CHIC FUN GORY SILLY

Welcome to the ultimate behind-the-scenes of Production Design.  Please scroll to the bottom of this page and read up day-by-day what it took for me to design a TV programme.  I can’t reveal the actual name of the show, Chic Fun Gory Silly is an anagram, but this was written during a real job I did in 2011.  It was intended as a teaching resource, an honest & realistic account for anyone interested in  jobs in design for TV & film but it has become more than this, it is a personal journey of not what you have to do but what it demands of you as a person.

65 DAYS LATER

Behind-The-Scenes of a Production Designer on: “CHIC FUN GORY SILLY”

HINDSIGHT

Did the structure of the Art Department work?

In the end, we made it.  We came in fractionally under budget.  My team are still speaking to me and the programme was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Single Drama in 2012.  So we collectively did something right.  But I will always ask myself what I would do differently – and that is such an important part of being a Production Designer.  Because there are no real rules about how we do our jobs, creating your own ‘feedback’ loops is essential in growing as a professional.  Money was a key factor in how I was able to run this job but for next time, there are some things I would fight for upfront, regardless of budget.

  1. I need a Prop Master.
  2. I need greater experience in some roles, particularly on Standby.
  3. I need a dedicated Graphic Artist.

But I’ve come to realise your evaluation of yourself, your personality, your work ethic, is the most important part of professional development.  I have always said starting a job is like preparing for going into battle.  And whilst the onslaught of a shoot certainly feels like it, I see now that outlook brings a certain negativity.  Months after the job I have been searching for a better way to describe it and re-reading all these daily entries, there was one word that sums it up: ENDURANCE.  Like that of a long-distance runner.  So I started upon my own little investigation and came across Sir Ernest Shackleton whose fated story of crossing Antarctica aboard Endurance captured my imagination and taught me some profound lessons that have changed completely how I approach work.  Reading the brilliant Shackleton’s Way, I discovered how this determined man with actually very few resources at the beginning persuaded people, showed them great loyalty, great honesty and overcame the challenges of one of the most famous survival stories in history.  Whilst I cannot compare designing a film to his crossing of Antarctica, one man’s test of endurance is just as valuable as another’s.  It reminds me that people are the key, they come first and as a leader, you have to find something greater than yourself to keep you all going.  You have to be a great people manager, you must inspire them, care for them, and be willing above all to take a leap of faith.  You must make it clear to all, from the beginning, what you believe in….other’s follow that, not the task or the reward at the end.

I will work hard to continue my own personal education of stories of endurance – how to lead under stress, time pressures, tiredness, emotions – for these can never be removed from a job, it is the nature of filmmaking.  I can however ease some of these to allow for more time for me, and my team, to be true creatives & craftspeople rather than slaves to the machine.

Day 65 Sat 9th July: After a blissful night’s sleep I meet my team at the Main Character’s House set to strike, 11am – 6pm.  A dealer/trader who my Set Decorator has struck up a good relationship with from Wimbledon Car Boot, turns up to take most of our furniture and props away for a good price.  And the following days: involves tidying up lose ends, handing in receipts to the Production Accountant, picking up books, models and drawings from the office, do a few prop returns, and supplying further references for the VFX company about the desert design. But wait, just when I thought all the graphics work had be FINALLY finished…..nope….I have to create the spinning headline newspaper graphics for a post-production shot.  A few easy days at home later in front of Photoshop – my work here is done.

Day 64 Fri 8th July: FINAL DAY – Last day at the Main Character’s House set.  Sad although relieved.  The riggers arrive early so need to sort that out at 10am as no one has clearly briefed them.  The standbys have everything they need for today’s shoot, including a stencil for Jesus toast, so I get back to the office to meet with the Accountant to finalise the budget (via a bit of present buying for my team).  Going through the figures, miraculously, we’re still £500 under-budget as we’ve been able to sell a lot of props to various traders & individuals.  Incredibly proud of my Accountant who has done a fantastic job helping make this happen.  Head over to unit base in Willesden for lunch (5pm) see everyone, talk about the post-schedule with the Line Producer, watch a rough assembly of rushes so far, drop the Accountant home (it’s her last day as she’s off to get married in Canada tomorrow!) & say our goodbyes.  Then go to set and watch the final few hours of filming till 11pm.  That’s a wrap!  Drinks & hugs & nice words on wrap – drive home to find a glass of champagne waiting for me at midnight!

Day 63 Thurs 7th July: FALL DOWN SET DAY!! Late start as we begin construction at midday at the car park lcoation.  Terrible weather as forecast BUT we do have an extra standby to help on set today so there’s my silver lining.  My aim is to stay at the car park for most of the day. Torrential rain comes down in the morning & the car park is filled with giant puddles.  Waterproofs & wellies! I start with construction marking a position & watch while the floor sections go down – the Set Decorator is busy rushing round Essex & London in a Streetvan getting the books & props.  My 3rd Location Propman turns up with all the rubbish & bin liners (from the puppet set) to dress around the set, trying to contain it as it blows all over the place in the strong winds. I go back to the workshop to get more tarpaulins to protect the set which is already getting water-damaged.  I pick up the animators equipment that we’ve had on loan too as I may be able to take that back as they need it ASAP.  5pm the Health & Safety officer arrives – 5.45pm we do a test when the Producer & Line Producer turn up.  All ok but no weight in any of the shelves so hard to completely judge how it’s going to react.  I make the dash to Shoreditch High St to drop off the animation equipment to Nexus.  Get back as the Set Decorator turns up at 7pm with all the books & props – we’ve got little time to dress as the crew descends from Main Character’s House set at 9pm for sunset – frantic filling of bookcases but it all looks good. 10pm and the shooting/stunt begins and it all goes effortlessly smoothly! Must learn not to worry so much!  It’s remarkable how tiredness affects judgement….remember that.  1.30am – we’ve struck the set on site and all of us get on home. Budget:46,429.50 Left to spend: 623.54.

Day 62 Wed 6th July Shooting begins at the Main Character’s House, the last big set – I stop off on the way to get fablon at 9.30am from Print Sign Design, then I meet my Set Decorator at the location at 10am to finish fine dressing & have a good tidy up. The crew turn up at 12.30pm. I stay on standby with my replacement Location Propman all day as the Set Decorator gets on with buying props for the fallaway set. It’s manic on set – too small a space for all the crew – no time to really see & check a frame – so annoying in a set full of detail.  Sparks’ stuff & water bottles are EVERYWHERE!  White polystyrene cups are the bain of a standby’s life.  Am getting pretty tired pretty quickly – at lunch (5.30pm) we, the HoDs, discuss the fallaway set & that there will be no time to have a recce/test before we shoot – this starts me on a spiral of worry.  I worry that this is really an SFX rig – not a cheap art dept/construction build – coupled together with 2 principal artists inside a small space, in bad weather, at night, with a tired crew, walls heavy & full of books – it’s all an unknown and we should have built & tested it days ago – just no money & no time. I speak to the 1st AD who hears my concern, worries that I’m also too tired, being on set whilst I should be dealing with it back at the studio, (although the concerns were always that we needed 2 people on set, so I feel torn).  He tells me to go & speak to the Line Producer then GO HOME & REST! I speak to the Line Producer at base, suggest we get a Health & Safety Officer on site tomorrow at 5pm to witness our own test – although we can’t do it dressed – and it’s the weight of all the books that worries me.  I, nor my Construction Manager feel comfortable signing off on a risk assessment for it.  Things that seem straightforward, nine times out of ten, are not.  We search for an additional Standby for tomorrow as I can’t be on set AND dealing with the fallaway set which is where I really need to be.  Everyone at base tells me to go home – I must look tired – certainly feel like I’m suffering from a lack of perspective.  Firstly, I go back to set at 10pm then onto the next street location for our night shot to just help my solitary standby redressing rubbish. Finally, 11pm, jump in the car to get home and I get a call that we’ve got a standby for tomorrow – phew!

Day 61 Tues 5th July Get in at 7.30am to dress 3 sets at the Willesden Working Men’s Club location – Int. Nerd’s House, Int. Pub & Int. Council Office.  Really struggle to lift furniture up the stairs – the first day I’ve felt ill with tiredness, like I’m wading in treacle, legs like lead.  The team are there at least to help, so we get it done on time – our daily Standby Art Director is on again today which means I can leave them to it, whilst I turn attention to the Main Character’s House set & the fallaway rig.  It’s the last big push, the final sets.  Get busy with the laptop & printer on set upstairs at the location, making a period 1979 film poster for the council office slide projector scene  (we’ll feed the image via laptop onto a digital projector, adding the right blur, tilt, hairs & scratches etc) – then the Director asks for a soft porn image to throw in there.  Ok.  Love 11th hour requests.  So….image rights will be impossible….think…I head to the local corner shop, buy a Sun newspaper, scan in page 3 and doctor the image by changing the body here and there and put another head on the model.  And the only head that’s available – mine.  All sense of dignity out the window, too tired to care, I make myself into a 70s page 3 girl.  At least it makes us all smile!  (And no, the image will not be appearing at the bottom of this entry).  We then hear that the weather forecast for Thursday is looking really bad and our fallaway set is outside.  We (Line Producer, Director, 1st AD and DoP) have a long chat about what we do – how to cover the set – providing a roof but suspending it in a way that won’t hamper the walls falling down.  No real solution is reached – which worries me, especially as we will have hired props & hundreds and hundreds of books on the set. Leave location to go to the Main Character’s House set which the Set Decorator & the rest of the team have been working on since Sunday.  It looks fantastic, full of character driven detail, and my spirits are well & truly lifted.  I take my Set Decorator back to Stephen St Studios to pick up more props.  We are also painfully aware that we have to be entirely clear of the studio by end of play Thursday (props, construction, everything) so a big clear up is happening there too.  It’s hard to lose a props store & workshop before shooting finishes.  I pop down to the National Gallery shop to get 2 figurines I’ve been meaning to buy since we started the job for dressing – one Hieronymous Bosch caged bird with a dangling foot and a Brughel flying trumpeting angel.  I also see some plastic plates with faces on so I buy a few of those for dressing on the Main Character’s walls. Grab lunch (6pm) then take the Set Decorator and Accountant back to the location and on to set in Willesden.  We arrive to see the Int. Spaceship model set being shot which looks great.  The work experience volunteers who had built it are there too – they’re having a great time seeing it come to fruition.  Head on home to do more graphics – a petition & a hero book cover.  I start looking at book cover designs on the internet – but can’t keep my eyes open any longer – fall asleep at 12.30am.  Budget:46,429.50 Left to spend: 1,607.83.

Day 60 Mon 4th July Get in for 7am – tired, going to have to dig deep today. We have 2 shooting units running so it’s going to be busy – we have an extra standby today which helps massively – means I can be on set with the puppets and she & my 3rd Location Propman can be in the other studio overseeing Bishops vs Satan TV Chat Show, and various green screen/VFX shots etc.  I spend the first few hours of the day with the art department all pitching in to finish the puppet set – big team effort which makes me very proud and grateful to have great people around me – we string up the clouds, add more graffiti, and print more building bits etc. The Director & the puppeteers turn up & we all spend time tweaking the set to allow for performance spaces – we can see it’s going to be a case of dressing to shot each time.  It’s easy to deconstruct the boxes/rubbish so it should be ok.  Stepping away from set for an hour whilst camera & lighting set up, I talk to my Construction Manager about the big fall-away set (living room set that has walls falling away) that’s to be built on a car park lot behind Paddington Green police station, due to be shot at night….and it’s coming up fast…with very little money to spend.  I make a plan with my Set Decorator on how we are going to dress the – LOTS of books, desk, wall mounted stuff – nothing too breakable!  Must speak to the lighting department about getting the electrics working.  I kick myself – I’ve been spending all my time getting the puppet set ready, I’ve taken my eye off the ball with other sets.  It so easily happens then stuff comes up thick and fast and bites you on the bum!  I have this analogy for a Production Designer (which I must try & remember more often), it goes like this: the Designer must be like a shepherd.  They stand on top of the hill watching over their flock.  They don’t stand in the middle of sheep, surrounded, right at the heart of things.  Because if they do, they won’t see the wolf coming.  If they stand up high, away from the throng, they will see the predator, the problem approach from afar, before it’s too late.  I spend the rest of the morning keeping an eye on both studios whilst doing standby with some work experience volunteers.  I step out to give notes on the spaceship model set which is being built by more work experience – they’re doing a fantastic job but I need to keep an eye on the model. We’re supposed to finish on the puppet set at 5pm but it looks like they’ll go till wrap (11.30pm). I take the decision that the daily Standby Art Director can take over from me on set at 10pm (as the work on Studio 2 no longer requires 2 standbys) as I need to go home & get some rest. On my way out, I see my Accountant & Set Decorator – the Accountant is very upset – it transpires that 3 members of the art department including the recently departed 3rd Location Art Director have not submitted receipts, some from a couple of weeks ago – despite my Accountant being very strict in asking for receipts every day – these potentially add up to hundreds of pounds – which as we were unaware of them, pushes us theoretically over budget.  I try to reassure her that it is nothing to worry about, if I’m not worried then she shouldn’t be, the buck stops with me at the end of day.  (Of course, I’m worried, but I’ve learnt to be the leader, you must not let doubt & worry trickle from you into your team, it’s crippling, you must be the brave face, it is just a job after all.)  We’ve worked so hard to balance the budget, it’s such a shame that laziness leads to this.  Again I’m reminded what a fine balancing act this job is.  I go home frustrated and exhausted.  Budget:46,429.50 Left to spend: 1,599.53.

Day 59 Sun 3rd July I start at the studio getting today’s action props into the car ready for the shoot, have a chat with the Best Boy who is lighting the puppet set today – explain that things are set (even though it appears to be ‘rubbish’) & if he needs to move anything, which is fine, please be careful & put it back where he finds things. I get to set to assist with standby – the city streets around Bank & Monument – setting up an Evening News vendor stand & mountains of rubbish ( another nod to the bin men’s strikes of ‘79). The assistant drafted in at the last minute to do some buying gets to set about 9.30am & I give her the brief of Int. Nerd’s House dressing – showing her the IKEA items she needs to get.  Off she goes.  On set it’s very straightforward: rubbish, newspapers & the dog poo.  Then it’s on to the Int. Restaurant, setting tables, sorting food, removing signs, wrangling the action vehicles & animals.  Pretty tired from the day on set (it’s been a while since I’ve done standby, I’m so used to running around prepping for the forthcoming days, but I see it’s actually important as an HoD to remind yourself of the skills required of your other team) – but I have to get back to the studio & carry on with the puppet set…get back at 8pm to find the lighting department (the ‘Sparks’) have trashed the set – boxes strewn everywhere, building prints ripped off, stuff kicked about – a complete mess – I confess, I totally lose it, storm into the production trailer asking where the Best Boy is – he’s ‘gone home’ early.  “Well call him up & tell him to come back & help me put the set back together” I say to the Production Manager – she goes away to call him…the last straw for me, so tired, such a hard few days, the last thing I need.  The Production Manager comes in and relays that the Best Boy is sorry & will come in & help tomorrow – ok, but that is of no use to me as we’re shooting it tomorrow – ANGRY.  It takes a couple of hours to put things back together again, my Accountant kindly comes to help & does some graffiti for me on the box buildings – “Romani ite domum” – she goes home & I stay on till 12.30am – at least it’s a late call tomorrow so I still have the morning to finish.  Come on Lisa, keep going…..

Day 58 Sat 2nd July Get up incredibly early & head to the studio as soon as I can – feel wiped with the emotions of yesterday, plus exhausted & pretty low – not really in the mood for talking to anyone.  The art department has to have the day off today so I’m really on my own but construction are in to help (as they will rest tomorrow) & firstly strike Studio 2 of its desert & rocks. I call the Line Producer to tell her what’s happened & we both get on the phone to see who we can get to cover ASAP – a couple of hours later, we have a Standby Art Director to cover on Monday & Tuesday & an assistant (who did work experience on This Is England 86 and who has turned into a fantastic young professional) who can cover buying tomorrow for Int Nerd’s Set.  But it’s me on my own to do the puppet set, pretty much from scratch.  I can’t get into Studio 2 yet because of the strike, so I start building the puppet set elements in Studio 1 to at least get it arranged – arranging the stacks of boxes, other rubbish elements & begin to print out the building prints, spray gluing them on, ripping them down – oh god, there’s so much to do.  I go out & buy A LOT of ink cartridges as I can see I’m going through them pretty quick…then the graffiti idea comes, layering the texture up so I buy gold markers & terracotta, red chalk markers from the Paperchase (that shop is a a godsend)….Studio 2 is now clear so the Construction boys help me take the rubbish clouds across and move the boxes done so far…I set-up again and pretty much continue on my own till 1am, taking pictures as I’m going.  It’s slowly coming together but still a lot to do on Sunday – will be on set all day so will have to carry on after wrap…..the most tired I think I’ve been! 

Day 57 Fri 1st July The morning starts busy as I stay with my 3rd block team on set as much as I can, seeing them in.  I have a chat with the Line Producer about letting my Location Art Director go a week early – we agree that she should go but we should let her continue for the next few days simply assisting to take the pressure off her, end on a more positive note, trying not to knock her confidence too severely.  She agrees & I tell a few others in my team, concluding that I will talk to the Location Art Director on wrap today.  Once the parkour stunt has been done in Studio 2 I come in & help dress/redress the Desert set – grubbing around in a giant sand pit, placing polystyrene rocks at the feet of God/Stephen Fry with a big beard.  I have a good chat with the VFX Supervisor as to how the rest of the desert should look – giving him the same reference pictures I gave the painter – Duccio, Simone’s paintings. We get the French polishers in to deal with the damage done to the teak furniture – we’re praying they can restore it otherwise we may have to make an insurance claim or lose a chunk of money from our budget – such a minor accident on set (someone spilling a hot drink, not wiping it up properly then putting a period metal film can on top of the spill) leads to so many headaches & cost! On a lighter note, I spend time with work experience volunteers making fake dog poo for Sunday – get them experimenting with ingredients – Nutella, cornflour, crunchy peanut butter.  Once the TV Show set has been struck from Studio 1, I get all hands on deck stringing up black bin liner clouds on baton with fishing line to see if the ‘puppet set clouds’ are going to work – which it will, I think. Go scavenging for rubbish in the basement car park again with a carpenter – any materials that could help build the city rubbish-scape. Wrap comes – the art dept carry on with loading the Luton with props for the Main Character’s House set which starts dressing on Sunday.  The puppet set is so far off being done it is terrifying! I take the 3rd Location Art Director aside & we have a private chat for about an hour – I essentially let her go, telling her that she cannot cope, I cannot rely on her nor trust her & that she has let me & the team down – we both speak calmly & I explain that to try & alleviate the pressure for us both, that she works till Tuesday, finishing the puppet set with me then helping the Set Decorator do some dressing at Palin’s house as a way of ending things more amicably – I explain that it is ultimately my fault, seeing that I’ve demanded too much from her – I say how sorry I am, but I don’t want to burn any bridges, erode her confidence any further or ends things on a sour note. I suggest she goes home, gets some rest & comes into tomorrow to help with the puppet set as I can’t do it by myself.  I think all is ok, if difficult….I drive home, get in at 11pm & see a voicemail on my phone – it’s the Art Director – she’s left a message saying she’s decided to quit immediately – she think it’ll be better for the team if she goes straight away.  Am left in a bit of shock – quitting by voicemail is not clever – not only could it be the worst thing for the team (to be left one person short with so little notice) but also, it hurts after spending the time trying to make a positive out of a negative, trying not to sour the relationship & trying to finish things for her more constructively & less fearful.  I feel very angry, although not that surprised, a little cheated at the cowardice, now sure that I really did hire the wrong person, and then panic at how I can pull together tomorrow, getting the set ready by myself – at 11pm it’s too late to find an extra pair of hands. I don’t really sleep – tis the first time I’ve been truly worried. Budget:46,429.50 Left to spend: 2,730.30.

Day 56 Thurs 30th June: Start the day at home finishing the Evening Standard newspaper graphic (front cover & headline board) as it’s so much easier to work from home without office distractions…then the day gets a little more pressured – I get a phone call from the Line Producer about the puppet set changing to Studio 2! They cannot move the lighting set up over (time/manpower) so we now have to do the puppet set in a much smaller space.  That’s ok but it means that we now have to get the sand from the desert & all the rigging out on Saturday which gives us only the rest of Saturday & Sunday to build/dress the puppet set in situ! Argh!  No Saturday off then!  Go into the office via Print Sign Design to drop off the newspaper design for printing.  Then off to the studio to print off the desert rock references for my multi-skilled Scenic Painter – am going for the medieval look from Duccio’s frescoes – where all rocks are finished at an angle, very graphic & reminds us both of Road Runner cartoons…the painter starts poly carving & painting for the rest of the day. The (wet) sand arrives for the desert so we use that as the colour reference – seeing how it dries & whether to match to wet, dry or inbetween for the rendering of our desert rocks. Now things have changed, I talk with 3rd Location Art Director about the puppet set plan – I realise that nothing has been done – really angry now as I see time slipping away. I do some work on the look of the Int. Nerd’s House set – it needs a look even though it’s 2011 contemporary – the brief is 30-something-living-in-a-cheap-rented-bachelor-geek-pad-who-can’t-quite-look-after-himself – IKEA springs to mind given the budget – but I go for the cheapest of the cheap – all beech: super bland. Start pulling off furniture refs from their website. Check on my Painter who’s little stressed with the amount he has to do – I help him clear up from the poly-carving in the underground car park. Wrap comes around at 7.30pm and we (3rd Location Propman, Director, 1st AD, and other HoDs) go on a recce to the City to see the restaurant location for Sunday. 9pm – we’re done walking the surrounding streets so I get back in the car with the Propman to get back to the studio – we unload vans from set strikes, see how the rocks are, talk about the puppet set, rubbish required for the shoot on Sunday – have another catch up with the 3rd block team.  Not impressed – realized that so little has been done. I make sure they’ve got everything ready for tomorrow’s shoot but say that it will be best that I assist the Propman with standby on Sunday so the Art Director can concentrate on getting the puppet set ready. Driving home, despite all that’s happened, I take the decision to let the 3rd Location Art Director go – it’s not healthy for anyone in the team to be taking the load, my stress levels are through the roof & things aren’t getting done – I don’t want the shoot to end on a bad note, we’ve all done so well to keep it together until now.  I firstly call my 2nd block Location Propman to see if he’s available to stay on & take her place, then I check with my Set Decorator to see if it really is the best thing to do – even though I know it is.  Win some.  Lose some. And lots of being stuck between desert rocks and hard places.   Budget (getting VERY low now) :46,429.50 Left to spend: 3083.19.

Day 55 Wed 29th June: The crew start shooting on the TV Show set.  We get in at 7am to greet the Golden Age supplier who has brought the period TV pedestal cameras & equipment – help him set up & I make a quick graphic – TV station logos to go the side of the cameras.  Our Director is happy.  Job done.  Onto the rest of the week…..I go & have another budget meeting to look at how much we’ve spent & have left to deal with – more rejiggling & this time we start allocating money for loss & damages & items not returned – trying to get a handle on the props – beginning to realise how invaluable a Props Master is – frustrated that there’s no money to pay for one.  I’ve organised a puppet meeting at lunchtime with my 3rd Location Art Director who has been charged with organising our cardboard box buildings, laying them out in the loading bay of the studios to resemble our ‘rubbish’ city.  The puppeteers turn up and all HoDs gather round to see just how it’s going to work.  It’s all good but we need a lot of surfaces/space for the puppeteers – 3 men per puppet – we all realise just how big a set this is going to be.  Gulp.  I spend a long time with my 3rd Location Art Director to find out what else has been done in terms of dressing the set – work experience are busy making bin liner clouds but what else??  Nothing.  Beginning to get angry & frustrated – it seems the more responsibility I throw at her, the more rabbit in the headlights she seems to get – what do I do?  How do I dispel the fear & motivate her. This is beginning to really fuel my stress levels & I can see that it will be easier if I do things myself – I just don’t have the time. My Art Director can see my anger – she’s feeling it & it’s not helping either of us.  She gets very upset – she says she needs a lot of looking after but I need someone a little more initiative driven – someone I can rely to go out & make some decisions & take some risks & offer up solutions.  I have a long chat on the phone with my Set Decorator about how we deal with this – it could turn into a huge problem if I let this lack of experience carry on into the final block of filming.  We conclude that taking the responsibility away from the Art Director will help us all as a team, will stop her from freaking out & reassure ourselves that things really are being done.  I head back to the office to do a little graphics work (Evening Standard paper headlines) – but end up emailing and making phone calls etc.  I call a meeting with my Set Decorator and 3rd block team that evening (9pm) to see how they’re getting on & figure out how to proceed.  I start by being honest, saying that the best solution for the team is to take away some responsibilities & make the Art Director solely focus on the puppet set as this is the set she knows most about. We agree – I am trying to make her feel a little more comfortable as disappointing as it may seem. My Set Decorator & I therefore take on other sets – Int. Nerd’s House and Int. Pub.  The Propman will make sure the action props are in place for the first few days of shooting, I will do the Desert & Mexico Courtyard sets, the Set Decorator will do the fantasy Bishops vs Satan TV Chat Show set.  I go home so wound-up which is unlike me.  I know that I’ve put someone too far in the deep end, I am ultimately to blame, but we have to get the job done without putting unnecessary strains on my (already tired) team as a whole.  Budget:46,429.50 Left to spend: 6,411.64.  

Day 54 Tues 28th June: Shooting is due to finish in the Green Room set at lunch so that Construction can start striking the set (the riggers are due in tomorrow so they can de-rig & put up the green screen & blacks/deck for the stunt etc shots on Friday).  But the shoot goes on and on and  doesn’t finish till 5pm so everything is delayed – so much for making a schedule!  We all crack on with dressing the TV Show set.  I hang around the office discussing budget with my Accountant for most of the morning – we rejiggle more money around to account for the £800 cost of the reupholstery of the chairs – vital but painfully expensive!  Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet – being good at risk-taking is a skill for this job!  I work out a prop greenery order with my Set Decorator over the phone & by email – tropical plants for the TV Show set & a desert cactus/juniper tree. Later in the day we, as a team, reconvene to dress the TV Show set – I go out with the Set Decorator to Paperchase to get more wrapping paper (cracked gold & white) to finish the edges of the rostrum on the set – but really it’s my time to chat to her and divulge how worried I am about my 3rd block team & ask for her advice.  It’s good to talk and ask for guidance, even as the leader of the pack – wisdom isn’t bound by hierarchy.  We get back & dress in the trees, chairs, glasses etc to the TV Show set.  All looks suitably tacky & tasteless – Hawaii on bad acid just as scripted!  It’s a late one as the Construction boys are still striking the set in Studio 2 – the Sparks begin to light the set in Studio 1.  Now, my Scenic Painter and I can see that we don’t need anymore highlights on the cloth – it’s coming out very bright – if anything, we need a few more flashes of colour – orange, purple & pink – funny how completely different it looks under studio lights.  Late drive home but happy tomorrow’s set has come together.  Budget:46,429.50 Left to spend: 8,260.89.

Day 53 Mon 27th June: Feeling greatly revived, still exhausted, I have a better perspective on things.  There’s a lot to be said for doing for nothing.  There’s such a drive to always be doing in life, to fill every moment…..but if you build time to do nothing (and I mean nothing) into your schedule, no matter how busy you are, believe me, you’ll become more productive for it.  Whilst the shoot is settled in the Green Room set for another day, it is my time for catching up & organizing.  35 degrees today.  Heat changes things – changes the limits of patience – never forget this.  I start at the office with my 3rd block Location Art Director to see how the puppet set is going.  I soon become aware that things aren’t being managed & I need to step in and advise.  I also ask how the ideas for the Desert & Mexico Courtyard sets are coming along – nothing has been done despite having a creative chat about it a while back.  Frustrated, I sit with the 3rd block Location Art Director and do a basic budget outline, making her aware of all things we need to consider.  When you’re up against it it’s hard to be patient, I struggle, but I try & remember to take a deep breath and work through a problem together – that’s ultimately how people learn – they know what’s gone wrong, they know they’ve let things slip, they do honestly want to know how to make things better, so as a leader, help them.  Sometimes being angry and piling on the pressure solves nothing, you just need to know where & when to push and when to nurture.   Given that time is of the essence, I sit at the computer & pull together moodboards for the Desert & Mexico sets – being clever doubling up, looking at turning rock shapes (poly carved) into elements that could fit together to create an adobe arch.  I head over to set for a VFX meeting at lunch with the VFX supervisor in Studio 2 to discuss the requirements for the stunt scene (parkour-style jump in black space) & green screen set up – how we might lay out the elements in the studio.  The fast changing world of VFX makes you rely heavily on the VFX supervisor for advice – learn to ask LOTS of questions!  Back in Studio 1, I dig out some Paperchase cracked gold & white wrapping paper I’ve been carrying around for ages as the finish for the surfaces on the TV Show set – the column, presenter’s desk….my painter starts to try pasting the sheets on.   I’ve asked my Construction Manager to design/replicate the TV Show set from period reference photos we’ve obtained (but we’re not allowed to make it identical).  I’ve given a lot of verbal input but otherwise I’ve pretty much left him to it – delegate, delegate, delegate.  I trust him.  I have to.  Later in the day we make a schedule of how the week is going to pan out – the amount we have to do vs the labour we have – both a little worried – and we need everyone on board to follow it so it works! Finally see the chairs for the TV Show set & the upholstery on them is completely wrong – but it’s far too late to change them – aarggh – I decide with the Set Decorator to re-use the gold fabric from the curtains in the TV Production Office & Distributor’s Office sets & get it to a seamstress ASAP….we do…but it’s gonna cost!  I then jump in the car & assist with props returns as there are too many to do given the heavy traffic round town (there have been roadworks/road closures on the A40/Euston Rd) which have been killing our journey times to & from Acton.  I zip to Superhire, Farleys & Seasons then get a call from the Location Manager about our location for Sunday – an Italian restaurant in the city near Monument.  Decide to go on from Acton to see it – sit in 2hrs of traffic trying to get there – photograph it and the alleyway – lots of signage to deal with.  Finally head back to the studio/workshop for 6pm to see my painter to comment on the backcloth – needs to be more trippy, less blue, more highlights & drawing the sunset colours closer to the storm sky section. Dress the Viewing Gallery set in 5mins with the Set Decorator (minimal!) then head back to the office to meet with 3rd block Location Art Director & Propman –  we chat till 8.45pm – the Art Director has done a budget breakdown for the puppet set since our chat this morning & it’s twice what we have budgeted.  The cost of the printed graphics (building faces) applied to the sides of boxes is coming in far too costly so I take the little model & start ripping the prints off so it looks like a torn poster wall – shards & slips of building left behind – it really works, looking more like a rubbish pile, more distressed, more texture, cheaper & allowing us to print less – I decide therefore that we can print out the sections ourselves – I ask the Art Director to go & get photos at night of the buildings in the surrounding area as soon as she can.  But before they go I take the two (who are due to start on camera on Friday) for a drink in the pub & a chat/tutorial about standby as their experience is very limited. We talk about set etiquette, process of a shoot, who’s who, what to look out for, how to work as a team of 2, tricks, kit & materials you need – I emphasise how on it you have to be, how observant your eyes need to be, be a professional eaves-dropper & be incredibly organized.  Finish at 10.15pm…then go home.  Worried that my 3rd team are struggling a little – how do I take out the fear so they can focus a little better?  Budget: 46,429.50 Left to spend: 10,321.32.

Day 52 Sun 26th June: Officially my “day-off” and agreed by all crew, “proper time-out-otherwise-I-might-lose-my-mind day”.  I start though at 7am finishing off some door sign graphics & a fictional Heathhall’s Whisky label – make sure the set is all ok – find it so hard to walk away despite EVERYONE telling me to go & have a day away.  I leave mid-morning but confess I pop back at 6pm to pick up my car and check in – all ok. Early night. Bliss.  Budget: 45,692.50 Left to spend: 11,976.90.

Day 51 Sat 25th June: Crew day off but it seems almost all the Art Department are working today (out of choice, which I’m incredibly humbled by) – my Accountant comes in mid-morning as does the 2nd block Location Propman to help.  Construction are busy working on the Green Room set so I help by pulling out the hired bits-n-pieces we have – light switches, plug sockets, ducting, junction boxes – and placing them around so they can be fitted & painted. Detail is everything, even on a budget!  I go down into the basement car park of Stephen Street Studios with one of the construction team and we find some vents that have been dumped that we can ‘appropriate for a better use’.  I discuss with my Construction Manager fitting the 8 period TV monitors behind the set & getting the plastic glass blocks (we used in the Distributors Office set) out again to fill a gap in the set.  We were going to build plinths to sit the TVs on in front of the walls, but instead we’ll build units behind so the TV screens can be flush, and use the plinths for the puppet set – so nothing wasted. Whilst I’m waiting for the set to be finished, I jump on sorting out the props store which after the unloading last night, looks like Prop Armageddon – it takes about 5 hrs – we firstly clear the space we need for the shoot in the studio (TV Studio Show set) as we’re sharing the space, and secondly we find everything we need & need to return!  Eventually Construction are done (about 8pm), I buy them all pizza, and we get all the furniture in together (modular seating & a mini bar).  They leave me to it so I can dress the smalls in & rearrange – 10.15pm standing in the set pleased with how it’s coming on, I get a call from my Director (who’s probably making sure I’m still standing) so we catch up & I send him photos of the set via the trusty iPhone.  Time to leave so I go home, start doing a small graphic for tomorrow (a whisky label) and fall asleep doing it…At least, a better end to the day than yesterday!

Day 50 Fri 24th June: Officially the WORST day of the job. We’re filming at the Willesden Working Mens Club but the Location Department have only managed to secure us 3 hours in which to dress its bar as a 70s period pub – removal of modern fittings, dressing in bar taps, drinks, optics, food etc.  We have all hands on deck, my team working extra hours coming in at 7.30am to dress till the call at 10.30am.  Whilst the guys are busy working my 3rd block Location Art Director appears with a model for the puppet set which looks good – I photograph it and see that the simple cheat will work – we discuss drawing up the studio plan to see exactly what we need to build, how many bin liner clouds etc – so she goes off to see how much things will cost & starts making plans.  I’m still busy doing graphics on set – some fake script pages & a memo board for the PPCSS headquarters…Again we have big labour problems today, 2 people down and only one standby with one work experience volunteer.  I go to talk to the Line Producer & she helps by paying for an additional man with a van for the other location clear-ups but we are still really struggling with the returns, pick ups & striking – we are so tight for time at locations & hampered by the fact we can’t hire for any longer than 1 week on props because of cost.  I can see the thing that’s really suffering is the work of the standby – today’s shoot has 15 supporting artists (SAs), all needing drinks & hand props with lots of resetting and furniture moving all the time – having only one standby who isn’t that experienced isn’t great with scenes with a lot of extras & I can’t be there all day myself with the Green Room set coming up.  I feel like a rabbit caught in the headlights today.  It just goes to show this job really is all about people & having the right provision for them & putting them in the right places at the right time.  I stay on set until I’ve dressed the memo board (frantically taking photos of the SAs in their costumes, whisking them thru Photoshop, printing them (ALWAYS carry my printer around in the car) and arranging them ‘badly’ on a notice board.  Reluctantly leave Willesden to get back to Stephen Street studios to see the Green Room set go up – all looking good but lots to do tomorrow (Saturday) – and with no chance of dressing till tomorrow afternoon (Set Decorator is away too so it’ll just be me & the boys) it’s going to be tight for time.  I race to get back to set in Willesden for 7pm when the work experience volunteer is due to leave so I can jump in and assist my Standby Propman. I get back to a lot of complaints that although the Standby is doing his best, it’s not working with just one person. I don’t know what to do – I can’t magic up more people as everyone is already too stretched as it is.  The 1st AD quite rightly says that there’s no point making all the effort with the design & decoration of the show if it falls flat when we get to shoot it..am so frustrated, tired & on the edge – everyone else is too but the lack of sleep & long hours & impossible tasks & asks is proving a little too much for me.  I need a new strategy.  We wrap at 9.30pm and I help as much as I can to strike (we have to be out of the location tonight) before jumping in the car and heading back to Stephen Street studios for 10.30pm to meet the Director & DoP for a look at the Green Room set before we shoot on Sunday – a few comments/adjustments but otherwise all good.  Our two Luton vans full to bursting with props also arrive about 10pm having done strikes in number of locations today so we all pitch in & help unload till about 11.30pm.  Say goodbye to our 1st block Location Propman as he’s now finished the job.  I finally go to leave & see a parking ticket on my window – was too tired to even think about checking whether the spot I parked in at 10.30pm would be residents only…grrrrr….I must confess, it was the straw that broke the Production Designer’s back that night.  Oh well.  Onwards and sideways, tomorrow’s a new day.

Day 49 Thur 23rd June: Start the day at 7.30am dressing two office sets at Templeton House for the first few hours before the crew are called at 11am. My 3rd block Location Art Director has been tasked with coming up with a concept for our puppet set over the last week & maintaining regular meetings with the puppet company Blind Summit about their technical requirements.  She comes out to Templeton House to meet me & discuss the set – it is fast approaching and is the one set which needs the greatest input as no-one is quite sure what it form it should take.  We do however know the following: 1. the puppeteers will be in black in order for them to ‘disappear’ or at least be less visible so therefore the scene should be at night or in front of a black background, 2. the puppet sequence starts in Int. Main Character’s House then the walls of the house set appear to ‘fall away’ to reveal the characters standing (with a samurai sword & light saber) in an urban wasteland (car park behind Paddington Green police station) with the night cityscape beyond, 3. as the two characters attack each other they turn into puppets in mid-air and so the puppet set must connect to the real location in some way.  Easy.  My Location Art Director’s ideas are a little off the mark, my fault entirely for not giving a clearer brief – we started with the idea that it would begin as a miniature cityscape with rooftops etc and turn into the stones of biblical Jerusalem (we had loads of free poly which could be carved so we thought we could put it to good use on this set as there’s so little money). But as we discussed it further, the problem of a night-time cityscape backdrop arose and it seemed it was all too complicated for the time & resources.  As I always do, when things are getting too complicated, I start stripping it right down – the KISS theory for those that don’t know it – Keep It Simple Stupid – works every time.  So I suggest scrapping the idea of Jerusalem first, leaving us with just buildings.  Then think about reducing the number of building units to 4 and cheating 2 sides of them to appear as different buildings so we turn them around during the sequence (like the cheat in the 1937 & 1957 office sets)…then thinking what’s the cheapest way of building them so that they can be moved easily?  Cardboard boxes.  THEN…the idea dawns on me – RUBBISH.  It’s a motif in the film (the 1979 bin men’s strikes) so why not?  When the walls of the set fall away in the car park, they are surrounded by piles of rubbish and out of which are cardboard boxes & junk that appear as tiny buildings….so when the puppets appear, the cityscape they’re fighting in, is one growing out of rubbish.  We could string up bin liners as night-time clouds – they’re black so would be perfect for our black backdrop and a nice texture when lit to give some shape. Developing an idea like this in 5mins is what I LOVE about this job – creative problem-solving.  I suggest my Location Art Director goes away, researches the boxes we can get and make a little model so we can have a look at it tomorrow.  I stay on set to do a few extra graphics (door signage) and help out as there is only one standby & our work experience volunteer has had to go home ill.  Sickness is in the air – I can feel a cold developing (CANNOT afford to be ill)…and I get news another work experience volunteer has had to leave which means the teams are spread very thinly around town today – just 2 at the TV Centre striking the sets, one at Putney striking, others out buying…really beginning to feel the pinch of not enough labour and I can’t stay on set too long – I need to get back to the office to sort out the impending Green Room set – construction has started today. Eventually leave early afternoon and head into town to the office to see my Set Decorator & look at all that has been booked for the Green Room set – the suspended ceiling is up & the carpet is down so we talk about further paint choices & finishes, and take a look at the scenic backdrop for TV Show set my Scenic Painter has been busy working on when he can.  We have a meeting with my Accountant and go through the latest budget & discuss the growing issue of missing props & possible overages – there has been damage to a period teak desk at the TV Centre location & some props have not been returned – it is clear the crew have been too busy to keep an eye on returns properly – but it could cost us a lot in loss & damage so we start building a sum to cover possible problems into the contingency that is fast evaporating. NEXT TIME: (somehow wangle the budget to afford) A PROPS MASTER!!!  9.45pm – budget rejiggled & we go home – really feeling the pressure of a too small & too thinly spread crew and the cost implication it’s having – don’t sleep much that night thinking about how I should have/could have crewed this job any differently.

Day 48 Wed 22nd June:  Start the day at Templeton House in Roehampton to measure up for blinds at our Int. QC office location so I can phone them thru to my 1st block Location Art Director who’s still out buying & doing pick ups for the set this morning. We only have a window of 9am-3pm to dress the set today so as everyone else is busy, I will meet her, my Propman (who’s eyes are better thankfully) & a work experience volunteer at the location to dress it later today.  I head home (which is handily round the corner) to make up the hero ‘Gay News’ newspaper, trying to get it out to my printers Print Sign Design by lunch to have it done by the end of the day.  Dash back for 2pm to Templeton House to help dress the set – but no Location Art Director. There are huge delays at the props houses and terrible traffic all round west London, so she’s really late.  The clock is ticking but after a bit of pleading, the staff at the location are willing for us to extend our working time till 4pm.  Still no sign of her at 3.45pm so I leave the Propman & work experience to do what they can in the time as I have to get on with the other things I need to do today.  I go out in search of 70s style knitted jumpers from charity shops in East Sheen – we have to dress a burning effigy tonight in the style of the main character in costume.  As you do.  Also, I buy some bits to make a couple of peg people (an additional idea by the Director yesterday) for the Int. QC Office scene tomorrow.  Old wooden pegs, fuzzy pom poms & pipecleaners – done.  Get a woolly jumper then get to Putney to meet my Set Decorator and Jason, owner of Agog FX, the SFX guy who will be burning the effigy in the evening.  We dress the effigy together & talk to the Director about how he’d like it rigged to burn.  We leave them to it as they’ll be shooting late tonight and I go with the Set Decorator to have a meeting about the Green Room set which is coming up fast – we list all the seating/props she has found & what we really need.  Props look good – coming together.  10pm- go home and guess what, do some more graphics for tomorrow (will & testaments & door signs) and make Jesus & Brian peg people till 1am – one thing to be said for this job – never a dull moment!  Budget: 45,692.50 Left to spend: 13,773.02.

Day 47 Tue 21st June Up early to get to Putney for 6.30am for final dressing before the unit turn up at 8.  The sets do look good, particularly the bedroom set (see below) & everyone’s happy – phew!  I stay on set getting the Int. 70’s Christmas Living Room ready for shooting, helping to serve out the turkey & trimmings!  Whilst the crew are setting up I grab the Director & DoP to present the model & colour scheme of the Green Room set – they both love it (thank goodness) so we can proceed.  There are some last minute schedule changes for the day’s shoot and one of our sets is being dropped.  You win some, you lose some!  My Location Art Director is really not coping and becoming flustered as the shoot gets going – he’s a little burnt out which I guess is understandable given the last few difficult days but a job has to be done – so I’m forced to relieve him & let the Propman step up – he has already established a relationship with the Director through storyboarding, so I try to use him to keep things calm on set.  On set at Putney I meet my 1st block Location Art Director who is doing wrap on her block now – she’s going to help us out but buying props for the Int. QC’s office now we have a location – I give her a list & photos of the space – she’ll be out buying the rest of today which means the TV Centre sets & props are not getting struck & returned – oh for more crew.  As predicted my 1st block Propman is ill from his eye infection which has now spread to the other eye so he’s unable to drive & therefore unable to work.   Trying to keep the day together, I head back to Stephen St & go through the finalised Green Room set with my Construction Manager so he can cost it up – I pick all the colours & finishes right there & then.  The set has to include TV monitors (which don’t have to be practical – images will be put in during post-production which is a relief) but the Director wants about 8 monitors – not cheap. We have to be so careful as to how we disguise the fact that this is going to be a recycled set.  The ceiling is from the TV Production Office partitions, the walls are the Distributor’s Office window partitions turned up on edge & filled in, the concrete columns from the Distributor’s Office have been separated & repainted, and the double doors are from the 1937 & 1957 Office sets.  The wall flats will now be finished in the cheapest fabric (hessian), painted in khaki, with a few extra headers & wall sections here and there….we need the ceiling properly rigged so we have lengthy discussions with the Gaffer & Line Producer about how we can schedule it to everyone’s advantage, building a rig for both the lights & our suspended ceiling.  We’re going to be tight for time & looks like extra construction labour is needed…and an additional working day on Saturday – there goes my contingency.  I call a meeting at lunchtime to regroup the department and discuss a detailed plan of action for the next week that I’ve drawn up.  I head home to carry on with some minor graphics for tomorrow’s shoot for a couple of hours and then back round to Putney for wrap and assistance in dressing for tomorrow’s sets.  Really feeling the pressure today – like I’m hanging on by my fingernails.  Deep breath.  Budget: 45,692.50 Left to spend: 15,755.66.

Day 46 Mon 20th June The morning starts in Catford on location at an old cinema.  Both standbys as are late again – one stuck in traffic and one who’s now ill with an eye infection – so I start everything off myself, prepping the graphics (placards, banners, cinema dressing etc) and help until standbys are settled.  I get the on set nurse to look at my Propman’s eye – not good – there’s a chance he won’t be able to continue work.  Marvellous.  I leave set as soon as I can mid-morning with the Location Manager to get to the other side of London to recce a possible Int. QC’s Office at Templeton House, Roehampton.  It’s part-dressed which is good, but the walls are yellow – the DoP’s NOT going to like it, but we’re running out of time & options.  Take lots of photos & get back to the office in town & draw up the plan for the Green Room set.  I then go to meet the Gaffer at Stephen St Studios at 3.30pm to chat about the plan & logistics for the suspended ceiling piece and the lighting rig.  It’s going to be a bit of a challenge & a collaborative effort between us & the lighting department, but hopefully it’ll work.  Back in the car and out to Putney for 6pm to assist in the dressing, changing a few things round with the Set Decorator & generally checking everyone is still ok – it’s getting there, slowly.  Get home for 8pm to do some more graphics (comedy Christmas cracker jokes etc) till 11pm then sit down to make the Green Room model set till 1am – scale at ⅜” , with dimensions scribbled on each piece – haven’t got time to draw up a proper set of drawings – this will have to do.  Sleep for a few hours…..Budget: 45,692.50 Left to spend: 16,939.70.

Day 45 Sun 19th June: Start the idea with another mad dash – this time to buy umbrellas in Shepherds Bush market for tomorrow’s shoot – rain predicted and LOTS of extras in exterior street scenes!  Then head over to Putney to see how the set dressing is going – not well – not managed.  Frustrated.  I have to leave it with the Set Decorator to turn things around.  I’m learning more and more – there are some people who, if you throw responsibility & pressure at them, they rise to the challenge and surpass their fears – and there are those who despite experience & talent, crumple under the pressure.  It’s very hard to know how someone is going to respond until you put them into the situation.  And then it’s too late.  I guess I’ve still got to learn how best to recover from this – how to get back on track, keep your team going & deliver everything to the standard it should be.  I try to help draw up a new plan of action, task by task – what needs doing, who’s going to do it – and try & be forceful yet understanding – my anger & frustration just adds to the person’s panic otherwise.  So hard.  I get back to my camp at the TV Centre & sit down to continue designing the Green Room set – how to rearrange the jumble of scenic elements….start thinking about 2 things – one is the famous curve of the TV Studio & making the space ‘uncomfortable’ as though it once was a service corridor now made into a green room with leftover furniture from around the building.  And secondly, the ceiling should be low to make it feel like it’s in the bowels of the building – no natural light…so in that case, it should be the source of illumination – a bit of Kubrick, Batman & Ken Adam thrown in.  I talk to the DoP about the idea at lunch before I take it any further and start pulling some references – he thinks it’s a great idea and will help him massively as the primary lighting source without the need for stand lamps inside the set.  The difficulty with this one is there are 17 cast present all the time in the space so speed & efficient use of the space is key. I then have a brainwave about how to achieve a gridded suspended ceiling – the partitions from the Int. Production Office Set & the twin wall panels – perhaps we can strap them together and add some diffusion from above…..Yes. I pick the colour scheme for the green room set from a stack of old paper folders sitting in my graphics pile (manilla, olive green & khaki).  I take a break & guide a work experience volunteer on making protest placards for our New York cinema scene, finding them some references.  I then drive back to Putney and discuss the Green Room set idea with Construction Manager to get his initial thoughts on its feasibility – I won’t take it any further unless he thinks we can achieve it.  Back in the car, back in traffic & back to the set to help strike & pack up kit on wrap – we’re done at the TV Centre.  Budget: 45,692.50 Left to spend: 17,920.85.

Day 44: Sat 18th June: So technically a day-off but end up doing graphics at home ALL DAY.  I start with embellishments for our comedy Christmas crackers – have decided flying character cherubs will do – email the idea back & forth with the Director (who’s also sat in front of his computer at home all day doing shot lists) which puts a smile on his face.  I then move onto the ‘logo’ for the main opposition characters in the story – the P.P.C.S.S. (firstly putting a moodboard together with ideas purely for my own benefit) – some rosette ideas (which I email back & forth with the Costume Designer who’s also busy working today!) leaflets, flyers, some Conservative Party posters & badges.  Comedy graphics do at least make the day more enjoyable!  Budget correction: 45,692.50 Left to spend: 18,341.05.

Day 43 Fri 17th June: Today I spend pretty much the ENTIRE day doing comedy period Christmas crackers!  Find some great reference & head out to Westfield Shopping Centre to find a box – spy a cheap board game in the sales.  I then get my 2nd block Location Props man who’s great at storyboards, to draw me a cartoon Santa, elves & reindeer by lunchtime.  I make a start with the layout in Illustrator – grabbing the cartoons from him at lunch I finish the ‘net’ for the box, colour it up & then jump in the car to get it to the printers before 7pm.  Speed graphics!  I then head over to our Putney location to see how the 2nd block team & construction team are getting on – the gold paint effect in the Int. Main Character’s bedroom isn’t quite working so we make some changes.  As for the set dressing, there’s A LOT that still needs to be done.  It’s clear things aren’t under control & the Location Art Director is struggling – I need to work out how best to help him cope so we can get everything ready on time – people management – hardest part of the job!  Get home at a reasonable hour & sleep!  Budget: 45,692.50 Left to spend: 18,266.05.

Day 42 Thurs 16th June: Not a good start to the day – the standbys are late…but hard to be angry as they’re exhausted. We need a pipe for one of the characters to smoke – something we’ve all let slip through the crack!  As I’m on set I run out to the props house Trevor Howsam to grab a selection of 70s period pipes, my Accountant has called them in advance to place the order so it’s just a question of choosing the right looking prop – the staff at the props house are brilliant when you’re in a rush!  Get back after mad dash in the pouring rain and with panic over, sit down & plan the Int. TV Studio Green Room set – the one we have to build with no extra money to do so.  So…I start by speaking to my Construction Manager & listing all the scenery elements we will have by the time the current sets are struck & back at the workshop – not everything will survive being ripped out, so we work out what we can conserve.  With that list, I start by making sketch model elements of what we have – quick drawings photocopied & stuck on foamcore.  I get the Art Dept Manager to give me the overall dimensions of Studio 2 over the phone & I draw up a plan at the same scale as my scenery elements.  This set is going to have the greatest number of characters in (approx 17) so it needs to be big enough but, give interest to multiple angles & not feel like a big rectangular box of a set!  I draw up 17 scale figures and stick them in the model too.  I stare at the pile of jumbled rectangles for a while – then start to look up all sorts of ceiling references – this is going to be the biggest challenge – how to span a big room.   With ideas bubbling away, I meet with the Set Decorator & Accountant for a coffee in Westfield Shopping Centre late afternoon for a couple of hours to go over the budget situation – how to save for and accommodate the Green Room set – where we can afford to compromise on other ideas & transfer money.  We go through it line by line…Budget: 45,692.50 Left to spend: 19,409.17.

Day 41 Wed 15th June: Start the day with MORE graphics – fictional film release forms (lots of ridiculous small print), a letter from the BBC and a movie poster idea for the Distributor’s Office – for which I’m struggling for material a little – it’s going to be work in progress yes but what’s the image!? I look back to the LOOK BOOK for inspiration – and there he is: PIERO FORNASETTI! It’ll be a ‘homage’ to one of his iconic face images – I’ll use my partner’s photo, rinse it through Photoshop, add a halftone pattern and make it really really big – then I print it in sections on some great gold inkjet paper from the London Graphic Centre – it’s coming together – until I get stopped by my Standby Props as he’s made a real mistake in putting the pages into the Religious Spotlight prop in the wrong order – ARGH! – it’s to be shot in an hour! So, I phone Print Sign Design to ask for a quick reprint, I race down to the printers in Acton (luckily only 20mins away) get new ones, race back, cut them & stick them again….all in the nick of time…phew.  Back to the graphics: leaving Fornasetti aside for a moment, I start on painting a door sign for the Distributor’s Office, overpainting in gold a printed sign that looks like wood – there’s no internet access on set so I photograph some teak wood, sample it in Photoshop & use it to print out a faux wooden sign. Then, I stop to do the US press cuttings page – which takes a while – then carry on with poster images.  Again I think back to the Look Book and about collage artist John Stezaker – I go & find a box of old car boot photos & postcards (I’ve seen them lying around for general dressing).  I scan them in, cut them up and rearrange in Photoshop – I want faces everywhere! Shoot again goes well but stay after wrap to help fine dress Distributor’s Office till 11.30pm & print more graphics for the walls. Get home and finish the US box office graphics…till 1am…sleeeeeep.  Next time – definitely hire a graphics person! Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 21,822.99.

Day 40 Tues 14th June: Back at the TV Centre.  Early start, 7am. The Production Office set looks amazing & I’m so proud of the team – very grateful they stayed late but can see how tired they are which is going to make the day’s shoot a tough one – I try & keep an eye on them.  I crack on with graphics first thing – the Mr. XX press cuttings file (numerous newspaper/magazine styles all as 1970s photocopies – see below) & period cigarette packets…I instruct (with references) our work experience people who have come to set, on how to dress the Distributor’s Office now the props have arrived. I talk about dressing as though you were a character really using a space…encouraging the team of volunteers to sit at the desk, do some work, have something to eat & drink, and generally try & make it looked lived in.  We have only been able to afford one week hires on everything so the set has to be dressed last minute. I have a long chat with my Scenic Painter (who’s finishing off ageing on the Distributor’s Office set) about the big scenic backcloth we need for the TV Studio Show set – it is a recreation of an actual TV programme back in the late ‘70s, but this one has to be ‘different’ in some way, a  ‘loosely-based homage’ whilst still fulfilling the scripted brief for a set that looks like ‘Hawaii on acid’.  For inspiration, I refer to one of my favourite album covers, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and a number of Hawkwind albums & 1950s Hawaii travel posters. Shoot goes well and so head home straight after wrap to start on the fictional movie posters for Distributor’s Office set – am worried now as time is slipping away to get something designed, looking convincing & printed in time.  I’m also pretty tired…starting graphics so late at night reminds me of that mild panic you had at university the night before a project was due in. So I stop & think – I need a different approach rather than trying to rush something. I do an internet search and find an amazing website (which I tweet) of Polish film posters – torn graphic images that don’t rely on faces – something I don’t have time to rely on either.  Then I get another thought along the collage-line – what if this poster was a ‘work in progress’ as though someone at the office was designing it?…it may be a good & textural solution.  Before bed, a look at the daily budget report from the Accountant & I can see we are going over on these first sets – some adjustments urgently need to be made on future set ideas.  Team 3 also started today so lots more decisions to make whilst still drowning in graphics.  Feeling exhausted & I don’t mind admitting, a little overwhelmed. Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 22,592.60.

Day 39 Mon 13th June: Start early at 7am to finish dressing the 1937 & 57 sets before call – Location Art Director & Props both oversleep & turn up late leaving me to dress on my own – I can’t be too angry, they’ve been working insanely long hours & given me 110% commitment.  Everyone’s tired, despite my efforts to be as efficient with labour as possible – and it’s only the beginning. I need to work on this to safeguard my whole team for the rest of the shoot. With the camera turning over I get off to Superhire & Print Sign Design to pick up the ‘Religious Spotlight’ pages & then back to set to carry on with printing photos for set dressing etc.  After lunch whilst the crew are now filming elsewhere in the TV Centre, I spend some time with the painter to age the Distributor’s  Office set.  With references we discuss the door, off-white grout in the fake plastic glass blocks & the tint of the glass itself.  The plastic blocks have been a great purchase to achieve the classic look without the weight & construction issues, but the plastic has a cold, almost purple tint to it which looks wrong.  The Painter & I request some straw lighting gel from the Gaffer & we fix it up behind to try & add a warmer tone. It works but it still looks too new & clean – I remember some gold-hessian-effect foil on a roll we purchased at the beginning of prep (the type florists use).  So we try to put a layer of this up behind the straw gel to diffuse the light a little more – the illusion works well.  On wrap at 8pm I have a meeting on set with Location Team 2 & the Set Decorator (who has eyes firmly on the next block whilst I monitor the shoot). We go through all their own moodboards they’ve put together for the sets in their block and agree on ideas.  It’s hard to switch focus to the next group of sets whilst only just settling into the present location – but it’s critical as a designer to have a mind working in the past, present & future, and not wait till the last minute to make decisions – because that’s what really increases the chances of an overspend.  I stay late making up the ‘Religious Spotlight’ books & door signs, leaving to get home about 10.30pm to carry on with fictional period cigarette packet designs (designs to cover packets of herbal cigarettes): the 1970s Scrapbook is the most amazing reference for this.  I’ve also bought some fantastic gold metallic inkjet paper from the London Graphics Centre which makes printing gold graphics easy & cheap – perfect for cigarette packets graphics. Location Team 1 stay on till midnight to get the Production Office set completely ready as that layer of real life dressing is still not quite there – it’s looking too much like a set & needs more surface of wear & tear & quirky detail.  It’s our first major set so the expectations (from me & the Director) are high plus, I’m a self-confessed perfectionist (which I’m working on…promise!).  Tired, oh so tired.  Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 25,338.11.

Day 38 Sun 12th June: THE SHOOT BEGINS (Today: 0800-1900, total pages 2 3/8, day and night scenes, 2011 & 1979, in TV Centre offices, stairwells & corridors). I start with Location Team 1 (who now become the first block standby art director & props) on location around the TV Centre dressing the first set which we only have access to that morning – an office in a scenery dock – setting up computers for graphics, door signage etc.  I stay for the camera to turn over on the first scene making sure the Director is happy, then I go back upstairs as dressing & snagging continues on the main office sets & I get back to churning out graphics.  Still to do are the Production Office dressing graphics (logos, desk bits’n’pieces) and the Distributor’s Office action props: film release forms, US box office/press cuttings, a letter & posters (not sure how I’m going to get it all done!).  I’d like our office letters/paper to still be in Foolscap size (216 x 343 mm) even though the ISO standard A4 (210 x 297mm) was firmly in place in 1977.  Any photocopies should be more grainy/inky & the choice of fonts limited. I like to use layers of marks, stains or smudges in Photoshop that will work subtley when printed onto various papers. So I sit glued to my laptop & printer all day in ear shot of the unit filming.  Great atmosphere and glad I’m based here rather than in the office in the centre of town.  I always feel that the art department can become isolated from the filming unit and as a result, a large proportion of the filmmaking team don’t see or understand all that we do all day.  This lack of visibility I believe results in tensions and unrealistic demands.   It’s our own responsibility to be ‘visible’ rather than simply assuming others know exactly what your own job/tasks involve – most don’t, nor have the time to – so make it your business to educate by putting yourself in the lines of communication.  This entire blog is part of that education.  Times have changed and I realise how mobile I can be as designer – working largely from my iPhone, Moleskine notebook and MacBook Air – this is a massive advantage to becoming more visible.  The need on a job like this is not to be tied to an office & drawing board, but to be in constant communication with a widespread team and be available on site to make quick decisions – technology is a tool to help.   It’s also important I think to be available to the Director – we’ve built up such a close, problem-solving relationship during the last 40 days of prep, I want it to continue.  So I will endeavour to be near set as much as possible for this shoot whilst my Art Dept Manager, Accountant and Set Decorator are based near the office & props store.  Wrap on the 1st day and all has gone well.  I make a point of staying behind with the standbys to assist with dressing the 1937 & 57 office sets (to be shot tomorrow) and to find out how they’ve got on with the shooting style of the Director & DoP – what can we learn & how we can best assist the shoot.  They’ve enjoyed the day but I can see how tired they are – the disadvantages of having the same team art directing then going on to do standby – but they know the sets like no other, so will have to help keep them going for the next week and a half.  Leave set at 9pm.

Day 37 SAT 11TH June: THE LAST DAY BEFORE SHOOTING BEGINS! I start early by making a trip to the depths of Surrey to the Animator’s house to collect his stop-motion camera rig. 2hrs 30mins later, on a serendipitous whim, I stop off in Tolworth on the A3 for some prop buying – a random choice but the parade of shops looks promising – charity & pound shops.  I need dolls heads for the dream door – today – lots of them – and cheaply.  I go into one pound shop & there in the aisle, have a little brainwave – my favorite sculptor Auguste Rodin made a famous piece, The Gates of Hell – a bronze sculpted doorway featuring lots of figures falling into hell.  So rather than simply dolls’ heads on the door, I’ll find lots of ‘bodies’ we can fix onto the door in all sorts of positions – so I spend the next hour raiding the local shops for £1 packets of action men-type figures, plastic horse, baby dolls, wrestling figures from a charity shop.  Then I stop off at B&Q to get some amazing Rust-Oleum Rubbed Bronze metallic effect spray paint (highly recommend it).  Get back to the BBC, instruct some of our team (the whole art dept is now on site working to help in the final push) to arrange & fix the door figures – I start by showing them an image of Rodin’s sculpture on my iPhone. It’s all a bit ‘Challenge Anneka’ meets ‘Blue Peter’ but it’s coming together in just a few hours.  The construction team get busy blacking out the office set windows, the dressing team are working hard adding the layer of gritty detail to the Production Office set – coffee mug stains, biscuit crumbs, spillages, scuffs, tears, dents, banana skins, and half-eaten sandwiches – then the Director stops by for another set visit to work out his shots for tomorrow.  Morale is running high, Director is happy & I think the space is going to look great given how little we’ve had to make it happen.  I carry on with office door sign graphics in my new make-shift office into early evening, then make my way home to get a little sleep/finish more graphics for the ‘email complaint sequence’ shooting first up in the morning.  Safe to say I have a good dose of butterflies in my stomach. Onwards & Sideways!

Day 36 Fri 10th June: I start the day early with more graphics – it’s becoming a ball & chain but we don’t have anyone else to do it, plus it’s nice that I can keep on eye on the detail & actually feel like I’ve made something.  So often there’s no space for my own craftsmanship on a job – so I will do my best to relish it.  At lunch, I call Agog FX to discuss the burning effigy scene & send over references.  I then pack up all my kit ready to set up camp at the TV Centre as I think it’s best I be based there – close to the shoot.  My kit: laptop, hard drive, wacom tablet, A4 printer/scanner, toolkit of stationery, box of assorted paper, printing papers & printing inks, A1 cutting matt, selection of steel rules, scalpel, glues/Spray Mount, tapes, tape measures, random bits of foamcore and modelmaking left-overs, Dulux colour swatch book, my trusty Leatherman tool, and lots of folders to organise graphic hero props into.  It’s a mini office and the more jobs I do, the more I realise I need to get everything into a few boxes and in the boot of my car.  So with boot full, I go to pick up my graphics from Acton and deliver more for printing next week.  I go on to buy a Brother A3 printer/scanner in the hope that it will save us printing costs.  2pm: head over to the TV Centre sets to see how things are going & meet the Director & DoP who have come for the first official set visit – after a long wonder round they’re very happy – a relief for us all.  We decide the dream sequence (which we’re shooting on Sunday) will be better if we contain it within the Production Office set only as the Distributor’s Office set isn’t ready yet….makes life a lot easier for us. There’s still a lot of top layer dressing to go into the Production Office – that layer of real life: food, drinks, mess, personal effects, random choices and things unwittingly cobbled together.  I then discuss the dream door sequence with my Construction Manager – I see a brand new 6 panel internal door has been bought – the intention is to spray it black – but it’s not quite good enough for me – it needs some detail…I think back to the Cast Courts at the V&A and heads & bodies all over the architecture.  How about dolls heads stuck all over it? Can we pull that together in time?  It feels like the avalanche has started.  Sunday we start shooting and there won’t be a moment’s rest-bite till we wrap 4 weeks later.  With my mini-portable-graphics-office set up in a side room on location, I get back to the office in town for 7.30pm and meet our Animator for a catch up/progress meeting in the pub across the road.  I give him various period Seventies magazines (ones my Set Decorator has found whilst out buying) which he will use for a particular cut-out animated scene & he hands over period ‘Gay News’ papers from the 70s & 80s that I need for one of my graphic props.  Wonder what people sitting either side of us in the pub were thinking!  I organise collecting his rostrum camera rig (which we need for some early scenes) first thing in the morning from his home. Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 26,133.53.  Ouch.

Day 35 Thurs 9th June: Away from the office today, I get to the TV Centre for 8am to check in with Construction & the Location Art Director & Props Assist.  All ok – have a long walk round and make suggestions for dressing & do snagging lists for both Construction & Props.  There’s a lot of detail & layering still to do but the corporate feel of the Production Office set is there and the space is nicely divided.  I leave them all to it – I do find I’m best not interfering, being (trying to be) patient and learning to wait for my team to present their final efforts. It’s best I let the Set Decorator lead and I come in towards the final dress and make comments than simply reiterate what’s already on their things-to-do list.  Learn to trust your team – so important to remember this – even when you’re a bit of/a lot of a perfectionist!  I get a cab from the TV Centre as my foot is terrible to get back home to carry on with graphics in the peace & quiet.  I sit with headphones on eyes glued to Photoshop & Illustrator, hand glued to my Wacom tablet, creating large directory signs for the offices, a 1950s magazine cover, the Religious Spotlight artwork inside & out, and some gold vinyl lettering for the Distributor’s Office windows.  I like playing with text on glass to create a graphic layer, especially when the words are reversed (as they will be from inside the office) so it becomes a little more abstract.  I did however ask the Scenic Painter to paint the fictional Distributor’s Office company name by hand onto the windows so I could get a more imperfect look that could be aged/chipped etc but my Construction Manager, up against it with both sets, raised his eyebrows & with one look – well….digital vinyl cut lettering it was!  Cheap, simple & quick to apply – that’s the compromise.  I always get my printing done at ‘Print Sign Design’ – a company run by a great contact of mine who I’ve known since my days at film school.  Building up a good relationship with your printing company is key I think in working efficiently, knowing just what files/formats/information to supply, how long it takes to do, what is possible with materials & what deals you can get & when.  There has been a lot of paint finishing to do on both sets – it’s a craft that shouldn’t be rushed (especially ageing effects which can look so heavy-handed) and our Painter could do with some references for dirty/aged walls on the Distributor’s set so I grab a few images and with the graphics done, I head down to Print Sign Design in Acton at 4pm to drop off the artwork on my way back to the TV Centre to see how things have progressed.  The rest of the day is spent on the phone with the team (back at the office and those out & about) checking in, making sure everyone is ok with the shoot starting in just 3 days.

Day 34 Wed 8th June: Sit with my foot elevated with a pack of frozen peas at home doing graphics from 7.30am till 2.30pm.  Get a call from the office to say the baby head has arrived! Phew. Get into the office for the big Pre Production Meeting at 4pm.  We (all principal crew, HoDs etc) sit for 3 hours going through the schedule day by day voicing concerns, asking questions and making sure we haven’t forgotten anything.  This is the last time the entire filmmaking team come together before filming starts.  My Art Dept Manager is with me to takes notes for the rest of the department.  We come to the issue of the Green Room set and hear that the meeting room at the Production offices is not available. So, in a bold/stupid move, I suggest that our only real option is to somehow recycle the TV Centre Production Office & Distributor’s Office sets (flattage/materials etc) and create an entirely new set out of it & build it in Studio 2.  I don’t know how we’ll do it.  There is no more money.  I just remember what they say: necessity is the mother of invention. There’s now word of a new script coming out but it won’t be until the end of the week so we’re all a bit in the dark of additional things required.  The meeting over I head back to the office where I’ve called a full Art Department meeting going over changes & the plan for the first week of filming.  I ask for each group of location teams to produce a list of hand props the supporting artists/extras can have so we make sure there are always things available for background action – food/drink/newspapers/personal effects etc.  The Director’s also asked for a 1950s tin toy robot. I speak to Location team 1 about the items we have for the dream sequence – fans, faces, crucifixes, film projector, photocopier etc. We are going to have to readdress the budget to somehow allow for the Green Room, so the Set Decorator, Accountant & I sit and see how we can shave off money from other sets till late.  Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 35,491.39.

Day 33 TUES 7th June: Tech Recce No. 2: Arrive limping at our Putney location. An important multi-purpose location requires a lot of discussions…and I have to present just how we intend to transform this one house into 6 different locations: a therapist’s office, a 1970s living room at Christmas, Mr. Xx’s front room, a Bishop’s house, the Main Character’s bedroom & bathroom, and Mr. Xx’s bedroom.  Back on the minibus we all go to an old TV studio out in Hayes for a possible site to do a big stunt jump & recreate the desert scene – it all seems these sequences are getting too big for our budget/resources so some clever solutions are needed with the advice of a VFX Supervisor.  A Production Designer needs to establish a good relationship with VFX as it is often between these two departments solutions to visual problems are found.  More and more, production design needs to speak the language of post-production to know when a set ends and effects take over and importantly, what a set must provides to help the visual effects artists do their job.  In the minibus the Director & I start to go over the script & write a list of additional things he would like: peg people, oversized cheese, soft porn slide, rolodex, magnifying sheet over a typewriter, clever captioning etc etc. Normal stuff.  We head back to Stephen Street Studios and whilst the others have lunch I pop in on our ‘Character Bishops’ photo-shoot for ‘Religious Spotlight’ which the Art Dept accountant has been co-ordinating.  All looks good & raises a few laughs.  We continue the tech recce & discuss the period TV Studio Set space (in Studio 1), a new set: the viewing gallery (which will have to cost £0), and the TV Studio Green Room set – which has not yet been discussed.  It must appear to be in the bowels of a TV Centre but we need a location that gives us the impression of a functional space with enough room to shoot ALL the principal cast in (the scenes require at most 16 characters).  Because of our schedule we are forced to use Studio 2 at Stephen Street – a big black box.  I do not however have the budget to build another set & so we conclude there is no solution.  Stalemate.  We all go back to the Production offices and look at a meeting room in the basement – small, breeze-blocks & exposed pipe/cable work so good texture, we all think this could work at a push but will be very tough to light & there are some 20-odd pages of dialogue in it, so it is key it is a practical space for the crew to shoot in.  We await word whether or not we can use it.  Recces over, I head/hobble to the TV Centre location to see the construction progress of the sets – all looking great.  Good to finally see the structural elements up & already the two sets feel like different worlds.  The evening comes & our Location Art Director & Props Assist return from Newcastle where they’ve been collecting classic teak furniture for the Distributors Office set.  I’m useless in helping unload with my foot so I head home to be more useful getting graphics done. Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 39,407.51.

Day 32 MON 6th June: Tech Recce No. 1: This is the time when all HoDs & relevant crew come together to see all the locations before filming, hear what the Director is planning to shoot, how the schedule will work, and resolve any problems, creative and practical.  It’s also a great chance to chat with the lighting department (the Gaffer) to discuss blacking out locations and where practical light sources need to be.  It’s a time for quick location surveys to be done & important measurements for the Set Decoration team taken.  Traditionally the standby art director/props will be present, but this time, I’ve brought along my Art Dept Manager as everyone else is simply too busy.  She will be the note taker & lead a meeting after the recces briefing the rest of the department on all changes & additional requests.  The crew all start at the TV Centre at 8am, first having an induction, then photo IDs, a walk through of our space where I must brief the entire crew on what the set will look like (these presentations are incredibly important & something a Designer needs to do effectively to people outside of the art department with different vocabularies & awareness of design).  11.30am comes THE on-site Fire Safety Meeting – an hour long, 10 men in suits (Facilities Management, Fire Officers, Security Officers, Health & Safety Officer), 5 of us (DoP, Location Manager, Gaffer, Construction Manager, 1st AD) and me. This is the make or break meeting for whether or not we can proceed with building the set at this location.  Slightly awkward as my Construction team have already been in since 8.30am loading the set into the location.  (Unusual & frustrating for me as Designer not to be there on the first day of get-in on a set but that’s the way it is). We are told about certain building restrictions which alters our set design plans here & there but this is all a game of compromise.  With middle-management satisfied we’re finally able to continue with the recce (and Construction can continue with building the sets!), discussing alternative solutions to blacking out large runs of windows with the Gaffer – using cordex – cheap lightweight plastic corrugated sheeting – much easier than bolton/molton for this location. Lighting department pays for it, we put it up – deal.  All the crew pile into a minibus and off to Willesden to look at the Opposition’s HQ, Pub and Main Character’s House locations. It’s great to have the day to chat with the Director & DoP and solve a few creative problems & a create some new ones. But now, my body adds to the list of challenges – my left foot is in agony.

Someone stepped on it whilst on a packed commuter train into work last week and the pain & swelling is getting worse – I don’t think it’s just bruising as I now can’t put any pressure on it.  The limping continues and as we get to our final location of the day – a car park behind Paddington Green Police Station – and discuss the fall-away stunt study set – I decide to jump into a cab & go to A&E in Euston. 3 hours later I leave with a stress fracture in my 3rd metatarsal – nothing but ‘elevating the foot, take painkillers, keeping ice on it & having complete rest for a week or so’ will make it better. Brilliant. Perfect timing for COMPLETE REST. Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 39,530.85.

Day Off SUN 5th June: Technically another day off but with just one week to go before the shoot there’s too much to do.  So I crack on with graphics from home. First on my list: the cover for Religious Spotlight – a fictional publication – a book that lists all ecclesiastical actors & actresses A-Z, on which we focus in a scene on a selection of character ‘bishops’.  There will be a close-up of the inside pages when we’ve had the photo shoot next week but for now, I will make the templates for the content and the front cover.  We need the book to be part of a compendium, almost like a set of encyclopedias.  KAYS chunky annual industry directories will be the actual books we use so we just have to re-cover them. Measuring one up (and allowing for folding) I create a ‘net’ in Adobe Photoshop.  I work both in Photoshop & Illustrator for graphics – Photoshop for the smaller actual size pieces that need layers of ageing or particular image manipulation from scanned sources, and Illustrator for large-scale text-based graphics like signage.  You may already know, but Photoshop works with bitmaps – where an image is generated by pixels of a fixed size.  The size & density of pixels you use is the picture’s resolution (72dpi is what is most often used for internet, 300dpi is for printing).  So as you scale up an image made of pixels, the pixels themselves get bigger so the larger the image, the more pixelated it will appear.  As a general rule don’t use Photoshop for images that need to printed out really large.  Illustrator on the other hand works with vectors – these are essentially mathematical points & co-ordinated lines that create fonts & shapes.  As you scale up an image made of vectors, the mathematical information scales up too so an image/text/line will stay exactly the same no matter how big it gets.  That way, Illustrator is the tool of choice if you need to print large signs or cut vinyl graphics.  When starting on a graphic prop, I firstly look for reference of colour palette and font choice.  Choice of fonts are essential for period graphics – movie posters are often a great way to find out what fonts were popular when.  ‘Religious Spotlight‘ needs to follow a similar design as the real actors ‘Spotlight‘ publication (of which I found the real one from 1978-79 – see below) with that classic Seventies colour scheme, and an ecclesiastical twist.  The fun really comes in creating the names of the fictional talent agencies. Early night, tired by staring at a computer screen all day, plus my foot is getting really sore for some reason, like I’ve bruised it…odd.  Big day of tech recces tomorrow….one week to go!

Day 31 SAT 4th June: Technically speaking a day-off but no…I have offered to spend the day giving a free Drafting Masterclass for the whole art dept.  It turns out to be a great way to see how technically competent the team is, identifying weaknesses and strengths, everything from neatness to listening, adaptability and patience!  It also helps bond the teams a little more as everyone is suddenly on an equal footing.  I teach drafting in an uncoventional way – I see many who have had previous drafting courses & have attempted large-scale pieces but actually have not been instilled with confidence.  And you need confidence to draft on a job, no matter how small the drawing is.  So I primarily teach to put the confidence back – and start right at the beginning, learning to walk with the pencil before running: 1. I explain exactly what drafting is for, dispelling the myths that it is a complicated, mathematical & technical subject and reminding those that it is a form of clear visual communication, one of the many tools you need to design a set – it’s not an art in itself. 2. I talk about the tools & equipment you really need to get going (click here for DRAFTING TUITION Equipment document). 3. I go through the surfaces we draw on, reminding them that it’s just as important to get to know your paper as it is your pencil, learning how lead feels on film, trace and heavyweight papers & how much drawing control you have.  4. How to draw a line (unaided by a ruler): this is the crucial part of the lesson which takes the longest.  Using a 5mm lead my team draws parallel lines, horizontally and vertically, again and again, learning to hold the pencil correctly, adapt to how their own hand & shoulders move, finding confidence in starting & finishing lines with a definite point and finding consistency in the line thickness & heaviness.  Then we move onto drawing curves and learning to really notice how the wrist works.   5. We go through line weights and the different size pencil leads and practice drawing lines of varying thicknesses – communicative line weight is the one thing I see people really lacking in their portfolios.  6. Writing letters & numbers – the second most important bit of communication on a drawing – setting people off on the path of finding their own drafting alphabet working with their existing writing styles rather than simply copying someone else’s font- I get them writing out the alphabet, in different sizes, all in freehand to give them the confidence to draw unaided & be in charge of the pencil rather than be a slave to it.  After lunch, 7. We talk about scale, the perception of it and choosing the right one for the right task in drawing.  8.  We go through metric and imperial, using tape measures and understanding the world in terms of human scale. 9-11. Exercises based on perception of scale to get people feeling comfortable with what spaces look like at 1/4” : 1’0” scale. 12. Drawing people: it’s often important to draw a scale figure alongside elevations and sections to see whether the proportion is correct, so the last exercise gets people finding their own style of a simple, stylised figure and produce a drawing that encompasses all that has been taught throughout the day.  The tuition takes about 7 hours in all, and although exhausted, it’s great fun & reminds me I absolutely love teaching.  As the team pack up, we hear from the US via email that our baby head is available so we take a gamble & go ahead & book it & pray that it’ll get here in time without any delays at customs.

Day 30 FRI 3RD JUNE: Sitting on the tube on my way into work I spot an article in the Metro about Landon Meier, a US artist making latex baby masks to fit adult heads.  Strangely enough, we need a baby mask for one our dream sequences – perfect!  I get in & email the American artist direct to see if we could get one from the States in time – a longshot but worth a try. Then I get involved in a schedule meeting with the 1st AD & Director – our planned 2nd day of shooting is getting complicated – the Director has seen an Adidas commercial by Spike Jonze & would like to try & do a Parkour-type stunt.  This throws up a whole world of new challenges.  Then….I get a phone call from the TV Centre location.  The paperwork we sent in, which we were told was fine, is now not fine. We need COSHH reports on every single material we are bringing on to site regardless of whether it is deemed hazardous or not – and I mean everything – paint, glue, nails, wood etc.  We are left a little perplexed – we don’t know what more information we can supply beyond what we’ve submitted plus we are all so busy. My Construction Manager downs-tools to dig out data sheets from the internet on various materials.  I get on the phone to our company’s Health & Safety Officer to ask for advice.  Endless phone calls ensue between our Location Manager, our location host, my Construction Manager & our Health & Safety Officer…I am beginning to get worried that we will not get our ‘Licence To Work’ permit in time to start construction on Monday. For the first time on this job, the stress gets the better of me. I should know by now not to let it – sometimes you have to learn to wait & be patient even though you’re up against it – an hour or so later the problem seems to have resolved itself – no one knows how or why – one of life’s little mysteries.  I talk corporate door signage with my Location Art Director, pull some references together & start getting into gear for doing graphics. I get interrupted by another schedule meeting and a big shake-up of the first week of filming – I revise our set & strike schedule a few times with my Set Decorator to accommodate changes & see if we can work with prop hires being for just 1 week to save money. It’s going to help but put a strain on our labour resources.  My Art Dept Manager inputs the set & strike schedule into a Google Docs Calendar – now it’s an online document that is updated live for all the department to log into. I speak to my Construction Manager about the get-in at the TV Centre on Monday, the fire safety meeting we have to attend & how we may need two more labour days to assist.  Round the day off with an evening meeting with the Set Decorator & 1st Location Art Director – time to discuss all the details we’d like to include in the sets now the bulk of the larger dressing has been considered – the cinematic detail.  I’m hoping we can all now spend the next week concentrating on this, storytelling with the little things, adding high production value. We talk about the dream sequence props – fans blowing papers, gargoyles, giant crucifixes, a period film projector playing, a photocopier copying, stacking objects & making faces a la Salvador Dali. Then we discuss the TV Centre Production Office set: making a prop art dept. model of the TV show set, vintage Hawaii posters & Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew album cover (which is one of my favourite examples of graphic design), a flipchart with title sequence storyboards, TV Centre maps & signage, an old drawing board with studio plans, and cityscape-style piles of paper work!…so much to do with tech recces on Monday & Tuesday next week – time’s ticking.  Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 40,670.70 (after corrections in budget).

Day 29 THURS 2ND JUNE: Keeping calm & carrying on with the TV Centre paperwork first thing…it’s got to be in by 9am.  Get the other COSHH reports & risk assessments from my Construction Manager, scan & email it all over. All ok. Then our Work Experience person arrives and I give him a job to do – we aren’t legally allowed to use any props associated with copyrighted films (posters, merchandise etc), so for the Distributor’s Office, we’ve thought about poly-carving the word BRIAN into a large sculpture to imitate iconic stone block lettering.  So I give our Work Experience volunteer the task of drawing up to scale the word & instruct him to discuss with our ScenicPainter/Propmaker how to make it & retain the look of forced perspective.  I amend the set & strike schedule with the Art Dept Manager, again…and again. Time for some fresh air and my own first prop buying session for graphics materials – for I should really be making a start on them!  As I asked, the Props Assistant 1 has given me a scheduled list for graphics required in the first block of shooting.  We have a lot of hero office ‘paperwork’ to produce so I start by trying to find the right papers.  I look in Paperchase at their tinted vellum & laid papers – good colours but too heavyweight – I like the idea of adding a depth to the set design by having transparency & luminosity in surfaces (like gold), so choosing thinner paper might work. So I head down to one of my favourite shops in London – Shepherds Faulkiners – the best paper shop in town. I buy 2 lightweight papers, 70gsm & 75gsm, one recycled & one for paperback page printing. Both off-white – will test them on an inkjet printer. Note to all: Avoid bright white/bleached paper on camera – it’ll stick out like a sore thumb!  Also buy a couple of Japanese paper notebooks which would work for some artist’s sketches we require…then it inspires me to stop off at Muji & buy a few manilla notebooks/papers….and some cheap black hexagonal pens for the hexagonal TV Centre office set. Stop in on Construction on my way back to the office to look at some teak staining tests for the walls of the Distributor’s Office & see that the big canvas for the TV Studio set backcloth is being strung up & stretched – it’s going to be a big paint job!  We also pick out the door furniture for the first two sets….which leads me to think about the ‘Fantasy/Dream Door‘ we have to build for use on a number of our sets: white is too obvious…I remember a book I bought on my trip to the Haunch of Venison Gallery with my Set Decorator back on Day 6 – the utterly brilliantly dark work of painter Adrian Ghenie – reminiscent of Francis Bacon with a bit of Max Ernst thrown in…so…let’s paint the door black. Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 35,533.22.

Day 28 WED 1ST JUNE: Pinch punch paperwork day of the month! In the office for 7.45am and continue a little with the set & strike schedule.  Our first Work Experience person started yesterday and so I meet him for the first time today and introduce myself & the job; explaining the models and how I’ve crewed the department. We then all go over to Construction so the Work Experience volunteer can start assisting the Scenic Painter, whilst the Accountant & I chat to the Construction Manager.  There are some overages on the two sets we’re building so we need to assess what the likely spend is going to be.  We need additional labour & transport to physically get the office sets into the TV Centre location.  I find a solution to the big, long, expensive 58ft gold wall in the Distributor’s Office which saves us £350, reducing our overages a bit but everything else is going to have to be adjusted now to accommodate the projected overspend.  Then back to the office to sit with the Art Dept Manager and finish the set & strike schedule.  There are continuous amendments to the shooting schedule so it’s an ever-evolving process.  Off  on the Tube to the TV Centre location for a big Health & Safety & Permissions meeting with the Location Manager and various TV Centre facility managers.  We discuss each space we are planning to shoot in & what I am planning to do to modify it.  I present the plans for each set and we discuss the issues: fire/sprinkler system deactivation, electrics, getting construction in via stairwells, passes, security, painting, materials, reinstatement and strike (skips).  Then it all gets a bit more complicated than the standard location agreement: firstly, we all need a Licence to Work permit – the application requires 2 forms, a risk assessment, a COSHH risk assessment for all hazardous materials used, public & employer’s liability insurance documents, a method statement about ‘exactly’ what we are planning to do…by tomorrow morning, 9am.  This will need to be approved & processed…if successful(!), Construction will need to collect it when they start…but only after they’ve had a 1hr induction session…which is only available on Mondays at 8am…and they’ve been to have their photo ID passes made up…THEN, they can start unloading scenery.  I fear a chaotic get-in day next Monday so we’re going to have to be organised! Two & a half hours later I return to the office – more than a little frustrated at the complexities of filming at the location – the amount of paperwork my Construction Manager & I have to do by the morning is phenomenal.  I breathe, count to 10 & have a lovely catch-up with my team who have been prop buying all day – they have found some great (& cheap) items and all feel confident it’s coming together.  We pick a carpet for the Distributor’s Office set and with the 1st AD, run through new schedule changes for the first week of filming.  I start writing the ‘Method Statement’ (click to read: CFGS Method Statement)….9.30pm…time to leave the office! Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 35,852.89.

Day 27 TUES 31ST MAY: My Day of Meetings starts at 8am – meeting with the DoP for the first time – explaining The Design Bible & showing him both models.  We have a good chat about the photographer Saul Leiter & his framing, and how shooting on the Red HD camera we’ll be able to mostly use available light so windows & ways of diffusing them (nets, blinds etc) are important.  A draft schedule is thrust into my hand from the 1st AD en-route to the next meeting.  I stop by at Construction to welcome our Scenic Painter who has started today – my Construction Manager has made sure he’s got plenty to do!  9.30am – Visual FX meeting at in Soho, a company who may be doing the project’s post-production.  We go through each scene requiring VFX and what we & they will require, answering questions about green screen, what reference/drawings I will need to supply & how to build a desert amongst other things.  2 hours later I jump into the Location Manager’s car with DoP & Director for a day of recces: Putney multi-purpose location, Willesden Working Mens Club, Main Character’s House & the TV Centre.  Great to have the DoP’s eyes on board now & lots of issues can be resolved, particularly about the extent of blacking out on location when shooting day for night.  I can’t emphasise enough how important the relationship and open dialogue is between a Designer and a Director of Photography. Recces done, I jump back on the tube at White City at 6.30pm & get back to Construction to have a quick catch-up – discussing issues we urgently need to resolve tomorrow – i.e. how to cover 58ft of wall in gold fabric, cheaply.  Then I nip round the corner back to the office & have a full department meeting – bringing up the changes that have come out of the meetings & recces today and importantly, making a plan for tomorrow.  We now have a draft schedule so it’s time to do a set & strike schedule.  An important & ever changing document that I like to see as a monthly planner – firstly marking what we are shooting on each day, when we ideally need to get in to locations to start prepping them (for both Construction & Props) and how long we need to strike them after the shoot.  It’s the best way to see how your labour force is spread – marking who’s doing what & when – great to see if there will be any clashes.  It will change according to the location agreements & the Locations own budget so it’s something the Art Dept Manager & I will keep adjusting daily.  From the schedule you can ascertain when you might need additional transport or daily labour (not that we can afford it!).  You mark down when we need to hire major props for sets and return them (so you make sure someone’s doing it!), when tech recces or meetings are scheduled.  I make a start on it in iCal (as I want to publish it to everyone in the department), assigning the later teams (Location Art Director & Props Assistant 2 & 3) to their sets.  Good to steal a bit of quiet office time before going home at 9.30pm.  Budget: 46,577.50 Left to spend: 36,388.32.

Day 26 MON 3OTH MAY: Argh! We shoot 2 weeks today. It’s Bank Holiday but all the department are in the office – Construction Manager comes over and we go over in detail the Distributor’s Office set – model & drawings.  He then goes away to cost it up.  It’s affordable (just) but it’s clear we are going to need additional transport & labour for the build & get-in at the TV Centre location.  With no goods lift the scenery has got to be carried/hoisted up 3 floors of stairs!  So much for a ‘free’ location.  The Construction Manager has also brought in from home moulded wooden panels – free to use in whatever way we like.  I take the dimensions of each one then get back to the office & draw up the unresolved sections of the set: how to transform an area into the 1937 & 1957 offices using ‘free’ stuff.  So I draw up at scale (⅜”) each panel on paper, cut them out & arrange them on my elevations – a bit like Tetris.  But using rectangular panels is….well, boring & not really giving the set much style for the short amount of time we’ll see it in the scenes.  So I play with the paper shapes & start placing them diagonally – hey presto – an instant Art Deco look, perfect.  I think we’ll finish it all in black, with a glaze & a gold trim to pick up the light, and it’ll work as a great backdrop for both ’37 & ’57. Then have an emergency schedule meeting with the 1st AD as cast availability could radically alter our plans.  We discuss NOT shooting the TV Centre Production Office & Distributor’s Office sets first – perhaps jumping straight to Int. Main Character’s House.  I suggest to the team (Set Decorator, Location Art Director & Props Assistant) that they should finish working on the office sets for now & instead, spend the rest of the day preparing research for the house interior just in case.  Change is the nature of the beast in this industry, both the work & the self-employed lifestyle, sure it’s frustrating but you have to learn to live with it!  And more than that, gear how you work to accommodate for change. The changes are what cost more in your budget, throwing resources at last minute decisions (which is why a contingency in your budget is essential) – so plan ahead as much as possible and be flexible.  And sometimes waiting is the best solution.  In this type of mid-budget work, I don’t go beyond sketch model or do lavish hand-drawn concept artwork because so often the location may change or the schedule may change; what was once a set is now on location and vice-versa. There’s a good reason why our industry drafts in pencil & architecture drafts in ink.  You also have to learn not to become too wedded to your ideas, don’t be stubborn shoe-horning designs in, and as the HoD, always have a number of alternative solutions up your sleeve & demonstrate the skill to adapt – a constant creative problem-solver.  Studying Japanese aesthetics & Eastern philosophy on the subject of IMPERMANENCE and wabi-sabi over the last few years has really taught me to accept & channel change it into my design work.  A few hours later, all change again & we’re back to the TV Centre up first. There you go. Finish late completing the Distributor’s Office working drawings & details so construction can start building tomorrow.

Day 25 Saturday 28TH MAY: Firstly, a lie in.  Bliss.  Then off to the office for noon to spend the day completely on my own drawing plans/elevations & making a model for the Distributor’s Office.  For the next 8 hours I detail each elevation for the main office set – trying to make it more of a hotch-potch of styles but retaining a strong horizontal motif throughout – this is the main thing that will differentiate it from the hexagonal TV Centre Production Office set.  I reacquaint myself with Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and its own cinematic ‘letterbox’ structure.  Nip out to get more foamcore/lunch/fresh air then plough on, photocopying my drawings & with them making the sketch model.  A couple of hours later, with most of the structure made, I can see the design has lots of depth & the odd structures in mid-ground give some nice feature to an otherwise square office. There is one wall we can render completely differently on its reverse to serve as the 1937 & 1957 office. I think I’ll apply some stock panelling & doors my Construction Manager has scavenged to this space to give a more period feel – also thinking about making these two offices completely black, white & grey – to reflect the era of pre-colour television.  Model made, iPhone photographs snapped, I send an email to the Scenic Painter who is starting next week with The Design Bible and a list of possible paint effects required over the next 5 weeks.  Despite it being the weekend, it’s amazing what you get done when the office is empty, the phones are silent & the email inbox closed!

Day 24 FRI 27TH MAY: Finally a day with NO meetings…so I plug my headphones in, get iTunes on & strive to nail this Distributor’s Office plan.  My Construction Manager had planted a seed of an idea in my head a couple of days ago & now it’s beginning to emerge – he showed me a scene from ‘The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp’ in an office featuring 2 large pipes awkwardly crossing the ceiling.  It looked quirky & awkward – we loved it.  So I start by trying to make the most anti-designed set I can.  I can’t have anything suspended from the ceiling on location so I start playing with the idea of oversized freestanding columns and putting them in the most awkward of places so that the office space is ‘interrupted’ by annoying architectural feature – ‘incongruous’ as my Construction Manager said.  Whereas the hexagonal TV Centre Production Office set was all very considered and uniform, this set needs to have charming quirks and odd, ‘make-do’ structural choices.  I go over to Construction and discuss colour – taking a Mylands paint swatch book I choose the colours for the office set (the panels in the office partitions) – peach, dirty pink & sienna brown (see below) mixed with ‘office grey’.  Then I have a little brain wave…perhaps we should use black for the office partitions & doors – bit more brutal/slightly less tasteful than the grey I had first imagined – ‘Croydon-Chic’ meets Mondrian as the Construction Manager calls it. I carry on with the Distributor’s Office for the rest of the afternoon – FINALLY it’s coming together & the plan has taken shape.  I go back to Construction & talk together about the cost of the elements I’m proposing & how to build it.  The clear vac-form sheet of glass blocks from Peter Evans has arrived so we discuss where we can use it – only good for background but a cheap way of covering a large area.  The Set Decorator, Location Art Director 1 & Props Assistant 1 return from their research/buying trips & present their ideas of the TV Centre Production Office dressing to me.  They propose to make the desks (it’s definitely too expensive to hire period ones in good condition) & we look at faux camel leather desk tops & heavy gold curtain fabrics.  It all looks great & we can all see the set coming together now. I choose to keep the plan for the Distributor’s Office a secret from them as they prepare ideas for props – all I tell them is that it’s 20ft x 20ft – I make no mention of the oversized concrete columns as I want to ensure a ‘lack of design’ in the dressing too – ‘method set decorating’ – I hope this will get a more authentic ‘make-do’ look as they have to work around incongruous objects. Leave the office early at 7pm & take all the team out for a well-deserved Friday night drink…or three.

Day 23 THURS 26TH MAY: The hunt for a scenic painter is on.  I hadn’t heard back from my chosen candidate for a few days so with regret, decide to look for another to start next Monday.  Construction Manager & the team are all busy trying to find people available.  I search through my emails (which I try to diligently keep organised for occasions such as this) and eventually find a CV of a multi-skilled painter & prop maker. His website grabs my attention, his humour & urban edge (see pics below). After a few calls & a great sense that his personality will fit in with all of ours, the deal is done & he starts next week.  Then (as is always the way) I hear back from the original candidate & have to tell him sorry, the job has gone as I needed to make a quick decision with time against us.  Awkward but necessary.  I wonder over to construction to see how the office partitions are coming along & discuss details & finishes with my Construction Manager.  Looks like we’ll come in under on materials for the TV Centre Production Office set…good job because I fear the Distributor’s Office set is going to need more than we’ve budgeted for.  Speaking of which, I get back to the office & start collating reference for concrete & teak surfaces.  Lovely ideas coming forward but the layout of the Distributor’s Office however, is still a mystery to me which is becoming frustrating – there will be so many actors in the space so it needs to be big enough to accommodate cast & crew, but small enough to be a believable Soho office, fitting into the location space but having great depth.   Lunchtime: a graphics clearance meeting with the Accountant & Production Company Lawyer. A speedy bite to eat, a quick discussion with the Director about a possible graphics photo shoot featuring funny clergymen for the fictional “Religious Spotlight” prop, & then down to a “TONE” meeting for TWO hours with the TV channel Executives commissioning this programme.  Attending: Writer, Director, Producers, Line Producer, me, Costume Designer & Make-Up Designer.  It’s a presentation from each Head of Department on the intended look & visual approach to the whole project.  I present The Design Bible which proves to be a very useful document & easily understood by those outside of art departments.  All is well & the Executives are very happy with how we as a team are progressing.  The rest of the afternoon is catching up with everyone in my team & answering emails & calls.  As soon as people head home I end up staying late (till 9.30pm) for a bit of quiet me-time, wrestling with the Distributor’s Office set, scribbling plan after plan…struggling to find a plan that works, looks good, different, incorporates the two other 1937 & 1957 office sets, is affordable and free-standing….getting really tired now & feeling the pressure of the job – oh to be able to split my body in half! Budget: £46,577.50 Left to spend: £37,758.88.

Day 22 WED 25TH MAY: Get to the office early to finish the script mark up & then greet our first team: Location Art Director & Props Assistant for block 1.  The office is getting busy/crowded.  Whilst they’re being settled in & briefed by the Art Dept Manager & Set Decorator on what sets they may be responsible for, I revise my graphics breakdown & delegate a list of required reference with the Art Dept Accountant who will be helping me with graphic’s research.  Production Design = The Art of DELEGATION – believe me!  I have organised one of our future Props Assistant (who also does storyboard work) to spend a few hours storyboarding FX/animation scenes with the Director.  I talk to the Art Dept Manager about getting work experience placements sorted, wording an advert and posting it on Facebook groups, Twitter & my blog.  We then get a response from someone informing us that only those in further education/study can legally do work experience.  They need a letter from their university/film school/college releasing them to come & work for a week.  So sadly, we have to turn down many applications – really annoyed at the bureaucracy of it all, especially when you find enthusiastic people who are eager to come & learn & better their skills.  We edit the advert and send it out again.  With everyone with work to do, I start on designing the Distributor’s Office set which will be built in the same location as the TV Centre Production Office set.  I also try & be cunning & group 2 more sets (TV Centre 1937 & 1957) in with it all to form a giant ‘composite’ location build to help schedule & my construction costs & time.  I hope it will also add depth if we can see a sense of all these spaces in some way through windows/partitions of other sets, that way, we’re not just shooting rooms with 4 solid walls…..but I’m struggling to visualise the space a little…sometimes a design solution pops right into your head, sometimes it simmers away for days (especially annoying when you haven’t got days). Lunchtime: I take my Construction Manager, 1st Location Art Director & Props Assistant to the main TV Centre location to see the space at first hand – we discuss using vac-form glass block sheets (see below) from Peter Evans for our background flattage (brilliant vac-forming company, cheap solutions to surfaces – please check out their online catalogue).  I have a meeting with the Location Manager about filming an additional separate rooft-top night-time dream sequence at the TV Centre & how we could achieve it given the restraints of filming at the location (rooftop access at night, daylight-free corridors etc).  It appears this sequence is getting too complicated trying to find multiple (daylight-free) locations so when I get back to the office I discuss it with the Director & Line Producer and suggest using our existing sets, redressing them, and blacking out the windows (all 240ft of them!).  I hadn’t budgeted for it & time will be tight, but it is for the greater good & ease of filming so my Accountant & I adjust the figures & have to take money from elsewhere. My Set Decorator & I leave early at 7pm to see a mighty & magnificent hero of mine John Berger talk at the Royal Festival Hall – the man is pure inspiration alongside guest Tilda Swinton reading excerpts from his new book ‘Bento’s Sketchbook’.  But I also find inspiration right there in the Southbank, inside the Hall it appears rising up – textured concrete columns, teak wood & curved windows – eureka! – concrete!  I snap it on my phone. That will be the look for the Distributor’s Office…finally it’s coming together in my head….Get back home & the Accountant has emailed over the day’s current budget – something we’ve agreed to do every single day till we run out of money (which will hopefully tie in with the end of the job!). Budget: £46,577.50. Left to spend: £37,948.88.

Day 21 TUES 24TH MAY: ….wake up very early to finish reading the script. Then kick off the morning with recces with Location Manager, Set Decorator & Director: first, the Putney multipurpose domestic location & then to Willesden to see the hopeful Main Character’s House location. Director loves them both & we solve a number of issues about shooting in the spaces – it’s an ongoing, wonderful learning process of how the Director sees a space in terms of camera angles, numbers of shots, blocking – so useful & important to watch & learn. We get back to the office & after updating the set list according to the new script, myself, Set Decorator, Art Dept Manger & Art Dept Accountant go through the budget set by set to revise it – takes a long while but is a chance to explain my approach & make sure everyone is on the same page.  I believe in being transparent about the budget, making everyone within the department be part of it & its difficulties, but making it clear the buck stops with me & I gladly take on that responsibility.  I secure some money (£1500) from Locations’ budget (after a friendly ‘bargaining phone call’ – it’s all give & take) to build the Distributor’s Office set at the TV Centre location rather than spending it on a location fee somewhere else.  My Accountant & I rearrange some numbers, get the total on budget, then I go to talk it through with the Line Producer to keep her in the loop.  I’ve learnt the hard way you must be equally transparent & upfront with the Line Producer about budgets – always – solving difficulties together before they turn into problems.  One of the reasons I decided to have an Accountant role is communication – that there will always be an up-to-date dialogue about where we stand financially between the Art Dept & Production – something I’ve always seen suffer when a shoot gets really busy.  I then go through the budget separately with the Construction Manager & we talk materials, the cost of gold paints & look at a sample of bronze twin wall that he has bought as a possible cheap & lightweight material for the hexagonal office set partitions. Finally get back to the ‘drawing board’ to draw up details of the office partitions & a plan of the main room in the office set as a useful document for further dressing plans by the Set Decorator and her team.  Leave again at 9.30pm, get home & start ‘marking up’ the script.  It’s an very useful technique to document a script & make it quick to reference:  I use highlighter pens and mark up the following: scene headings (yellow), action props (pink), graphics (blue), action vehicles (green), SFX (purple…for ‘purple rain’), specialist food (orange) and animals (brown…the quick brown fox)…plus lots of pencil notes scribbled everywhere….fall asleep mid highlight…

Day 20 MON 23RD MAY: The Art Dept Manager & Construction Manager start today – now an art department of 5. The Set Decorator & Accountant introduces them to the job & gets them settled in.  Construction is based over the road at the studios whilst the Art Dept Manager will be sharing the office with the Accountant. The shooting script is FINALLY released – so time to amend breakdowns, set list & budget. I call a department meeting, outline our progress so far & delegate various responsibilities. We all go over the road to the props store/construction workshop to organise the space: security, lighting, loading, storage etc.  A note on the script: it’s the gospel – the most important document on a job, one from which all departments work, it’s absolutely essential that you know it, inside out and more importantly, expect your team to know it, inside out and better than you.  So I ask the team to get stuck in reading & breaking down the new script for the rest of the day.  Meanwhile, I start on making a sketch model: it’s usually the way I visual a set idea.  Modelmaking is all in the planning.  I nip out at lunch to get some foamcore, acetate, glue & pins & then spend a couple of hours drawing on tracing paper rough elevations of the location & of my designed office partitions all at 3/8″ scale. Before proceeding I discuss the proposed set, material sizes & structural ideas with the Construction Manager so he’s kept in the loop, then photocopy my drawings, cut each elevation out with a scalpel & metal edge (ruler), Spray Mount them all on to 5mm or 3mm foamcore, cut them out, apply panels of acetate & frosted plastic where windows/frosted glass should be, pin & glue them together & finally mount them onto my location survey plan. Pins are a brilliant thing to use when making sketch models – so easy to use with foamcore & allows for repositioning & making changes without destroying any model elements.  Another note: always put a scale person/people in your model, we’re not just making architecture we’re making a performance space for characters. Still in the office at 9.30pm: sketch model finished. Take shots with my iPhone to see if the space gives us variation of shots. I think it’s working, gives layered depth & breaks up an otherwise big rectangular room, and with its repeating partitions should be relatively straightforward to produce & construct on site.  Get home & start reading the script…fall asleep mid page….

The Weekend SAT 21ST/22ND MAY: Finally – 3 weeks in & it’s pencil & paper time – feeling like a designer once again! I’m devising the plan for the TV Centre Production Office set – a build on location. The problem (apart from the obvious lack of money) is filling a large rectangular space with a set that we cannot fix to any point. It has to be entirely self-supporting so this must drive the form & function of the design. Firstly I draw up the location following our survey last week with a view to it becoming the basis of a model. I like to go into making white card models as soon as possible after drawing up a plan as I find it so quick to visualise 3D space & make adjustments.  I have a particular imperial scale I like to use: 3/8″:1’0″. There is something much more tangible about models at this scale as it allows for a reasonable sense of detail. Once drawn up I begin looking on the internet at all sorts of 1960’s architecture & office layouts because I need to find a way to partition a space whilst retaining a sense of a larger, bustling office floor. Then in a lightbulb moment I think ‘hexagons’ & and find my solution in a variety of references: patterns, photographs, architecture.  The hexagon-shaped office cubicle: a strong self-supporting & repeating shape.  I get my imperial scale rule, pencil & tracing pad out & start playing around with office shapes in plan form, trying to use as much of the existing architecture of the TV Centre location as possible. I try to construct a space that gives interesting depth, hints at other offices without revealing too much, allows for interesting lighting sources, and most importantly, provides a practical working space for a crew.  After 3 hours of doodling/drawing/starting again/staring at the paper/more doodling/making a hundred cups of tea, the plan takes shape.

Day 19 FRI 20TH MAY: 6.30am start for recces with the Location Manager: possible Main Character’s House in Willesden & a domestic multi-purpose location in Putney. Both are fantastic – occupied but filled with random period furniture that we can use as a base layer of dressing.  Start getting really excited – can see the main sets are going to have so much character with these locations – they’ve started to come to life.  Get to our TV Centre location for 11.30am for another look around. I meet my Accountant who has escaped the office for a couple of hours to come & assist me – we’re surveying the location – a whole admin floor at the TV Centre in an old empty office block.  Takes only a couple of hours as we are using my recently purchased Bosch laser tape measure…it’s AMAZING!  So quick & accurate (see location surveys below).  I’m a little old-fashioned with dimensions – being trained at film school I have always worked in imperial (feet & inches) rather than metric.  I find myself ‘seeing’ the world in imperial, estimating dimensions in terms of the heights of people which I think are easier to refer to in feet & inches.  Also, material sheet sizes (plywood & MDF) come in 8‘x4’ or 10‘x5’ so when designing sets I find it easy to work with multiples of 4 feet rather than millimeters.  So for this job my location surveys & drawings will be in imperial but I know metric just as well and often draft in both to assist my Construction Manager (who prefers metric!).  A word on location surveys: start with overall dimensions, take your ‘datum’ line (the line from which you take your measurements) at about 3ft off the ground so you don’t end up measuring inside skirting boards etc, measure door openings, heights AND which way they open, note down any fire points (extinguishers/alarms), fire exits, radiators, and working heights to the undersides of beams & ceilings.  AND take loads of photos!  Surveys do not have to be works of art (mine certainly aren’t) but they must be clear to read & easy to understand.  It may not be you who draws them up. I jump on the tube, get back to the office & download my pics from recces this morning.  Sit with the Director & go through it all, suggesting what sets where – he loves it (*sigh of relief) – and the office moodboards too.  The Set Decorator can now get on with prepping the first few sets at least.  We review all the props she has seen over the last few days at the props houses – it seems period metal office desks are very pricey or in bad condition so we think about buying IKEA parts & modifying them with metal paints, leather tops, brass trim/handles….just an idea.  No matter what job I do I always resort to IKEA at some point!  Evening in the office: I write up a things-to-do list for our Art Dept Manager who is starting on Monday & finally head home about 9pm.  End of a busy week & feeling it (must be getting old!) and aware/daunted by the amount we’ve still got to do before we start shooting in a little over 3 weeks time.

Day 18 THURS 19TH MAY: Early start in the office, 7.45am – emails are pouring in so trying to keep up before the phones start ringing. Check in with our SFX supervisor (Agog FX) about a burn rig and put ‘clearance’ requests in (well known logos past & present) to legal via Production.  Following yesterday’s interviews I confirm the last 2 positions in the art dept – almost crewed – just the Scenic painter/Propmaker & Assistant Carpenter to confirm now. Then settle down with headphones firmly in to finish those moodboards for the office sets: I define the look for Int. TV Centre (1960s, verticals, smoked glass, apricot & pink, faux marble/metal desks & pipes) & Int. Distributor’s Office (1950s, horizontals, concrete blocks, teak wooden furniture, blue). Have a brainwave about Int. Distributor’s Office: film posters should be everywhere so will have to make some ‘cleared’ (fictional) ones which is incredibly time consuming (especially as it’s me doing graphics), so perhaps we can have a lot of real posters hanging behind classic glass block walls down corridors etc so we see shapes/coloured graphics but they’re all distorted…you’ll recognise them as posters but will be unable to read text or distinguish images clearly, thus using set architecture to get around the problem of clearance. Then get excited about the famous Maison de Verre, 60s vertical architecture & Erno Goldfinger and notice in all our research of office references something that typifies the period is curtains.  Alongside venetian blinds it brings a softness & something we rarely see in modern clean-lined offices today.  Pop out mid afternoon for a meeting with the Costume Designer to discuss each other’s look books. It’s so important there’s a good collaboration between design & costume – I have the opinion that for some period drama the costume & hair/make-up are the elements that will truly sell to the audience the year the story is set so the production design shouldn’t try too hard to do the same, otherwise it’ll end up being very cliched. 6pm: the Director & I have our first creative meeting with the chosen Animator: brilliant brainstorming & problem-solving session.  It finishes at 9.30pm, exhausted but we clarified a lot & think we all now feel our quirky animations/FX shots have greater depth & originality.  Get home & FINALLY finish the moodboards:

Day 17 WED 18TH MAY: 8am. Our Accountant starts today so now an Art Dept of 3! The Set Decorator settles her in & together they make a plan for the budget workflow, desktop buying, action vehicle co-ordinating & internet based research.  Meanwhile, I catch up on admin & finish adjusting the budget & set list ready to issue to the dept…of 3. I then spend the rest of the morning discussing the schedule with the 1st AD – what sets are best grouped together & what is to be shot as green screen in the studio.  There’s A LOT to shoot in 4 weeks, it’s going to be tough & I’m keeping a close eye on how my 3 teams are going to be split across the sets.  Go out to Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road at lunch with the Set Decorator to look at their top floor paper section: hundreds of amazing handmade papers.  We buy a number of textured samples to add to the gold sample boards that the Set Decorator has begun assembling.  I get back to the office & finally get round to putting together images for moodboards for Int. TV Centre Offices &Int. Distributors Office. The idea is to shoot them at the same location (an entire empty floor at a TV Centre); there are two adjacent large rooms we can use for each set.  But the Director’s a little worried that the two sets won’t look different – the location’s white walls, windows, & ceiling features will be the same throughout.  So I need to reassure the Director just how these 2 sets will look completely different – it’s my job to visualise & communicate quickly to him to convince him – there’s no time for concept artwork (not that kind of job!) so moodboards it is.  4pm – 5.30pm: more interviews with 2 candidates for the last 2 positions: Props Assistant & Location Art Director.  Then carry on with collating images for the moodboards until 7pm.  Our art dept of 3 leave to meet the rest of the prospective team at the Curzon Soho Cinema for drinks – a chance for us all to meet & bond over a beverage!  But importantly for me, it’s a tactic to see who is quiet, who is outspoken, who’s confident, who’s going to need a little encouragement, who listens to others, who doesn’t, what interests people have etc.  It’s a young team – bright eyed & excited – but lacking in experience, so I’m going to have to be an understanding & patient leader.  I’m sure I’ve already said this, probably more than once, but people management is the key to this job – you need to invest in the people you’ve hired, take time to get to know them, observe them & make allowances for what they lack, learn from the things they’ve got & you haven’t – you need to build bonds of trust asap in this job so as the leader, be gracious & give of yourself as much as you can upfront, and the respect, fingers-crossed, will follow.  Tired…the pace is really beginning to pick up…

Day 16 TUES 17TH MAY: A day in the office with the aim of designing the TV Centre sets but end up in meetings/discussions ALL day.  I email the finished Design Bible to all the art dept crew & Costume Designer in advance of them starting – I’ll get a hard copy printed & bound for everyone later.  As we share an office with the 1st AD who started yesterday we all get into another discussion about locations with the Director…how we group them, how we approach the Distributors Office etc.  Trying to group everything into big multipurpose locations like out of town estates/manor hourses helps the budget but doesn’t meet the Director’s vision so we’ve got to come up with another plan, the onus falling back on the Location Manager to find places in central London that provide variety…time is ticking though.  The Director & I meet with another set of animators vying for the job; this time I present the Design Bible which is a great tool of communication to those outside of the project.  I’m beginning to get nervous about the continuing high ambition of the project – as much as I love the Director’s vision & I also want an opportunity to really play with design on this, it is becoming seemingly difficult to achieve on the budget – things need to be cut & seriously addressed asap.  So, I join a budget meeting with the Director, Producers & Line Producer where we go through a list of concerns & sets/FX that cannot be afforded in my budget.  We discuss the problems & see how/where to compromise – it’s a difficult discussion for everyone.  No one wants to curb the vision & creativity of the project but we can’t do everything.  This is the part of being a designer I find to be the hardest – half in the Producer’s camp of budget & practicality and half in the Director’s camp of ambition & vision – constantly torn between the two. I hate being the person who has to say ‘no’…but better not to promise what you can’t deliver.  Over the last couple of years I have tried to turn around this negative aspect of the job which I come up against all the time, and produce creative solutions to the problem of limited resources – different art dept structures, approaches to set composition etc.  Conversely it is slowly (very slowly) becoming part of being a designer which I find I like – the challenge of dealing with change – and forcing me to look at the world of business to find the strategy to move forward.  It means learning to let go of ideas, being objective, but I’m a firm believer of everything happens for a reason, so I’m learning to embrace it. The money meeting lasts 3 hours with some resolutions but still some queries remaining which a new draft of the script may answer (fingers-crossed).  I have a great discussion with the 1st AD about the shooting schedule & grouping of sets: we plan time tomorrow to make a draft schedule based on the composite sets at the TV Centre and all the green-screen/model/puppetry work to be shot in studio.  It’s a wonderful opportunity for a designer to be so involved with the creation of the schedule – ‘tis a first for me.  A late night in the office (9.30pm), adjusting the outline budget ready for the Accountant who starts tomorrow.  Didn’t even start on designing the TV Centre sets…

Day 15 MON 16TH MAY: 9am – Recces with the Director & Location Manager: crazy 70s cat-loving house in Weybridge (see pics below) practically dressed ready-to-go but maybe hard to find other useful locations nearby….the office interior in Harefield (no good)….then onto Willesden to see the Working Mens Club which is again stuck in the 70s with its orange & gold tartan wallpaper & camel leather seats….perfect for our Int. Pub! Recces are great for finding inspiration if not a useable location – how homes & spaces have been layered up over time with alterations, conflicting choices, bad taste, attempts at good taste, boring taste & essential modern day touches.  For me, this embodies the ultimate set design challenge and what I think are the hardest sets to create – the real everyday ones regardless of the year they’re set in – it’s the type of set design challenge that I dedicate my career to, I love it, constantly learning to look, studying photography, reading books on everyday aesthetics, watching films by great observational directors like Steve McQueen (Hungeris one of my favourite films) Andrea Arnold & Lynne Ramsay.  So on recces I love to take photos of the little details as well as the architectural space.  Over a coffee stop I show the Director The Design Bible so far which he really likes (phew) so I can proceed with the ideas & issue it to the art dept & other HoDs.  Discussions about what the Int. Distributors Office space actually is continue & continue & continue…the space is seemingly hard to define.  2pm back in the office and with my Set Decorator make plans for the rest of the week: I suggest creating a live iCal (calendar application) workflow for us both (as we’re Apple & iPhone users) that we can publish to each other & update instantly – an attempt to make our work schedule as efficient as possible.  I’m always trying to use internet based tools, ones we can access anytime anywhere, to outline the remaining weeks of our prep & give focus to our time spent  – it seems clear we’ll be working quite separately while she’s out buying & I’m designing sets with the Construction Manager.  The Set Decorator starts putting together her moodboard for the Main Character’s House set: we discuss how to to tell his story with the space, to create a sense of a creative writing mind.  I think to generate a good moodboard that easily communicates to people you need to show a process of ideas rather than simply a random collection of references & colours.  We’re storytellers NOT interior designers.  Everything I put on screen is there for a reason: to assist in the telling of characters’ stories – no design for design’s sake.  I start pulling all my reference together for a moodboard for the TV Centre sets: it will most likely be up first on the shoot and is the biggest composite set we’re building on location…I’m thinking ‘salmon pink’…9.30pm…time to get home.

Day 14…(and most of the weekend) FRI 13TH MAY: On my own today as my Set Decorator is out & about getting samples of gold textures from all around London & having a first sweep of the props houses to see what inspires.  So this is my time to finish The Design Bible…locking down the main themes and providing relevant/practical 70s references.  1st distraction: a new book arrives at the office: Interior Desecrations…all that was tasteless and shameful in the designs of the 60s & 70s, it’s brilliant – all had a good giggle.  2nd distraction: arrange a drinks night next week for all art department crew – an opportunity to introduce the team to each other before prep gets really manic – a bit like Blind Date but face-to-face communication is key to this job.  3rd distraction: many interruptions (good ones) from the Location Manager who fires loads of database links to possible locations my way via The Location Collective : another possible multi-purpose location, a crazy 70s/cat-loving house and an office interior.  4th distraction: I spend an hour putting together a quick moodboard to show how that possible office interior could work for a Distributors Office to show to the Director (see below). He’s not convinced and after distraction no. 5: a long afternoon chat, it brings to light a much bigger discussion about what exactly he imagines the office to be….Mamet’s film Glengarry Glen Ross comes to his mind…he likes the idea of an office within an office to get a sense of depth rather than feeling boxed inside 4 walls.

Leave the office late (9.30pm) internet researching having done none of The Design Bible…so it’s a working weekend.  It is finally finished late Sunday night and here it is:

It aims to read like a story starting off with the main theme & an index to the other headings.  I then explain that all the following ideas have a connection to Medieval Art.  I use all sorts of references I have found on the internet & scanned from books to try & capture what I’m striving for in the vision of the piece – the art of it is knowing how to put the images together – creative collage – a good understanding of editing is paramount.  I learnt most about editing from award-winning editor/sound designer Walter Murch upon reading his unlikely book: Behind The Seen: How Walter Murch edited Cold Mountain, given to me by a good friend many years ago at Christmas. The Design Bible aims to be self-explanatory so it is notated – showing my references but marking what it is I see in them that is useful.

 

The Incomplete Picture: panels, partitions, Saul Leiter, Mondrian & altarpiece style framing.  Narrative Disproportion: abandoning correct scale & perspective in favour of storytelling with trompe l’oeil from George Grosz, Fornasetti & de Chirico, 70s shades & oversized lamps & body parts. Symmetry: church altars, Richard Wright inkblots, Tadao Ando & Gilbert George. Disposable: the UK’s bin men strikes of 1979 gives us historical context to use rubbish & decay as a theme, exploring cracked leathers, peeling paint & cigarette ash.Gothic Architecture: church building, gargoyles past & present, Heath Robinson’s contraptions, crazy pipes and Fornasetti faces.Gold: the base colour of every set as seen in the walls of Jerusalem, Richard Wright, gold wallpapers, and the Virgin Mary & Christ.  This is my driving design motif.The Colour Palette: On top of the gold I want to reduce the palette to ultramarine blue (Yves Klein, Virgin Mary’s cloak, medieval illuminations & Punchdrunk Love), red and orange/ochre (Simone Martini and the fabulous 70s American photographer Joel Meyerowitz).Stone & Marble: choosing stones of London that feel hot & dry & rough like the stones of Jerusalem, faux stone fireplaces, cut sheet marble patterns & furniture.Floral Pattern: a little quote by William Morris, medieval tapestries with tiny ornate organic detail, Owen Jones Book of Ornamentation, 70s floral not geometric patterns.

Day 13 THURS 12TH MAY: Budget Day.  ALL day. Everyone does an outline budget differently but here’s how I do it: I take the numbered Set List & generate an Excel spreadsheet with columns alongside the set names with the headings ‘Props & Dressing’, ‘Construction’, ‘SFX/Extras’ and ‘SET TOTALS’. Then I go through the script page-by-page with my Set Decorator putting estimated figures in each column for each set, setting formulae for the Set Totals.  Then below the sets I create further categories: Construction/Props Labour, Construction box rental, general Construction materials (paint, consumables), blackout, strike costs (skips etc), art dept consumables (inc. ref), standby materials, standby floats, graphics costs, playback, action vehicles, stunts, animals, additional daily labour and the most important, 10% contingency. We had to call for some prices for SFX from Agog FX, weaponry from Foxtrot Firearms, vending machines from Trevor Howsam and vintage TV cameras from Golden Age. Otherwise, everything is a calculated guess based on experience!  It all comes to £55k. And as you can see, it’s pretty lean in most areas but over-budget.  I’m told by the Line Producer to get it down to £40k as a compromise.  So, I revisit how construction is divided up and choose a full-time assistant carpenter instead of labour per set, I shave off the props & dressing here & there but mainly suggest cutting the odd set/prop/FX altogether.  Got it down to £42.5k.  Please download the CFGS INITIAL BUDGET here to see it all.  It is very much a guideline document as this point – giving the art department ‘target figures’ to aim for in each set – in reality, some will go over & some will go under & we will constantly revise these figures during filming, but you need to prove (to Production) before we start how the total figure is to be divided up to complete the job, according to the script, in the given time.  In a way, it can become a contract between you & Production so it’s important that it is realistic & you don’t end up putting yourself in an awkward financial position. So called a meeting with Producers & Line Producer presenting the budget with notes (what I’ve taken out in order to get the cost down, compromises we, as a crew, will have to make)…was told I had £45k (hallelujah!) so we keep the extra £2.5k protected until we have a schedule…as no doubt this will change everything!!  Budget is agreed & we can proceed to spend money but it is clear we have to have rethink of our design approach: maybe go more for interesting wall treatments & choice dressing rather than scantily dressed period accuracy.  My Set Decorator introduces me to the world of Tony Duquette, although he’s all about More is More, there’s something clever about his use of textures…then get very excited/distracted by wallcoverings from House of Couturier & we looked again at woven gold & luminous surfaces: they appear to add/reflect great depth & layering to a space so this could become our way of creating texture in a set without filling it with dressing & props.  Spend my evening mostly staring at the budget…coming to terms with it and preparing myself for making brutal decisions about my ideas when the time comes.  A good designer needs to be a creative accountant, that’s for sure.

Day 12 WED 11TH MAY: A desk-bound day – it’s been almost two weeks on the job & I haven’t picked up a pencil to draw anything yet (apart from a pie chart) – just shows the amount of administration that goes into a designer’s job.  Read the new script and although it’s not issued & ready for breakdowns, I create the first CFGS SET LIST…an Excel spreadsheet grouping sets into ‘types’ of location rather than story order, numbering them, marking the year if appropriate, whether they’re interior (INT.) or exterior (EXT.), day or night, and when the final script is issued, the scene numbers.  For the final script sometimes (if you’ve got the time) you do a ‘page weight’ to ascertain how important the ‘set’ is in terms of screen time.  You look at how much the written scene takes up on the page & divide it into eighths – so a whole page is 1 and a scene with one-line of dialogue is an 1/8, half a page is 4/8 etc etc.  As you go through the script you add up all the page weights for each set and get a total.  If a set had 30 pages for example, then it is a principal one and your budget needs to be spent on it – if a set only had 3/8 of a page, you need to perhaps curb spending on it in favour of other more important sets.  It’s really helpful when budgeting. So back to this job, total set numbers: 48 (but that’s potentially 60-70 separate physical spaces). Despite having neither schedule nor confirmed locations, this set list forms the basis of my budget which I have to start soon.  It is therefore the most important document, in my view, a designer needs to start with. Going through the script I make a quick graphics & action props list – I’m looking for the ‘expensive’ design requirements first:  weapons, animals, action vehicles, weather/SFX, specialist food requiring a home economist, & TV playback.  All these services tend to eat into a designer’s budget so it’s good to start looking at them first.  It’s clear that many of these requirements feature frequently in our script so I flag it up with Production straightaway to see if we can go back to the writer & make some compromises or help our costs by scheduling the shoot in a certain way.  When I first started working out the art dept crew I took the line that I couldn’t afford a graphic designer so I would do the graphics work myself (as I have done out of necessity on previous jobs), working with the Art Dept Manager who will facilitate all the printing/processing.  Graphics are to me, a massively important part of Production Design and often become a brilliant problem-solver for lower budgets.  I have a long-standing personal interest & love for the printed & handwritten word, collecting all sorts of books on typography, calligraphy & street graphics.  (Check out my new Amazon Listmania! On Graphics for Production Design.)  I then make the list of graphics required from the script…and now I’m thinking twice about doing it all myself!  May have to contract some of it out but I will endeavour to create the bulk of it myself – when, I’m not sure, but if there’s a will there’s a way.  I order The Form Book…which will be invaluable for creating the multitude of hero office paperwork appearing in the film.  I re-work my crew timetable/budget to allow for the new 4-weeks shoot & discuss it with the Line Producer – all good.  With evening drawing in & set list finished, my Set Decorator & I begin the big budget breakdown (the make or break point in a Production Designer’s job, the real test of how good you are at turning creative ideas into practical solutions)…creative/practical/realistic discussions translated into numbers in boxes…will carry on well into tomorrow….

Day 11 TUES 10TH MAY: STILL NO SCRIPT!….which means no budget, which means no idea of how to proportion money into sets, which means no realistic idea of how to design the sets (with 4 weeks left till we shoot)….so….I continue with pulling images together for The Design Bible.  Looking first at the subject of Narrative Disproportion I start getting interested in playing with scale. Rather than playing with cliched jumbo 70’s patterns (which whilst distinctive, they detract from actors & the story they’re telling), I’m becoming more interested in oversized objects, lights & lamps in particular, as a motif.  Lighting designer Ingo Maurer has always been an inspiration to me as I think sources of practical light are integral to good set design, adding texture & contrast.  Oversized domed ceiling lampshades may perhaps be a useful way to limit our framing from above too.  Lunchtime: another meeting with animators and a discussion on how the set design can provide them with a lead in and out of the animated sequences.  Then off out with the Set Decorator, Director & Location Manager to see one of our multi-purpose locations in Surrey – Parkwood Estate – a great opportunity for the Director to explain on site his filming style which gives us a much better direction for some of the office sets – many scenes in office sets have a large number of cast in them, so the spaces need to provide a variety of interesting places for characters to stand and/or sit so that their ‘backgrounds’ don’t all become the same.  But at Parkwood the location doesn’t provide any views out/linking exteriors that the Director would like (it’s surrounded by trees, not a London cityscape) – he really wants to have the depth & reality of buildings outside windows & streets outside the doors…so back to the drawing board about how we group locations.  This has a potential to complicate how I’ve crewed the art dept- a sharp reminder this job is all about change & flexibility!  Back in the office the Location Manager & I put a new list together of how we can logistically group sets together. Working with the Location Manager is both a creative & practical process that lasts the whole job – at this stage it’s important that I give him a clear idea of the look and then how we can both compromise (my vision, his budget) to make it a reality.  Word of advice: make the Location Manager a close friend from day one!  Then 6pm…news comes in from Production that our shoot has been lengthened to 4 weeks and a read-only draft of the script has come through (hallelujah!). LOTS to do tomorrow.  My Set Decorator & I head off to Central School of Speech & Drama to see the Scenography graduation show – an interest in theatre design is crucial to a film & TV production designer – theatre set designers really know how to approach & engage in the a text (play, script), the details of words & how important it is to understand the characters.

Day 10 MON 9TH MAY: My Set Decorator officially started today…so now an art department of…2!  But still no script issued. We’ve divided up the work this week: I’ll concentrate on the architecture of the main multi-purpose locations & the budget whilst the Set Decorator is starting on moodboards for the main character’s house set & the recreation of the period TV talk show (trying to match furniture & research into period TV studio camera/sound equipment). I spend the morning assembling the first pages of The Design Bible & grouping the main visual themes under the keyword of Judgement: The Incomplete Picture,  Narrative Disproportion, Symmetry, Disposable, Jerusalem, Gold & Blue, Stone & Marble, Flora & Fauna & Faces.  Every set/location designed will be governed by these themes in some way – every prop choice assisted by these guidelines.  We start talking about trompe l’oeil which was big in Seventies interiors (my Set Decorator has brought along ‘House & Garden’ magazines from the late 70s which are an amazing resource).  I’m always interested in visual illusions (set design itself relies on trickery & ‘magic’ effects) so trompe l‘oeil could be a great/tasteless painterly device for us to use in the more comic/quirky sets. After lunch I go off to the TV Centre for another recce for empty office locations, this time with our Director.  Recces with Directors are so important – the opportunity to see how you both ‘visualise’ a space and whether you do it in the same way!  I love building sets on location because you work with the natural fabric of the building you’re in, adding a base layer of reality.  The secret is not to cover it up or design against it but let it inspire your ideas.  Absolutely first thing you do when you recce a location: check the access in & out – is there a goods lift, how many flights of stairs, how wide are the doorways?  Ascertain whether it is a practical working space before imagining any design.  This location isn’t going to be easy…no goods lift & 3rd floor up…oh dear.  The spaces we’re looking at have old crittall windows and venetian blinds which will work for 1979 but then there are new glass partitioned rooms, many modern plugs sockets & switches and hanging from the ceiling, modern light fittings & ventilation ducts.  It’s not historically accurate but everything is painted white and to me, blends in together so you see shapes rather than modern textures.  I doesn’t concern me (nor can we change it!) – I say to the Director, if the audience are looking at the plug sockets, we’ve lost them anyway.  It’s important to have a perspective & not be a slave to period detail & accuracy – choose when to change things & when to leave them.  I tend to hate ‘covering’ things up – to me, it can just attract more attention.  The size of the empty spaces do however concern me – I know instantly that are budget will not extend to creating an open plan office floor (like Mad Men) so how am I going to get the sense of the size of the room without seeing it all?  I can see that partitioning the spaces using panels/windows will help – then I think of my altarpiece framing motif and back to Saul Leiter.  I create a moodboard for the Director to explain my thinking (below).  Early evening: time to get down to Wimbledon Film Studios to see my Construction Manager (who starts in 2 weeks) for a brief run down of what’s what and when.  We’ve worked together many times before – I’m looking forward to collaborating with him again as I view him very much as my art director too and like to give him a great deal of creative responsibility.  He has trained as a sculptor so he’s full of good ideas beyond simply construction.  I’ve learnt, don’t just instruct your craftspeople (carpenters, painters, plasterers etc), make them part of your design decisions/involve them – they’ll give you great solutions, new ideas and if you make them part of your vision, they’ll run with the responsibility and become an integral & hardworking part of your team.  Read Richard Sennett’s brilliant book “The Craftsman” – it’s been a big inspiration to me.

Day 9 FRI 6TH MAY: After confirming some of my department crew this morning (Art Dept Accountant, Art Dept Manager, x2 Location Art Directors & x1 Props Assist), it is an uninterrupted day in the office completely by myself, with all my reference books: a real luxury. I put my headphones in (listened to the beautiful soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s film, ‘Pina’ amongst other things), sat and marked up images that provoke a reaction in me.  I’m collecting my thoughts & ideas with a view to starting the working look book…or, given the biblical references in the project, ‘The Design Bible’ as I’ll call it.  It will be much like my interview look book but this needs to be a much more focused document, trying to pinpoint the vision of the whole project so that my team, the Director, DoP & Costume Designer will understand it clearly & be inspired by it.  It will be a sort of design rule book – the types of colours I’d like to limit the palette to, the types of patterns, surfaces & textures, what motifs/icons/images I’d like to use repeatedly.  So when my team are out buying & decorating sets they have ‘guidelines’ to help in their choices, especially as I can’t always be there to make every design decision. It is above all a communication tool – one that tries to maintain my vision when the work is delegated to many people.  Still no working script yet & no confirmation on number of sets or hero props so I start at the script’s foundations – the true essence of the story – and for me in the first draft, the main theme is judgement. This must therefore inspire my vision as my job is to serve the needs of the story, not just embellish it with period detail & decoration. I delve into my piles of books looking further into religious art (Master of Boucicaut), then onto Gustave Dore’s illustrations, automata, pipes & Heath Robinson‘s machines & contraptions, George Grosz, faces & gargolyes, and tasteless peach & apricot in 70’s office interiors.  7pm: I take advantage of late night Fridays at the V&A (my favourite museum in London & greatest resource for art, craft & design in the world) and hop onto the tube to South Kensington & spend a couple of hours snapping away with my trusty iPhone in the Medieval & Renaissance galleries for more 3D & sculptural inspiration (see photos below).  The arts of that time seemed to be predominantly decorated with faces/bodies (Biblical or mythical figures/scenes) & flora & fauna to tell their stories – something quite organic about it all. That makes me think about trying to play with Pop-Art faces and small, intense 70s floral/animal patterns rather than the usual bold, retro geometric graphics of the decade. And GOLD keeps appearing everywhere!…..someone must be trying to tell me something so I’ll take it as a sign & use it boldly in this project: perhaps all our interior walls will be finished in gold in some way: fabrics, wallpaper, leaf, paint, mesh, beads, gauzes etc.  You learn, particularly in a place like the V&A, that ideas appear again & again throughout time, that you can see modernity in ancient art & design, it’s all cyclical, so inspiration really can be found anywhere and is never limited to the time period you might be designing for.

    

Day 8 THURS 5TH MAY: A half-day of interviews again…slowly filling the slots but still thinking about who will work best with who – the team’s strengths AND weaknesses need to be balanced – and this time I’m really looking for those with good business heads.  Experience is slightly lacking across the board but the wage levels will not attract more experienced candidates so this is the compromise I have to make – I hope that giving more time to guidance I’ll get a great deal of younger enthusiasm & commitment in return. Met someone who wasn’t right for any listed role but realised their potential in coming on board as a full-time scenic painter.  As a designer I love to work with a lead (head) scenic painter and sometimes design a set from its painterly rendering rather than its architectural style – I tried this on ‘This Is England ‘86’ & it worked well plus I learnt a great deal about layering up textures – scenic painting is a real craft.  As a designer, you’ve got to be able to communicate with a scenic painter, so you’ve got to learn about paint!  I steer well clear of sets painted in one flat colour, as much as I avoid boldly/period patterned wallpaper (which is often too distracting on screen).  I much prefer building depth up on the walls by layers of washes – on ‘This Is England ’86′ (see picture below) we had to work with brand new MFI wallpaper & get it looking like early 80s paper.  Rather than paint over it to hide it, we layered blue & ochre washes on top with a final spray of a substance like talcum powder to add a soft age to it.  There are some great books you should start collecting (Surfaces, Natural Surfaces, Decay) – but also having all sorts of references (objects, fabric samples, etc) to be able to show a painter is so important – and so is a basic knowledge of the pigments a painter uses (mixing colours is often cheaper than picking a colour from the Dulux chart and having it made up) – know your siennas, ochres, whites and blacks, & importantly, your matts, silks & glosses.  Learn the tricks, know how to use dirty down sprays effectively, and as a word of advice, listen to your painter and find out how long things really take to do, especially when time & budget is tight.  Technology may have advanced the speed of things in filmmaking but PAINT STILL TAKES THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME TO DRY.

So, it’s got my mind thinking about how we can paint the sets, locations & props & how gold can feature. Have ordered Richard Wright’s monograph – modern painting meets Middle Age frescos – might be helpful.  After the morning of interviews, met with two puppeteers who may work with us on a puppetry sequence (I feel a model set coming on….) – I’ve seen their work before (A Dog’s Heart at the ENO, Minghella’s Madame Butterfly at the Met Opera, NY) and it’s fantastic – very exciting possibilities for us.  On my way home I succumbed to Soho Books on Old Compton St, and randomly bought a little book called Notes From Russia – a portrait of Russian streets told through a vast collection of handwritten notices & signs – amazing, if slightly odd, graphics reference for the hand-drawn and badly-written…you never know, it may come in useful one day.  Things are coming together but still waiting for a script…dying to start doing a breakdown & an initial costing (gulp).

Day 7 WED 4TH MAY: 9am start: a full day of interviews ahead for my Set Decorator & I.  We’re looking at 8 candidates for Art Dept Manager, Accountant & Location Art Directors.  It’s exhausting…hard sometimes to keep up the energy & enthusiasm all day saying the same thing over and over but great to meet new faces & find new talent.  I explain why the art department is to be set up differently, show them the timetable (and therefore be very open about everyone’s wage rates which I think, on such a small team, is important from the outset), how I’m going to approach the whole job, and be brutally honest about the challenges ahead.  Having sent out the job specs in advance, it really makes things easier in the interview – candidates know what to expect upfront & I ask them how they can demonstrate meeting the responsibilities & skills I require.  I guess I go with my gut instinct most of the time – confidence & eye contact (the firm handshake at the beginning is everything guys!), the ability to communicate ideas concisely and a passion for the craft that goes beyond the job is what I look for most.

A word on portfolios: 10 PAGES MAXIMUM!  And in 10 pages you should be able to demonstrate your entire range of skills, not simply 10 jobs you’ve worked on.  I’m looking for the scope of someone’s ability – beyond the technical drawing, concept art, modelmaking, CAD, set dressing etc – what else can they uniquely add to my team that will make the production design of this project stand-out from all the other TV period dramas?  Because it’s my whole team that will make this happen, not just me.  So I love to see non-industry work – crafts, painting, drawing, sculpture etc.  I’m hiring artists & craftspeople with a far-reaching sense of the creative world out there.  And a note on GRAPHICS: it’s my main area of interest so I’m particularly fussy about this – graphics in portfolios are the best way to tell if someone’s got an eye for design or not (will they be good at detailed set dressing or propmaking?) – the humble fictional newspaper design is my benchmark – it takes a good graphics person with an eye for detail & a true understanding of typography & layout to make it believable.  I’ll always examine technical drawing (line weights & how lines join are the 2 main things I look for) and I try & give advice if needed – I already teach drafting privately and it’s an important skill & discipline to get right.  I also make a point of asking candidates what it is they want out of a job/career so I make sure they’re fulfilling their own potentials & ambitions in some way too.  Besides, I’m hiring the person, not just filling a job title.

A quick lunch break where I meet possible animators with the Director & Producer – whilst the animated sequences of the project will be outsourced, I’m still very much involved in visually managing that side of the job too.  7pm: the interviews over for today – only half the candidates are suitable but we’re pretty sure we’ve filled the Art Dept Manager role.  I go home & have another long think about candidates.  I find it a little daunting ‘designing’ how the team will come together – filmmaking is firmly based upon teamwork & collaboration so crewing is an incredibly important part of a designer’s job, like budgeting, one which requires a balance of risk & careful judgement.  If I don’t get it right, then for me, the design of the project simply won’t work.  I’ve learnt being a designer, people management is about 90% of your job – so the pressure’s on to assemble a team that will make that 90% of my working life easier!

Day 6 TUES 3RD MAY: Finally!  Away from the computer!  I’m off out for a research & brainstorming day with my Set Decorator.  We start at the National Gallery and given my interest in religious iconography so far, we have a look at the Sainsbury WingPaintings from 1200-1500.  Walking & talking (quietly) around the galleries a few key ideas/motifs begin to catch our eyes.  We’re both keen to explore the biblical element of the project, investigate the project’s link to Victoriana & its roots in Gothic art and its consuming sense of visual narrative, so often found in early painting too.  Main keywords we decide upon are ‘Narrative Disproportion‘ (our own term for what is often seen in 14thC & 15thC painting whereby the vision of telling a story overrides any correct sense of scale, perspective or proportion), ‘Altarpiece Framing‘, ‘Symmetry‘, and ‘Gold & Blue‘; other ideas we’d like to explore in the set design are: marble, intense fine pattern, Gothic’s transition to Renaissance (Northern Renaissance), craftsmanship, delicate architecture, miniature landscapes, hagiography, symbolism, and trompe l’oeil. After the obligatory trip to the gift shop (postcards & books purchased) we stop off at the Haunch of Venison gallery for the Wim Wenders photography exhibition – there’s a great bookshop there too & I pick up an interesting book about the amazing contemporary painter Adrien Ghenie (not directly relevant to this job but it’s caught my eye). Books as you’ve probably realised are my weakness.  My Set Decorator & I are firmly against using any set of clichéd Seventies colour palettes (and I can’t stand to see the past in period dramas always portrayed in drab browns & greys) so we get talking about using gold, a bold but not brash colour choice – we were both taken with its luminosity in the gallery earlier today & how other colours seem to float upon it (ultramarine on gold is a powerful & almost 3-dimensional combination)…it will add depth and may help bring a hot ‘biblical’ warmth to London too.  After a really positive & inspiring day of design chats I spend the evening at home on the internet exploring the colour gold (textures, references, usage in architecture, painting, materials etc).  Then I discover Turner Prize winner Richard Wright & his symmetrical gold inkblot paintings which echo some of our thoughts – a modern link to medieval concepts – maybe this is how we can ‘contemporise’ this period drama and bring a richness to our interiors despite our low budget.

Days 4&5 FRI 29TH April & MON 2nd MAY:  In between Kate & Will’s big day and non-stop public holidays I have been continuing to work on the art dept crew puzzle at home.  Solved! (for now at least…): The initial £25k budget for labour is now predicted at £40k – the lowest I could get it down to – so I now have to take £15k from my props, SFX & construction budget, leaving me with £30k to play with.  It’s a bold move but I speak with the Line Producer and we agree this is a sensible solution to pursue.  I always say there’s no point spending thousands of pounds on props if you’ve got no one to pick them up, dress them in & take them back….or as a good friend once told me, “if you keep cutting corners it’ll just roll away“.  I also don’t believe in trying to do too much with too few people – I’ve seen & been part of art departments whose teams are worked to death – it’s not fair or easy to ask people to work ridiculous hours, endangering their health & safety, & it’s not worth losing the respect and loyalty of a crew – it is just a job after all.  But…it’s easy to say & hard to do, I know.  I’m trying to change things to adapt to the limited resources so I’ve created new roles and scheduled my labour force quite differently.  It has developed from the main challenge of the shoot rather than following the age-old hierarchy of art departments.  A lot of my ideas come from looking at business models (the work of John Adair  & his book on the Leadership of Muhammad in particular is of massive inspiration to me), identifying/predicting exactly where problems are going to arise given tight resources & so I make sure my solution is much more tailor-made and targeted.  It is without doubt going to be tough and demanding but I’m not simply going to throw a whole department at a whole lot of work all at the same time – it’s inefficient and somewhat disregards the welfare of the team.  The current Production plan is that we will have 3 main multi-purpose locations that all sets will be grouped into for the now 4 week shoot.  These locations will most likely be miles apart which has a huge impact on how we organise the team.  So the team should be assigned to these locations and work as units rather than be assigned individual aspects of production design like props, graphics, standby etc.  I have decided to write CFGS Art Dept Job Specs (please click to download) for each new role to be clear what I’m asking of my team and what I should be looking for – I hope this will make the interviewing process much more straightforward and concise.  I’m starting to draw up a short-list of CVs – I have hundreds of emails stored from people sending their details so I sift through them & ask my peers for recommendations.  It’s such a tricky part of my job assembling the right team, getting the balance of personality, skill, experience and trust  – it’s a real art & I wish I’d had some guidance on how to do it when I was younger!  I make the calls and invite candidates for interview later this week.  I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to be a creative businessperson as much as a creative designer in this job.

Day 3 THURS 28TH APRIL: Time to start thinking with my feet so off out on location recces today with the Location Manager.  First some disused studios (off Tottenham Court Rd & round the corner from the office) where we can build one of the main set and use the space for a props store/construction workshop (inside the Congestion Charge zone though…pricey)….then onto Parkwood Estate in Surrey, an empty manor house estate/conference centre often used for filming.  Given our budget & schedule restrictions we have to find a few multipurpose ‘magical all-in-one’ locations that will give us as many sets as possible. Parkwood comes close BUT all spaces come completely and utterly unfurnished and all light fittings are modern.  But looking at my Set List we could shoot 11 sets here.  So what we would overspend in dressing empty locations, Production would save in keeping the unit in one place for a significant amount of time – it’s all about compromise this job, so I’ll need to discuss it with the Line Producer.  Back in central London & on Charing Cross Road I’m buying more reference books – Hidden CityUrban Homes of Artists & Innovators & 120 Visions of Heaven & Hell.  Conceptual ideas are still swimming around in my head but after this morning’s recces I now realise I need to have a completely different game plan – the scale of the design work potentially outweighs (like a 40ft Sumo wrestler) my budget & for the first time, it worries me.  So I look for my answer, as I always do, in the things that I’ve already found for this project – I guess I see it as fate, the answer has already presented itself, I just need to be open-minded.  So, I thought about the first book I bought, Saul Leiter‘s photographs.  I looked again at his composition of images – tight framing, hints & suggestions of depth – and saw how we could dress all the film’s locations in a way that we hint at space rather than attempt detailed 360 degree sets….now it gets me thinking about using doorways/screens/panels etc as a motif throughout to break up spaces…which then leads me onto church altarpieces, polyptych frames, and back full-circle to the ecclesiastical ideas I’ve already been looking at – serendipitous set design. My fascination with Medieval art is growing and I’m really inspired by paintings where narrative is chosen over perspective, scale or correct proportion….Then that night, Gilbert & George popped into my head…

Day 2 WED 27TH APRIL:  Production Design is first & foremost about money.  Sorry, but it is.  Film & TV are businesses like any other.  So the art of Hieronymus Bosch will have to wait whilst my day in the office is spent trying to solve the £25k art department labour budget puzzle – I know from experience it’s not enough so things are going to have to change.  There’s an old rule of thumb that I stick to (passed down from many construction managers I’ve met): one-third materials, two-thirds labour.  Which makes my current labour budget about half of what it should be.  A radical rethink has been formulating in my brain & scribbled down (below).  Rather than a traditional hierarchy, my team will consist of 4 principal art department personnel: Set Decorator, Accountant, Art Dept Manager & Construction Manager, with smaller roles allocated to specific responsibilities.  My department is then allocated according to the project’s problem: too many sets to shoot in too little time.  It’s an art dept management model I’ve been working on for a while (through ‘This Is England ’86’ & ‘Random’) – focused on how we function best when working in both the past (strike), present (standby), and future (prep).  I need to get my team together ASAP so I start writing a job spec for each principal role in preparation for advertising the jobs & then the interviewing process next week.  My Set Decorator is already on board – we’ve done most jobs together.  Our working relationship is very collaborative, I trust her implicitly & we both compliment each other’s strengths & weaknesses.  I’ve discovered a designer’s relationship with their set decorator is of critical importance & I feel that on every job, you very much design it together as equals – Stuart Craig & Stephenie McMillan are a real inspiration to me. No shooting script to break down (analyse) for budget purposes yet so for the following few days I’m going to take the opportunity to get ahead of myself and work through my ideas – getting a chance to research further & have more time to do interviews.  Even though we’re without a shooting script I do a first pass at the SET LIST (you can download here of an EXAMPLE SET LIST from a previous job) to establish how many sets/locations we will be have to budget for.  Met with the Location Manager in the afternoon to recce a TV Centre for possible office locations (real spaces rather than studios) which looked very promising…Back home to number crunch on the art department crew puzzle till late…it may take a while…

Day 1 TUES 26 APRIL: The job starts off with a page-by-page (all 140 of them) script meeting with the Director.  This takes most of the day but a great opportunity to get to know the Director, his vision for the piece & his interpretation of  the characters.  It’s so important that I get inside his head & know we’re working toward the same aesthetic.  I let our discussions settle in my mind whilst I head out to the bookshops of Charing Cross Road to start collecting reference – not quite sure what I’m looking for yet but this for me is the most exciting and creative part of the job – where you discover your way of telling a story hiding in paintings, photographs and literature, you’ve just got to know where to look and be open to all sorts of unexpected sources.  But I already know I’m not looking for Seventies reference (because the story isn’t about 1979) so I pick up the photography of Saul LeiterErnst HaasPeter Beard & as a I have a real fondness for graphics, a great book called Goodbye to London, radical art & politics in the 70s…and then standing looking lost in thought in Foyles Bookshop, I get inspired by the project’s biblical connections, so on a whim I start looking at Romanesque & Gothic which leads me on to European Art of the Fifteenth Century…then it’s all got me thinking about the darker, more edgy Northern Renaissance, slightly grotesque cherubs and Hieronymus Bosch.  Back to the office for a quick budget meeting with the Line Producer. The bottom line I’m told is this: for 68 sets/locations on a 3 week shoot I have approx £40k for props/construction/action vehicles, £5k for SFX, £25k for labour.  Off home to buy the following from Amazon: BoschDark Knights & Holy FoolsThe 1970s ScrapbookDusty DiablosThe G-Plan RevolutionGregory Crewdson 1985-2005,Society & Mass Market Classics….it’s a start.

MON 18th April 2011 – THE INTERVIEW: Have had a few days to read an early draft of a script for a period biopic-of-sorts sent through from my agent. First thing I do: set about creating a ‘look book’ – my own visual way of the telling a story, choosing particular themes, narrative or character aspects.  It is a perhaps more of a mood book and in trying to give it a look that will be fresh & unexpected, I draw upon an exhibition I saw last month at theWhitechapel Art Gallery of Brit collage-artist John Stezaker – splicing two seemingly random realities together to form a third strange and curious reality.  I arrange my ideas in Photoshop, taking reference images largely from the internet, letting my mind & knowledge of art history make new creative connections, just as Stezaker has done  – it takes time and patience digging, googling, and digging some more until you come across something emotive.  This is preparation I do for every job interview & is a great start to the designer’s storytelling process.  As for the interview: talked with the Director, Line Producer & the 2 Producers for an hour about ideas, practicalities, budget & job demands, and I present my CFGS Interview Look Book (download it: CFGS IV LOOK BOOK) and show a look book from my previous Channel 4 drama film, ‘Random’, promoting my process as a designer rather than simply a portfolio of final set photos from old jobs.  It’s then crucial to express these design concepts & abstract ideas in concrete & relevant solutions to the actual project & the Director demanded this of me in the interview.  I also talk about how I change structures of art departments on each job I do & talk in particular about the lessons I learnt from ‘This Is England ’86‘ and the success of creating Character Buyers on ‘Random‘.  I want to appear progressive, forward thinking and sensitive to the fact that with limited resources creative planning is required to organise and manage production design challenges ahead.

Well, something worked….a few days later, I’ve got the job and I start next week.

THE JOB BRIEFTo design the production ‘Chic Fun Gory Silly’, creating approx. 60 sets and locations in the London area.  The story is set in 1979, it will be shot in 4 weeks with 5 weeks prep time.  The budget is tight. Very tight.


11 thoughts on “CHIC FUN GORY SILLY

  1. Hi Lisa. I got here via the art dept & prophouses noticeboard link. I’m hooked. It’s great to read about your experiences. Thank you!

  2. This is so good to read and so interesting and please don’t hold back in calling me a moron at the point where I didn’t think to bring along the 70s magazines to the first day of shooting.

    I am a moron. I am always sorry.

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  5. Thanks Lisa,
    I´ve been following you on twitter and i´m amazed by this interesting document, a really inspiring and helpful work. looking forward to read the rest of it!
    Congrats from Madrid,

    Isabel Peinado
    lenastrike.com

  6. Hi Lisa I am so glad to read this. First thank you for putting forward your work and experiences like this. I am an Art Director set designer and decorator working in Nairobi Kenya. I got here via the Art Department group on face book. Just reading this I have seen where I have gone wrong on past jobs and how to make myself work more effectively. I hope you don’t mind but I am making you like my Mentor. I am largely self taught and this is amazing information.
    Thank you for the knowledge

  7. hey hi Lisa,
    I am Sandeep Bhamkar. I am an Art Director and Production designer working in India. This is really great work .
    all the best …

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  9. Pingback: The finished CHIC FUN GORY SILLY Handbook to Production Design online |

  10. Pingback: Design Resources – A top 5 | Laura Murray

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