional arena of filmmaking.

 

The Tribunal has recently changed that perspective.  Something I never thought possible, but I think this cast and crew has spoiled me.  I know from experience and stories from others on this film that other crews are not as interconnected and kind, but I have deeply enjoyed working on both the sets and locations of this movie.  The first three days felt like a chore, like a work assignment or some clean-your-room demand from your childhood, but once we went on location the next week, things began to turn around.  Slowly.  I loved being on location, loved every bit of it, from taking existing furniture and moving new in, working around some furniture that would have been ridiculous to move elsewhere, to candle-lighting a bedroom.  From dressing a deck once and then again a different way, to taking in the majesty of the Cincinnati skyline both in the day and at night--with the surprise of Friday night fireworks in the distance.

 

Being in such tight quarters with the cast and crew drew us closer together, and there became a much more intimate exchange between departments, in my observations.  I could joke around with the DP as well as sometimes directly bypass the assistant and ask a question of the director straight-up (though I try to limit these interactions out of professional courtesy).  I've become more confident in my job in telling both crew and actors "hands off" on props and set pieces on my hot sets--as well as having a new appreciation and understanding of the necessity of taping down or marking as many of these props as possible.

 

If the first week--the week that felt like work--was the root of my new found love for my job, then this second week on location was the maturing stem, which blossomed on the final two days wherein I, along with the rest of my team, were expected to help finish a constructed set, paint it, and dress it all in one night (with final touches in the morning before the camera rolled). 

 

We did it.  And I had the time of my life.  It was a bedroom set, complete with bed, shelves and desk among other things.  Needing to look completely lived in for 26 odd years, I took all the props that we had either borrowed or bought and went to work.  I took input from the others, but credited as set decorator, I've had the wonderful leverage to have semi-final say before the production designer, DP, and director have their final say on where prominent pieces and props should be.  Let's just say that when people walked in that morning, I was spoiled on the amount of smiles and congrats on the hard work and apparent success of making the set look like a room.  The final stroke had been the bottom shelf of a bookcase, where I had lumped a stack of unorganised papers and items like a junk drawer to give the room an organic touch.  What made me the happiest were the comments I overheard from the director, saying things like "This is the most flattering angle of the room.  I want to shoot this way to have this art direction in the background."

 

After the shoot ended that day, I'd gotten many "great job"s from the work, and our team had to stay late in order to turn it around into a messy and congested living room the next day for a single mom character, which was just as awesome, and on which I got many "even better than the last one" remarks. 

 

It's so gratifying to finally be appreciated for the work I can do, and I have found myself wavering on the border of running quickly to find the exit in this maze of the art department or lingering and building a reservoir of knowledge and techniques and abilities before making my final bow and moving on.  I want to make it into the director's chair before I'm thirty, but I have found love for the art department in the unlikeliest of scripts and with the kindest of crews.  I think I could do this for a while.

 

As a final thought, I just want to say that though I find great pleasure and reassurance in hearing "Great job," I can't stress enough how important the team effort is.  Making movies is a collaborative process, and I love opinions and I love working together to meet a goal.  Without the fellow members in the design team, I wouldn't have such amazing sets or props with which to work.  A movie is only as good as the sum of its parts, its characters, its story, its scenes; thus, a set is only as good as the people behind it.  So I want to express a huge thank you to those on the team with me.  You guys made great design possible.  And a big thanks to the cast and crew for their kind words of approval and appreciation for my art.

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