THE STILL LIFE WORK EXPERIENCE
Here you’ll find posted weekly a very unusual diary of life in the Art Department on my current project ‘Still Life’. But unlike Chic Fun Gory Silly, this is written entirely by the work experience volunteers we have each week – the job, unedited, through their eyes. It is an account of what they do and what they learn, intended as a way to share the realities of first time working experience to other students and graduates. It is also a way to help me and other designers make sure placements are giving the right and honest real-world insight and education. We start in the final weeks of prep, just before tech recces begin…
Charlotte Moon, 2nd year, Film & Television, Edinburgh College of Art – 9th-12th May
“My work placement at Still Life was easily the best thing I have ever done. I met some great people and learnt so many important skills which will help me in my career in the art department. On day one, Lisa sat me down and told me everything I would need to know. She showed me her ideas and what we would be aiming to achieve through the set design. After this I got stuck straight in by filling in a prop diary for the Cat Lady where I got to create my own little life up for her. For the rest of the afternoon, Rusty and I were experimenting with wax and paint effects on glass bottles to be used in Billy Stokes flat. Alcohol company names aren’t allowed to be seen in the film but as Billy’s an alcoholic we had to come up with an imaginative way to cover them up. I also counted the product placement delivery to make sure everything was there and helped paint the Ghost Bike white. (Never wear fancy clothes when you work in the art department!)
On day two and day three I went shopping with the buyer. Dalia took me to car boot sales and markets and showed me the best places to look in London. Buying props is something I do regularly on my course in college so it was really exciting for me to see how it is done for a real shoot. The items on the list were very specific and the most important thing I learnt was to NOT panic buy but to not spend all day looking for something when there could be other options. On day three I also finished writing cat ladies diary and prop letter. Afterwards I helped research prices to bulk buy tins of tuna and multipacks of cat food and to find out where we would get the best deals. I then rang up local garden centres and tree nurseries to determine what tree would be best and locate the shop so Dalia could go there later in the day. I finished my day by traveling across London to pick up the very important photo album and John Mays book and bring them back to the department.
On my last day Caitlin and I went out to find some of the final things on her list. We went to a house clearance which was the perfect place for finding free things and then onto another market where we were looking for curtains. I realized here just how important it is to get things right, but to also sometimes you need to look outside the box because you can’t always get exactly what you want. This four days was an amazing experience and I am so grateful for being given the opportunity. Working for Lisa, someone I regard so highly was incredible and I really admire her imagination, and her management skills as she was a great boss. I have learnt that production design is definitely the area I want to go into in the film industry and after many discussions I had with the team I have been given the confidence boost I have needed, and feel I know now what I need to know to be good at the job. I am very excited to watch the finished film and see the products I had input in making and buying.”
Dec Hardy, 3rd year, Film Production, The Arts University College Bournemouth
Monday 14th May 2012
Today marked the first day in the Still Life work experience, helping and assisting the art department. Approaching the Unit I was oblivious to the progression of the day and the work that would soon follow. After a warm welcome from Lisa I was introduced to Martyn Doust, the props master, clutching a M4A1. Martyn was our initial point of contact, delegating jobs throughout the day. He was awfully kind and explained to us all that this would be a learning experience and not to hesitate to ask questions about anything that came to mind. This was wonderful to know as throughout the day I had many questions about his experience and the industry – talking face to face beats any book because you can have a conversation.
Work experience could be as the monotonous roles of coffees and photocopying, but what I experienced in the day was far more beneficial to both my learning and the progression of the film. Not to say that tea and coffee isn’t integral to the industry, but the courtesy and respect I received from this particular team made these duties a pleasure – I was a cog in the machine. The day used and built upon different skills that may be required in the different fields of the art department. Below is some of the work that today provided:
- Gluing and fixing a lampshade
- Documenting the protagonists briefcase for potential reproduction
- Cleaning and prepping bottles
- Searching and collecting carpets
These four examples represent very different skill bases; prop making, drawing and sourcing, accompanied with networking. Probably the most enjoyable parts of the day were with the lampshade and the drawing. I think that the more experience I am getting in this department the closer I am to releasing my specialism. Experiences like these help this process.
Tuesday 15th May 2012
Today featured a less eclectic mix of skills. To begin with we unpacked the van of bottles to the store and made our way to the Chapel to paint. After meeting with the owner, Martyn left us with the equipment and me and Abigail set-up for the painting. I find set decoration and construction very enjoyable, so the time quickly past. We began with cutting in and the detailed parts and then progressed to rollers. Today was the first time I used and angled brush, which made the cutting in much easier. Although we made good time with the painting, it was clear we would need to return for touch-ups. The new paint really enhanced the location – it complimented the permanent features of the location and matched the colour scheme – unlike the lemon yellow previous.
After some lunch I then began to write details into the prop mortuary book. With a research image I copied the style and filled in random information. Although monotonous, I liked this level of detail and story that I could write into what could be an unused prop. I think that this tactile work really appeals to me.
Throughout the day I had many conversations with various members of the team which has been very insightful. I enjoyed the stories and experiences of the crew and learned about relationships and attitudes necessary on set, and in particular learned some tricks from Martyn.
Wednesday 16th May 2012
We started back again in the chapel today, doing the necessary touch-ups and painting the entrance to the chapel. Abigail and Max were cutting-in in the main hall and I started taping and painting in the hallway. Things were moving much faster with the spare hands. The entrance was difficult, with lots of details to paint round and the height of the room. Nonetheless it was a reasonably quick job, the guys joined me after they finished in the chapel. Martyn and Lisa joined us after we’d finished to paint the ceiling and we stopped for lunch.
In the afternoon we all split up and assisted individuals within the department. I think this was good as it gave us each the opportunity to practice within our preferred skills. I was to help out Martyn with props, Max with Dalia and buying, and Abigail with graphics.
My job for the afternoon was to source some aged wood and cut it into crosses for the cemetery. Martyn described to me what he wanted and I got to use a motorized mitre saw to cut the pieces and angled corners. They looked pretty good, getting better with each I did. Although the work experience could be useful to boost a range of skills I preferred working on the jobs which suited me better as an art assistant.
Thursday 17th May 2012
I started the day making more crosses, but this time to Lisa’s specifications. They were to be smaller, less aged and more detailed, with a cross lap, joining the planks. I think these looked much better. The ones from yesterday were almost too rough, whereas these looked better manufactured and less theatrically aged. It was enjoyable to work with the wood and do some practical work for the team.
After the crosses Martyn assigned me the duty of making 50 public grave posts. I used the mitre saw again to chop up the wood into small wooden posts and then stencilled numbers and ‘public’ onto them. This took far longer than I imagined, so I had to take the posts home with me. I think that when they are all hammered into the ground it will look very impressive due to the sheer number of them.
I think what surprised me most about this production was the scale of the art department. Given the size of the film I thought that the department would be far larger with more resources than I have seen. Nonetheless, this style of art department is very much in the league of what I am used to, using freecycle and house clearances for sourcing etc. I think that University had readied me for resourceful thinking and sourcing and working on an extremely tight budget, making me more useful on a project such as this.
Friday 18th May 2012
Cat litter. So much Cat Litter. Earlier in the week I observed Max and Abigail blending cat litter to replicate the consistency of human ashes, and was glad not to have been given this job. Nonetheless it was my turn. I spent 4 hours blending the cat litter to recreate the ashes, until the blender died. I did manage to complete most of the litter and add fish blood and bones, imitating the hero ash Martyn showed me. Although it was a taxing job it was very rewarding to fill the box up with the concoction.
In the afternoon I helped Lisa and Caitlin with a prop store run, moving and organising pieces, documenting them and storing in groups. It has been good to see the prop store slowly fill up with everything from furniture to coffins. After this we went back to the unit base and I assisted with the cemetery map. Although it was simple work, filling in the numbers, it was much like the mortuary book – very impressive once completed due to the level of detail. We didn’t get to finish it.
This week has been very insightful. Although as a group we have only really assisted the production I think the observation and conversations has improved my knowledge of a larger art department and the mechanics involved. I’ve met a lovely group of people and very much enjoyed my time with the department.
Abigail Whittaker, 1st year, Design for Film & Television, Nottingham Trent University
When I arrived this morning I was warmly welcomed by props master Martyn and got straight to work moving props to storage with Lisa Rust, Martyn’s assistant. She made me feel really at home and we are actually from the same area so had good banter. It’s surprising how much free food you can get with product placement and muscles definitely were needed for the job! Then I headed back to the main offices to dirty plates and clean bottles with Dec and Max the other work experience guys. They are both great, really funny and they’re third years so I’m learning lots from them too about marketing yourself for work after university. When you get here the atmosphere is really productive and straight away you become a cog in the art dept component of one huge machine. You can tell people are passionate and determined to do a good job, so tedious jobs are much more enjoyable. You can also see WHY you’re doing each task and how they fit into the production which gives a sense of contribution and accomplishment. I did something I’ve never done and rang companies about product placement today. The first one was a bit nerve-racking but after that I got stuck into the schmoozing and investigating! It’s great as I want to try as many new things as possible while I’m here and I’m really pleased I got that responsibility on my first day. I would like to get to know the team a little better as some introductions were quite brief today, but there was a big props meeting with the director so time was short. There’s always tomorrow.
I had to paint a chapel today. Me and Dec were machines! I’ve never done painting on that scale before but Dec knew his stuff and we ended up being a pretty good team. With the music playing it was done in no time and we got the 1st coat of the main chapel done by 3. In the afternoon I took over from Max for a while making ash but it really is a laborious job. It involved grinding up cat litter in a tiny blender and then sieving it. The pile just seemed never-ending but it’s got to be done I guess. It gets you thinking about alternatives and whether you could get the same effect with other materials or less ash but for retakes and things I’m sure it is necessary. I may ask tomorrow. After that I just did some paint samples on a few shoe boxes. I couldn’t speak to Lisa and other members of the team again but that is understandable because I was away all morning and there was a tech recce in the afternoon so hopefully tomorrow.
Today was definitely my favourite day so far! Dec, Max and I all finishing off painting the chapel this morning and everyone was in high spirits which made the job more enjoyable. Then I finally got to talk with Lisa about her intentions with the production design! We went through the look book in more detail, and things that had been brushed on earlier in the week now all slot together creating a coherent and logical design with so much potential. I can really see the depth of beauty that could be achieved now and once explained, the look book was a great way of communicating that. It’s really good to see how much creativity and artistic influences have been used, and every decision is made to support the film narrative which is what our job is all about. I was then given the chance to put together the main photo album of the whole film! I’ve been eying up the beautiful old photographs that are to go in this prop all week and after learning about the look book I am so pumped to do a good job on this. Before I got stuck in, I was asked to find some A0 off-white cartridge paper in London before the shops closed. This is much harder than it seems! Thank god I bought an oyster card on Monday; I ended up going all the way to Covent Garden and got to the shop 1 minute before it closed! I felt like I was on some kind of paper buying mission it was great! Fatal mistake to take the stairs from Covent Garden station but my little treasure hunt ended up being rather successful. I felt a massive sense of achievement in 1) conquering London’s public transport and 2) having something to show for my work.
Today was all about graphics. All day I worked on the album trying to get a good mix of photos on each page so that visually things make sense. It took a lot of rearranging and organising, and I tried to consider colour, contrast, the amount of people in each photo, how big the people were, photo size, multiples, age, gender, smiles, composition, getting a balance of legal documents and family photos… there was lot to think about! By lunch I had filled the album with the key photos that showed people looking straight at the camera. I was then told that actually twice the amount of pages had to be filled! It was ok though, with a bit of jiggery-pokery and sly filler photos in the front I got the album to a stage ready for the graphics meeting tomorrow. I also did another album documenting the growth of one of the character’s little girls. I could have probably done these jobs quicker but as they were the hero props I wanted to take my time over it and I’m happy with the outcome. I look forward to hearing what the director thinks tomorrow.
Last day and nearly all the art department turned up in maroon! Must have been a sign that today it would all come together and the team would prevail! Back to graphics again and my first task was writing letters from prison guards to the prison governor that the hero would riffle through in one of the scenes. Forging is the hardest thing! Even with the letters in front of me to copy it was difficult but hopefully they can still be used as none of them will be seen for long on camera. It’s a useful skill I can work on I think. After that it was all about grave yard mapping. Lisa had created this huge map out of the paper I bought and every box needed a number. Painstaking work but will look great on screen when it’s finished. I got feedback for the photo album! There were quite a few changes that needed to be made but all made perfect sense. I’d arranged the photos to fill each page but really the character would add photos as he went so the composition had to be changed. With the mount corners it looks so effective, much better than yesterday and now it’s a useable prop. Lisa was happy by the end of the day too so I’m really pleased it all came together.
Tomorrow is the start of shoot so we all had a little end-of-prep celebration with champagne, brownies and a card from the work experience to say thank you for everything. The things I’ve learnt this past week are invaluable and I’m so excited to take everyone’s advice onboard in my next projects. If I’m needed I’d very happily come back to do odd jobs and I intend to stay in touch with everyone so we can work together again in the future.
Max Fine, 3rd year, Performance Design and Practice, Central Saint Martins
Arriving at 8am Monday morning in a part of London I’ve not yet explored yet I was met with Lisa rushing down the stairs who introduced me to Martyn the Props master who explained a bit more about the department and encouraged questions, making me feel at ease joining the team! The jobs of the day included washing and de-branding five bin-bags of beer, spirit and mixer bottles after which I was sent on a props hunt to find a ‘Golden Virgina’ Metal tobacco tin. I make it my mission in life to track down any item I’m set the task of finding and this was my first treat on the job! After hopping on a bus heading to central London, unsure of my destination I set about researching on my iphone on the move. After realising that any old newsagent wouldn’t stock tobacco tins, I telephoned around Independent tobacconists, Selfridges and then Harrods to which I had no luck! Staying hopeful, I hopped on the tube and headed for Dunhill in Piccadilly, where I found a tobacco tin, promptly returned to HQ and started to break it down as the tin needed to look like it’d been with the character for a few years and used well.
Most of the day was spent breaking down various props. I got my hands on a box of vinyl records that required aging. I worked on them by emerging them in water to soak the cardboard covers and using a heat gun, sellotape and a variety of dirty down sprays they ended up being quite torn, creased and dulled in colour. Using the sellotpe I patched together the ripped box, and worked with the heatgun. The aim of my work was to add history to the box of records, as the character has owned them for a number of years. I set about destroying a shoe for a tramp character, sanding the leather, pulling out the stitching and wearing down the rubber sole. I then soaked the shoe overnight in coffee to stain the cotton insides, which provided the shoe with deep ‘sweat marks’ the following morning. Between these tasks I was sent off buying sundries for the art department, and also set about blending cat litter and plant food to a fine dust to recreate cremated remains for the 24 urns we needed to fill. This failed miserably as the blender gave up all signs of life after an hours blending.
The morning was taken up with myself , Dec and Abi painting a second coat of paint on the chapel Abi and Dec had painted on Tuesday. In the afternoon I spent time with Dalia the buyer around Brixton picking up various bits and pieces, crossing things off the list. We started hunting down the infamous Celtic scarf, photo corners and Rastafarian themed prop. The one thing that I feel slightly heartless about is when Dalia and I haggled down a £7 briefcase to £5 …. In a charity shop. But budgets budget, and persistence is a virtue – even where charity is involved.
Before coming into the office Thursday morning I popped to the shops to buy a few things on my list for that morning. Not being able to hunt down White photo corners, after phoning Selfridges, WH smith, Paperchase and practically every high street store we had to resort to the Internet. This was perhaps, my first irritating defeat. Other items on the mornings list were A2 tracing paper for Martyn and the illusive Celtic scarf (sel-tic not Kel-tic!) When returning to the office I picked up a list of more props from Dalia’s desk and set about doing some research on a Hot chocolate liquid dispensing machine. Contacting possible leads such as catering suppliers, machine manufacturers and café stockists I managed to track down a man named Lou who according to his colleague knew everything there was to know about such machines. Unfortunately he was on lunch and so the search would have to continue without him. We then emailed a few contacts about product placement opportunities because buying the machines new would have cost £585 (plus vat) and there was no chance of hiring one because they simply are not available. The afternoon was spent out and about with Dalia, buying for the set. We visited Chris Careys collections, a recycling warehouse that we later learnt stocks Deptford Market! This was where we found the biggest teddy bear in the world (an item that we’d been searching for). We also noted that there were hundreds of bags of women’s shoes, which could be useful for one of the sets.
The week had flown past! Friday morning I set about bringing Russ the bear back to life, by performing surgery on an unsuspecting dog. (bear-dog) Whilst the Dog lost its head, Russ gained a brain, together with his new stuffing and half a plank of wood the bear sat erect and proud only later to be rejected by the Director for being too big. (The search for the perfect sized large bear continues?) I was sent out buying a few bits for Dalia again, legal ribbon and labels to go on files in the national archive set. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find Cream labels/luggage tags with brown reinforcement holes. However – never deterred I tracked them down in Liberty’s stationary section (after exhausting all other options in the entire world.) Other jobs of the day included some graphic work on the cemetery map and breaking down some brand new pots and pans where I made them look as filthy, mouldy and used as possible.
It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience joining such a fantastic team, if only for the week! I’ve exercised my skill, and whilst I may have not felt challenged with the work set before me, the volume of work inspired my passion for Art department and my constant fascination with what the industry does. The week has encouraged me to be confident in my trade, to expect the unexpected and to embrace change. Whilst these may not necessarily be new ideas to me, they are defiantly concepts worth reminding myself of. This is a highly stimulating industry for me to get involved in; every task set exposes you to new people, new concepts and new ideas. I’m genuinely excited to finish up my degree and get cracking. Thirsty for knowledge, eager to explore, Lisa It’s been a pleasure.
Louisa Fisher, 3rd year, Costume with Performance Design, The Arts University College Bournemouth
22.05.2012 – Day 1
This morning before I got to the office I was slightly nervous about the work I was about to do, as I was worried that having not done a lot of production design at university would make me inexperienced and maybe slow the team down. However these nerves quickly passed as everyone I met was really friendly, enthusiastic and positive.
I learnt a lot about how a production design team works and about the project I was about to experience from Lisa Marie as we drove to the Cat Lady’s Flat to start painting it. She talked with me about what it is like to be the head of the production design department and compared it to being like a shepherd on the hill overlooking the sheep to make sure all the sheep can be seen as well as any oncoming danger. This really put what I’ve learnt to be a very complicated job into a short but concise explanation and is something I will always remember.
Most of today was spent with Steve painting the house that will be used as the Cat Lady’s house from a standard white décor into the green Gerhard Richter-esque paintings. We started by painting the doors green and I learnt and carried out the technique of ‘cutting in’ which would give Steve more time to experiment the walls. I learnt that even extremely experienced professionals still experiment with their craft to find ways of producing what the designer wants. After talking through different colours and Lisa’s Look book Steve began to Play around with putting paint on the walls and then dragging it to create the grid-like effect Lisa had spoken about. Steve kept looking back at Lisa’s look book and also at some more Gerhard Richter paintings he had found for reference. I thought that the idea of the look book was a really good one as it really gave an insight into Lisa’s vision and meant that the art department could keep looking back to it to make sure all their work and ideas complimented it. I learnt a lot from Steve as he told me how he got started in the industry and about the work he had done so far. He was also really friendly and encouraging and even though there was a lot of work to do he remained calm and confident making today a really fun atmosphere which, I learnt, is what you need to do especially when there is a lot of pressure on to keep the team going and to make everything less stressful.
There were some issues with the house owner and the work schedule. She had not been told the right days that the team would be working and was a bit confused about the work that we would be doing. I learnt that sometimes things like this would happen and maybe even slow down the process however it is still important to remember that these houses are people’s homes and you must make them feel as comfortable as possible.
Later on in the day I went to the Neighbour’s flat, a two storey house that was being made to look like the upstairs of a flat. I had never about the restrictions of filming in an upstairs apartment and having to get all the kit and furniture up the stairs. All of the elements showing that the house was on the bottom floor were being covered up; the stairs had had a wall built in front of them to make a hall way and the long French doors to the garden had had a wall with a door and window built in front which made it look exactly like an upstairs flat. This which at first was a surprise to me quickly made sense and I began to think of other ‘uptairs rooms’ that I had seen in films or on TV which were probably ground floor ones.
Whilst the rest of the team were working on the house I finished off the plan of the cemetery. This required me to write in five digit numbers very slowly and neatly, gradually changing pen styles to show a plan that had been written over a number of years and I saw how the different writing and pens of the different people who had helped to fill it in made it look realistic and not like a prop piece.
23.05.2012 – Day 2
Today I went to Wimbledon Car Boot with Dalia, the buyer. With us we had bought a list of props to look for and Dalia explained the difference between action props and dressing props and how different people were in charge of them, which I hadn’t known about. Dalia told me about how she handled prop buying; being really familiar with the script, characters, budget and look book, having a good understanding of the designers vision, not being afraid of taking risks if she could justify her decisions and if possible having choices for the designer to choose between.
We went around the car boot with our lists and when I saw something I thought would be appropriate I pointed it out the Dalia. We then looked at it closer and decided between ourselves whether to buy it. In some instances when Dalia was unsure of the props or needed a second opinion she took a picture of it and sent it to the designer which got her a yes or no answer on whether to buy it or not. Because of the extremely low budget of the film I understood how important it was to get the cheapest price possible for the props we were sourcing so Dalia and I haggled on some of the pieces. After watching Dalia succeed in reducing the prices of the items I learnt that a people skills and friendliness was really important especially when negotiating because a lot of help is required from other people to make the film work. After we had bought everything we needed we began to drive to a prop house to pick up some more prop pieces. However we got caught in some really busy traffic and never made it there because of the issue. Whilst we were stuck in traffic I took my opportunity to ask Dalia about how she got into the industry, the different things she had learnt and if she had any advice for me. She gave me some really good advice and I learnt a lot about the stories she told me and know that it will all help me in the future.
Dalia explained the importance of keeping receipts and budgets so we went through everything we had bought at the car boot and wrote receipts out for them with the date, what is was, and the special codes which had the scene, location and AP or DP depending whether they were an action prop or dressing prop on them. I then compiled a list of them all and sent them to Dalia who would then have them compiled into records with the rest of the receipts for the film.
24.05.2012 – Day 3
Today I went to the Cemetery with Rusty and took away the top soil and sandbags from the fake graves that had been used in one of the scenes. It was hard work but fun and Rusty showed me new skills such as how to properly carry heavy bags. I learnt a lot about Rusty’s experiences and she told me about all the work in the past she had done and some of the work she hopes to do in the future. I found learning about everyone’s experiences and listening to their advice just as beneficial as the skills I was learning as having one on one time with industry professionals is something that isn’t available at university and I wished we were able to have more of as I feel that the business side of the industry is something I don’t know enough about even though I will soon be graduating and will have to quickly learn.
When we got back to the office Martyn showed me a sleeping bag he wanted me to breakdown to look like a tramp had been living in for many years. He went through the different materials that were available and gave me some suggestions of how I could use them. I found breaking down the sleeping bag really fun and thought about it logically like Martyn had told me, thinking about what each stain and mark could be from and if it were real where it would be. Thinking about it this way made it easier and in my opinion made it look a lot more realistic. When I was breaking it down I thought about how important this process was to anything visual in a film, as giving an item as sign of having been lived in makes it go from a prop into a real object which the audience fully believes in which is so important in making a film truly capture an audience and make them believe in it. It took a lot longer than I had thought it was an even though I couldn’t get it finished I was really happy with how it looked and so was Martyn which was really reassuring.
25.05.2012 – Day 4
Today Lisa asked Felicity and I to go and find a Rastafarian hat. Lisa was very specific with the kind of hat she wanted. It had to be striped with the colours; red, green and yellow and it had to be big enough to stuff to make it seem it was over big dreadlocks. Lisa explained the purpose of the hat telling us it was for a photograph which was going to be taken face on so the hat had to come out at the sides. Knowing the purpose of the hat and then remembering it from the script made me a lot more focussed on what I though Lisa wanted to hat to look like which made picturing it a lot easier.
We started off in Brixton market and found that the easiest way of finding the hat was to ask as many people we could especially the stall owners that were selling Jamaican themed objects. Everybody we asked were really happy to help us and extremely helpful, recommending other places as well as their own. This taught me that asking other people and using their links and knowledge is a brilliant way of finding things. We found a lot of hats but unfortunately most of them were smaller than that ones we were looking for. Like I had seen Dalia do a couple of days ago we took photographs of some of the hats and sent them to Lisa to see if she thought we should buy them or not. After finding a hat we decided to move onto Peckham to have a look if we could find any more. We used the same approach asking as many people as we could and using our people skills. After a long day of searching we found another hat which meant we could return with two which would give Lisa an opportunity to choose between them. I think Felicity and I had done really well as a team as we had been focussed but still kept the day fun, by talking to different people and learning from each other’s experiences of the week so far.
When we returned back to the house we began to breakdown the tiles in the kitchen to make the house look dirty and lived in. Rosy showed us how to apply liquid latex to the grouting of the tiles to make sure the paint we applied wouldn’t stain the house and could be easily painted over. This was another instance when I had to remember that the sets we were building and breaking down were people’s houses so we had to be as careful as possible. Steve then showed us how to make the tiles look older by sponging on some ochre paint. I began to do so making the wall I was working on look old and grotty. Lisa then stopped me and explained to me that I had to think more logically and think where the wall would be dirtier such as around the light switched and near to the kitchen work top. I understood what she was saying and removed some of the paint I had applied as after studying it closer what I had done made it look dirty but not real enough. After I thought about it more logically I could see it started to look more real and lifelike. This taught me not to be precious about my work. Even if I spend a long time doing something if it isn’t right or what the designer or director wants I have to make sure I can change it to complete their vision. I also learnt the benefits of working in a team, as having Lisa, Steve and the other work experience girls look at my work they see it through fresh eyes and can see thing that I had maybe missed or wasn’t aware of, just like I could to theirs.
26.05.2012 – Day 5
On my last day I helped lay a carpet down in the flat. I started by helping Rusty clear out the cupboards of the house and pack it away into boxes. Without thinking I started taping the boxes up and packing them on top of each other but I was soon reminded that these were people’s things that were living at the house and they had to be able to get to their things, so I repacked some of the boxes keeping each shelf together and making sure everything was easy to get to. I was then told how the carpet was going to be laid down, we would line the edges of the floor with masking tape which could be ripped off without damaging the underneath of the floor, this would then have double sided tape attached to it which to carpet underlay would be stuck to. So I helped stick the making and double sides tape to the floor. I noticed that the others who were also doing this were doing it a lot quicker than I was and started to speed up the process but still maintaining the good quality of work I was doing to make sure I wasn’t slowing down the team as I learnt time was very important. During today I sat down with Lisa and Martyn and I learnt a lot about what it was like working in the industry listening to their past experience and gaining a lot of advice. I made sure I asked the questions that I was curious about and found that by talking to industry professionals helped me think about my future and how I can achieve it.
This week has been really hard with long hours and hard work but really fun and interesting. I feel that I have learnt so much about not only skills and experiencing difference elements of production design, but also by listening to different people and seeing their different approaches to work and how to make it and work in the industry. I’m really thankful for being allowed to work with such kind and knowledgeable professionals who have helped and guided me through learning a range of different things. I feel that I need to work on a few things such as logic and practicality but feel that these five days have helped me improve on these massively. Production design was something I had always been interested in but I hadn’t had a lot of knowledge about over my short time on the film it has shown me that it is definitely something I want to learn more about and become involved in the future and I am very thankful for the experience I have gained.
Rosy Pearce, MA TV Production, University College Falmouth
DAY 1 – Still Life
Today was the first day of my work experience with the Art Department on feature film “Still Life”, directed by Uberto Pasolini. I was very excited though fighting off sleep from getting the train at 6:50am to make it to the offices on time. First up I met the lovely Dalia, the action props buyer who I was to spend the day with. The first thing I learnt was that there is a difference between props; regular props which are in the background, and ‘action’ props which are used by the actors and feature in the script. This difference was not something I had thought about before and I had definitely not realised there was a whole separate job. So within the first 10 mins I had already learnt something new. Things were looking good. We then had to track down and collect some flowers as the shooting order had changed so they were needed immediately on set. It was all go. I then got to meet Martyn the props master and Lisa the production designer and they were really friendly. This seems like a good crew to work with. And I got to see the set, albeit from afar. Next up I was tracking down various props including gold name plates (which I managed to get for free. Bonus!) and a surprisingly elusive cane used by a blind person, which I later found out is called a guide cane and largely seems to have been replaced by a thick white walking stick which was not what we were after. Seems even the simplest props can turn out to be tricky. I headed of with Dalia to scour some wholesale shops (a useful trick) for the perfect granny shopping trolley and leather key ring. I was intrigued to find that there was a checked theme running throughout the film, the trolley, oven gloves etc. Everything is subtly tied together and intrinsically linked. There is so much thought that goes into every detail, even on a relatively simple set. It seems you get to be really creative but I was also surprised at how specific every item is and how it has to look exactly right. Later I got to try out different handwriting styles for one of the props which was a bit of a challenge and I actually quite enjoyed it as my writing is usually the same old illegible scribble and I’d developed quite a nice slanty style by the end of it. I was pleased to learn that it seems like there are a lot of opportunities to get into this line of work and learn on the job rather than having to do another course if I try hard enough and that’s really exciting and inspiring knowing that I could be doing this in a few years time.
DAY 2 – Lessons in wallpapering
Today was my second day of work experience and I was with ‘Rusty’ aka Lisa who was equally lovely. After climbing up into the big van we headed over to one of the sets to begin preparing it to be dressed later that day. Set prep generally involved lots of DIY decorating skills so I spent my time polyfillering, sanding, painting and even learnt how to wallpaper. I actually really enjoyed it, it felt like quite a chilled day even though we were on a very tight deadline, it was good to be doing physical work and very rewarding to see the set at the end of the day. I chatted with Rusty and learnt loads about the industry and starting out and also did lots of driving around to collect furniture etc. This is certainly a big part of the job so going to have to face the horror that is driving on London roads one day. Everyone says that driving and sitting in traffic seems to take up a large part of their time. It was a little bit torturous being stuck inside on what was possibly the hottest day of the year but I am feeling very positive and that I both want to and can achieve getting into this line of work. The final set dressing was really fun if a little bit hectic, like a crazy dream of crochet and lace and fluffiness. Totally surreal yet also feasible as this characters nest and life. It has been another long but very interesting and educational day. Looking forwards to tomorrow!
DAY 3 – No weddings and a funeral
Day 3 of work experience dawned far too early and found me hanging out in a cemetery. Not a morbid obsession with the departed but lugging around bags of sand. Of course we had to be sensitive the needs and nature of the location which is an important point to learn and be mindful of. Today I was working with props master Martyn and we chatted a bit about getting into the industry. We then wound up at the same set again to do some more set painting with Rusty. This was a nice way to pass the day, surprisingly therapeutic. I found it nice to be too busy to worry about all my other uni work for once and just to be focussing on the job in hand and achieving it. Lisa the production designer then came over and I was chatting for a while about the industry and working in it and she had some really good ideas and advice. For instance I never knew that in film you never paint a wall just one colour. The best production design work does not stand out on screen but is integral to the story an creating the world of the film so the story is utterly believable and engrossing. I also learnt that being a production designer is only about 2% creativity and the rest of the time is spent on people, managing and logistics!
We then got to dress the set and this was really exciting. I scoured wedding magazines until I felt quite the fanatical bride. Cutting out and collecting pictures and feeling a little like a crazy wedding fanatic. There were some lovely dresses I noticed and also some horrific ones, Halloween costume style or miniskirt wedding dress anyone? I really enjoyed dressing the set and creating patterns on the walls. By the end it looked totally transformed. Through the set you become integrated into the characters world and mindset. The setting is so significant to the character and how you feel about them. This has to be one of the highlights of the week. I am really interested in set dressing so this was a great day and has reaffirmed this.
DAY 4 – Of props and painting
Today was a fun morning in the sun getting creative and staining paper and fabric to get rid of the white which glares on camera and also giving a real grubby look. And the secret ingredient was…a vat of tea. The old tea parchment trick. But the trick of film is not to overdo it or to make it look too deliberate. I am learning that subtlety is key and there is also a great difference between the way we perceive the world with human eyes and the way it looks through a lens.
En route to set I received some handy hints from Martyn about how to make things look aged and worn out and some tricks and effects that would be useful for “Gone”. How to make plants dead (heat, dark, plastic wrap) and healthy dogs look scruffy (sugar water!). There are all sorts of interesting effects you can get in a spray can such as ageing, cobwebs and apparently a heat gun works for everything.
I there found out about a set ‘strike’ which is basically going in and blitzing everything and completely clearing and stripping back the set as quickly as possible. I then met “Scenic Steve” who was the scene painter responsible for adding in all the painting effects and texturising the surfaces of the walls. Playing with paint colour, pattern, tone and texture to realise the Production Designer’s vision. He was a really nice guy and had had a pretty interesting life and worked on everything from films, tv, shop windows to snowboarding. I was great learning about colour tone, layering, watering down and different effects. We were working on getting the set really grimy looking but still with the theme of the film. The character is the starting point and the inspiration, the set externalises their mindset. This set sounds like its going to be really visually interesting with lots of texture.
DAY 5 – Getting Dirty
Today was back on the set. This time to transform it to look really grungy and grimy. The first trick was to seal off the grouting in the tiles as the paint would be impossible to get off. First we tried cutting down masking tape but this turned out to be very time consuming and didn’t really work. At all. So as an alternative we used liquid latex. This was really fun and worked a treat. It reminded me of being at primary school and covering your hands with PVA glue just so you could peel it off. It was painstaking work but necessary and once I had finished the real fun started. We had to dirty down the set, to tone down the white of the spotless kitchen tiles and make them look really, grimy and mucky and filthy using paint, sponge and latex. It turns out latex, if you layer it makes a really realistic dried fat. Mmm tasty. I learnt that the trick is not to overdo it. I did get a little over enthusiastic with the grime. I had to take it back and tone it down a little. Lisa said the key is to step back and ask if you would believe it as an audience member? I think it is about replicating life creatively rather than making art which appears too obvious on screen. Although sets should also be artistic, imaginative, story worlds and not merely the replication of existing reality.
I also had a really great chat with Lisa the Production Designer about her ideas influences and passions which drive her creative vision. I was surprised to learn the utmost importance of art, contemporary and definitely historically. It was a real eye opener to how deep you have to go into the characters and society’s mindest of the time. The influence of culture and ideals is so much more important than historically accurate replicas. Best brush up on my Art history. Classical architecture also. I knew studying it at A-level would be useful after all. Talking about Art, history, culture and creativity got me really excited and opened up a whole new world of ideas. I had forgotten how much I loved and enjoyed studying art and design throughout my life. The creativity, ideas, textures, the sense of what it can do to a place or transform our idea of the world is what really got me into studying the arts all those years ago and has been the driving force of my practice ever since. It’s really exciting I can’t wait to take what I have learnt and put it into my own practice, to create my interpretation of the story. There is also the intriguing notion of colour theory which I will certainly have to learn more about.
I have had a fantastic week with the Art Department of Still Life. I have learnt so much and it has really opened my eyes to the realities and practicalities of working in the Art Department and what it takes to bring the world to life on screen. It has been very inspiring, very educational and very worthwhile. I have met some fantastic people and am looking forwards to what my future may bring and working on more films.
Lily McLean, 2nd year, Design for Film & Television, Nottingham Trent University
Day One- Monday 28th May
Everyone in the art department has been so friendly, welcoming and most of all helpful. The morning started by unloading the prop store to dress cat lady’s house, it is always surprising how many items you need to dress a room. Set dressing really exciting, I enjoy adding the attention to detail and trying to get inside the character’s head. Considering every detail, such as would she be tall enough to put the boxes high up? And how would she store all her paperwork and bulk buys? Painting the wallpaper stencil in wax was very time consuming, but in the end looked fantastic. I have learnt it’s important to use texture in sets, building up layers of dirt and props etc.
Day 2 Tuesday 29th May
I spent the morning painting the walls of cat lady’s house it was interesting to learn touches that can add texture and effect. For example creating a hatch pattern in glaze catches the light very subtly without adding glaringly obvious graphic. However, I have also learnt that a job is never as done as you sometimes expect, from painting the room again! I have also learnt that it is best to have more items for set dressing they can always be taken out. Researching chip shop signs around Peckham will help with our sign designing task tomorrow.
Day 3 Wednesday 30th May
Spending the morning on set was great to see the script come to life as the director’s vision. In true art department glamour we dressed the skip with props from the house. It has been fascinating to ask people in the art department about their histories and how they ended up in this industry. I have found that most of the time it is purely by accident. I spent the afternoon driving from South East to North London to collect upholstered cushions, which took so long in the traffic. But was definitely worth it to save money in the long run as the blue suede looks beautiful.
Day 4 Thursday 31st May
This week has gone so quickly, I feel like I am just getting into the swing of everything and unfortunately it is nearly time to leave. This morning I had to help flatten shoeboxes and sort bottles from the set strike, we drove to the recycling plant, who were having none of it, dismissing everything as commercial waste. So we had to be slightly sneaky and go to the recycling plant at Asda to avoid paying, I have been learning simple tricks of the trade that can help keep the budget down. Creating the window graphic this afternoon has been useful to add to my Illustrator skills, as I only know the basics at the moment. I also spray painted bottle caps for the whiskey this afternoon, which has taught me to never spray onto my hands, as it is impossible to get off! I usually get really exhausted at some point in the working week, but that hasn’t been the case this time. I’m sad it’s the last day tomorrow.
Day 5 Friday 1st June
The final day was spent mainly at the location for cat lady’s house, as the set needed striking. We also organised the prop store into a more logical order for set dressing next week. An important task as it will save time in the long run. We didn’t have to replace the owners belongings as thoroughly as usual as the room still needed to be painted. I think the attention to detail that has gone into the set also needs to be put into the location restore. So, people’s mess has to be replaced, even if they didn’t want it to be there in the first place.
Charlie Heath, 1st year, Arts & Humanities, University of Chichester
Day 1 – Monday.
Monday started off with arriving at the Art Department office where we were introduced to the building and the various employees who worked there. It was then when I got to see how all these employees cooperate and interact within their office environment. One of which was Martyn, the Props master, who predominantly instructed me and the other work experience students on the tasks I would be getting on with for the week. Martyn’s role is to coordinate and prepare all the props required for filming, whether this is to reinforce characterization or setting. Our first job was to load boxes and bulks of food from a local storage facility and onto a truck to be taken to a East London flat which is being used as a set for filming. This was when I first realized that a great deal of the Art departments workload consisted of manual labour, shifting props like furniture and other objects from location to location. We then unloaded these boxes and used them to dress the set in order to help recreate the vision which Lisa, the Production Designer, had designed. We were told to take these large amounts of empty shoe boxes and stack them in, on top and around crevices within the set in order to further emphasize to the characters obsession with purchasing things in bulk quantity. This helped me in understanding the importance of emphasizing characterization through a settings mise-en-scene. The second half of the day consisted of joining Martyn as he went to pick up a sign from a printing office that would be used for the entrance to an abandoned ex-military base in Uxbridge, another location for filming. Once we arrived at the military base, we put the sign up and started to clear the front entrance of overgrown weeds that had clearly grown over the years. This helped me to understand not only the responsibilities of a props master in a film’s art department but also how important making a location appear presentable before filming as it adds to the authenticity and professionalism of the piece, creating the illusion that the base is still operational.
It was this point in the week when the 8-7 work hours I was working, that are usually required in the industry, really dawned on me. It helped me to appreciate the perseverance, enthusiasm and stamina necessary for in order to cope with the demands of these types of roles.
Day 2 – Tuesday
On the Tuesday, I went with Martyn to a Fish and Chip shop in Kew Gardens where another scene would be filmed. This was in order to measure the dimensions of the shops front sign in order to replace it with one made being the art department, which was more appropriate for the film. Once we arrived, Martyn and I took down the measurements, noting them down as we went for reference. I noticed how specific the measurements had to be to ensure that the sign fitted properly so attention to detail was critical.
Day 3 – Wednesday
Wednesday was perhaps the most exciting day of the week as I had the opportunity to observe the production crew film a short sequence for the film outside a council estate in East London. This allowed us to observe the various roles, who are involved in a large-scale film set, in action and how they interact with each other. Before this however, we had to dress the set. This consisted of carefully placing various forms of furniture into an industrial skip which would act as the belongings of a deceased client of John May’s that have been dumped by builders who are clearing out his flat following his death. The director, Uberto Pasolini, predominantly remained behind the monitor with the script supervisor, observing the footage that is being recorded, periodically moving around and interacting with the camera operator, instructing on how he wants something filmed. The overriding sense of focus and professionalism was clearly evident while I was present, with everyone knowing their responsibilities and acting upon them efficiently and cooperatively. As a result, such a brief segment of an overall scene was done in only a few hours, expressing how important it is to keep to a schedule and making effective use of time. Despite this, an inconvenient situation occurred involving a dog within the scene, which would not behave properly or act on cue, forcing multiple takes, much to everyones’, especially the director’s annoyance. However it was interesting to see how professionally this was dealt with, where time was allowed to help achieve the shot correctly. Cooperation between the dog trainer and the director, debating on alternate places for her to stand and therefore have greater control over her dog’s actions, as well as patience and composure seemed to prevail. I felt this worked well as it will eventually improve the end result through taking that extra time to get something right.
Day 4 – Thursday
My main duty on the Thursday was preparing a flat for filming, by painting the outlines of its interior walls, which would later be filled in by painters within the scene who would be played by actors. This activity required a steady hand and attention to detail, which is something I did not exhibit well at first due to my lack of experience. However after some time and guidance from Rusty, a fellow employee, I eventually got the hang of it, lining tape around the edges of certain corners to maintain tidiness and going over what I’d done to make the coating seem fuller. This is a technique which painters do in real life when preparing to paint walls so this needed to be done in order to maintain the authenticity of the scene for the audience and so neat and careful presentation was essential.
Day 5 – Friday
On the last day of my work experience, I helped clear out one of the film sets of all its furniture and props. We loaded everything into vans and placed it back into storage, after clearing out excess cardboard and other recycles in order to make room for the furniture. We also maneuvered things around the storage space to make specific items of immediate requirement more accessible. This made me realize how effective management of storage facilities could greaten the resourcefulness of spaces such as these and the contents they hold.
A final consideration I had about my time helping out the art department this week was their genuine friendliness and a sense of a family-like environment, which I’m sure they try to maintain consistently. Not only did this make me feel at ease for what was my first real form of work experience of this nature, but also it provided proof that a friendly working environment is a much more efficient and productive way of working.
Christine Pigott, MA in Television Production, University College Falmouth
Day 1: Monday May 28th
Today was my first day as a member of the Art Department team. The day kicked off with a welcoming and warm introduction from Martyn, the props master. We had a quick chat about the art department as a whole and how I, as an aspiring director, can gain useful knowledge from this experience. Shortly afterwards I met more crewmembers and assisted them in loading and unloading a truck containing props for cat lady’s house. At cat lady’s, I helped to dress the set. I stacked boxes, stuffed cat liters, placed products throughout the room, and helped with giving the room an overall cat lady feel. It was an interesting task and I found the process quite intriguing; it was a nice mind challenge to get into cat lady’s head and figure out how she would have had the place based on her character and the brief. In the end the place felt very claustrophobic and tight with all the stuff we had in it. And looking back, we definitely made cat lady look a bit crazy with the abundance of cat liters we had stacked up all over the place accompanied by what appeared to be hundreds of shoe boxes. After dressing cat lady I made my way to Billy’s house where I met more of the team and Lisa, the Production Designer. There I painted some wooden panels. In between painting, I had a few chats with Lisa about the art department and the industry in general. I found these chats to be very useful and practical; they were like mini injections of knowledge that both informed me of things I hadn’t thought/known about.
Next I went off with Caitlin to do some prop buying. We drove to a local store to pick up a few items. I also went to several corner stores to ask for a carrier bag. I did receive a few strange looks mixed with confusion and sympathy as I randomly asked for a bag, but I ended up getting them in the end – mission accomplished. Whilst prop hunting, Caitlin and I had a great conversation about the industry and our backgrounds. We discovered we had a lot in common.
Lastly, I headed back to Billy’s house where I helped dress a rundown messy bedroom. I initially went into the task thinking it would be fairly straight forward, but boy was I in for a treat. Much to my surprise, making a room look unkempt is not as easy a task as I imagined. I quickly learned this after laying out clothes throughout the room; It was either too neat or too staged. It was tricky to get the room to look natural. Luckily I was working with Dalia who was able to give me instant feedback on my prop placement. Who knew there was an art to making things look really bad? It’s something that I often take for granted as a viewer. It was nice to have a go at it and see the room transform before my eyes.
I’ve witnessed first hand today that the art department is crucial in developing the look and realism of the film. They are key in bringing a space to life and giving it character. I learned so much on my first day, which was jam-packed with a wide variety of tasks, which I love. I’ve learned about the:
- Various roles in the art department.
- Relationship between the art department and the director.
- All the work and steps taken to bring a space to life.
- A viewfinder app that helps you to see what a space will look like with different lenses.
- Budget includes paying the workers, setting up the set, and restoring it to its original state.
- Find what’s unique about you and bring something to the table no matter where you are in the world.
- When dressing, keep the character in mind – get in their head.
Day 2: Tuesday May 29th
Today I got to put my creativity into use. I came up with a list of 20 possible names for Mary’s fish and chip shop including: Cod on the Rod, Mary’s Soul Fish, and Chip Off the Old Block. I got my colleagues’ input as well and in the end, we ended up going with Mary’s Plaice, a name Lily, also on work experience, suggested. From there, the two of us ventured the streets of London seeking inspiration for a shop sign that I’d later design in Photoshop. We drove around looking for fish and chip shops. When we did come across one, I’d snap a photo on my phone. After gathering a dozen or so references, we headed back to cat lady’s house where we helped to dress one of the bedrooms.
Later that day Lily and I had drafted a few possible designs for Mary’s Plaice. We shared the designs with Lisa to get her feedback. I found this process to be very useful because I learned something and it changed the way I approached the task. After showing Lisa a range of logos, I realized, after her feedback, the importance of staying in the headspace of the character. Some of the designs I presented were too complicated and fancy and didn’t reflect the personality of the character and what they would have done. In short, the design must fit the character’s taste. Simple enough, but it was something I overlooked in the excitement of the task. After taking that into consideration, we decided to go with a simple design similar to that of a restaurant that we had referenced, Mary’s restaurant.
Today was definitely another full and informative day. It was great to know that I was actually doing tasks that contributed to the realism of the film. I also liked that Lisa gave of us a great deal of creative control throughout the process while offering her guidance and expertise.
Day 3: Wednesday May 30th
Today was a special day because I got to experience being on set for the first time. I witnessed first hand the relationship between the director and the DP. I got to see everyone such as the 1st AD, standby art director and script supervisor do their jobs lives. It was fantastic. My colleagues and I arrived on the scene early to dress a skip to be filmed that day. We stuffed the skip with old furniture and rubbish and then watched as the film crew filmed a scene where the lead actor walked near the skip. What normally wouldn’t have been an amusing scene turned out to be quite entertaining because the dog involved in the scene never seemed to do what he was supposed to do on cue. After hanging around on set for a bit, chatting a bit with the standby art director, and then clearing out the skip, I stopped by cat lady’s house. It looked completely different from when I had last scene it. The clutter was gone, the boxes were gone, and it was much more toned down and minimalistic. Shortly afterwards I headed back to home base to work on the sign design in Photoshop. I put together a few samples from which one was chosen for me to develop further.
Day 4 & 5: Thurs. & Fri. May 31st & June 1st.
Over the last couple days of working in the art department, I spent a majority of my time researching and designing the awning and menu for Mary’s Plaice. I put together several samples of the logo in Photoshop from which one was chosen. Through the creative process I learned about various design elements that were needed to make the sign as realistic as possible. It opened my eyes to the importance of the small details, such as the established date and number, which I originally didn’t include. It was great getting feedback throughout the process because it allowed me to reevaluate what I had done in addition to getting a glimpse of all the factors that art directors consider.
On the finally day I focused on designing a menu for Mary’s Plaice. I drew up a detailed sample in Photoshop after referencing several traditional fish and chip restaurants. After the design was set and I had done a practice run, I then created the actual menus by hand using a chalk pan, a chalkboard, a pencil and ruler. When the menus were done, Lisa gave me some tips on how to add realism to the menus. She suggested adding chalk smears, tape, and stains. These elements added significantly to making the menu appear as if it had been in the restaurant for years. Once I again, I learned that you have to get into the mindset of the time for the props you are creating. All in all, I had a fantastic time working in the art department for ‘Still Life’. My experience there was fun, informative, and enriching. I have a clear understanding of the role of the art department and how they help in bringing a film to life. I got to see first hand how their efforts translate to what we see on screen. What I really loved about this experience in particular is that Lisa gave me creative control and she allowed me to learn from each task that I did. In many ways she was a mentor as much as she was a supervisor. She gave me and the other art department assistants valuable insight into the industry while encouraging us to pursue our dreams. I’m grateful for the experience and look forward to seeing the final film.
Ollie Reynolds, 2nd year, Film Production, University of Creative Arts, Farnham
Arrived very early thanks to the zero traffic (courtesy of the Queen’s Jubilee bank holiday Monday!). I was introduced to the department and the film by Martyn, the Props Master. The first job of the day was to visit the lock up where all the spare props etc were being stored until needed/taken back. we picked up a few bits for John May’s flat and some (heavy) doors that had been taken out of the location previously for a different set. We spent the rest of the day at the location, painting walls to fit in with Lisa’s colour scheme and sprucing up furniture that was to be used in the location- attempting to create a painterly effect to follow Lisa’s art department Look-Book. The location had previously been used for a different flat – Billy Stokes. The kitchen had been dressed to look very dirty and run down, which meant we had to remove the yellow/grease effects from the walls. The tiles had been painted with liquid latex first and then with water-based paint on top, so as to protect the grouting underneath and prevent staining (great tip!). It was very satisfying to peel off chunks of latex from the walls! We then scrubbed off the paint to return the kitchen to a cleaner state, ready to be transformed once again. I finished the day with paint in various places… including in my hair. Tip of the Day: Don’t wear nice clothes!
Another Bank Holiday! – unless you work in an art department! The first job of the day was to travel to Kew, where a scene had been shot the previous day in a working fish and chip shop. Now filming at the location had finished, we had to restore it to its previous condition so the owners could re-open their business! The sign made for the film had to be taken down, and the actual shop’s sign put back up. We also had to remove graphics that had been stuck on the windows (except for a couple that the owners decided they wanted to keep there!) and replace a mirror on the wall. We left the location restored to its original state before the art department had gotten their hands on it!
My next (not so glamorous) job was to clean out a couple of cool boxes that had had fish stored in them, to be used in the Fish and Chip shop scene. Of course, the fish had been in there for a while, so it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience! I managed to stink out the kitchen quite nicely. After plenty of hot water, washing up liquid and bleach I managed to get rid of the fishy smell! (But I was still slightly put me off my dinner when I returned home to find my sister had cooked me salmon).
Rachael and I were given the project of painting a park bench for the afternoon. The bench was to be painted in a worn/aged effect. It was to look mainly worn in two places, to represent where people had been sitting on it for years and had gradually worn the paint away. Because the bench had been hired, we were first required to paint the whole thing with liquid latex, so that whatever paint went on it afterwards could be removed, so the bench could be returned in the state it was hired. However, we discovered that by painting on top of the latex and then peeling it off created a great worn/chipped paint effect. It worked great and we were very pleased with the end result! Tip of the Day: Liquid Latex is awesome.
I met Caitlin in the morning to go on a buying trip! We spent the morning driving all over London looking around second hand furniture shops, taking photos of potential items so as to show Lisa for her approval, and reserving various items of furniture for the Hospice location. We also visited a few shops and a market looking for a few smalls and fabrics, using reference images from Lisa to find the right I and look etc.
When we returned to the office, we were told that the perfect plastic bag had been found for a scene that was to be shot the next day. However, it had a big graphic on the front of it which would not be able to be shown in the film. The options were to either find a similar useable bag, or to remove the logo. Luckily Martyn had a great tip for us all, which involved using Graffiti removal spray on the graphic to wipe it off! So my next job was to find said Graffiti remover. This proved more difficult than first realised. I drove to three different stores in various places in London; one who were out of stock (the closest shop to stock it would have been in Margate!), one shop didn’t stock it at all, and one shop I was chased out of because apparently you have to be a member to enter (woops!). I eventually found an alternative; graffiti remover gel. As this appeared to be the only option available this is what I bought (and apparently it worked a treat- phew!). Tip of the Day: When driving in London, double the amount of time your Sat-Nav says it will take!
I spent the morning with Chloe researching a few images for a travel agents set. We also needed to get hold of a void train ticket so as to be manipulated for a scene in the film where the ticket would be shot in close-up. So I walked to the nearest train station to ask for either a voided ticket or the cheapest one they had! After a very awkward conversation with the ticket guy at New Cross station, who seemed very confused at my request for a blank ticket going to no-where, I returned with success! My next job was to do another shopping trip! We needed more liquid latex (which so far had proved very handy!) and a perforator to be used to create some cheques for a fake bank. We then spent the rest of the day at the location for John May’s flat. The kitchen was being transformed from the dark wood it actually was to a more modern grey/blue- following Lisa’s colour scheme. I spent the afternoon covering the edges of cupboards and doors with fablon to cover any dark wood that might be in shot, and that wouldn’t be covered by the new fronts to the cupboard doors. The walls were also painted with a glaze effect which would subtly show up under the lighting for the film. We attempted to finish early, all going back to the office to throw a mini surprise “party” for Martyn’s birthday- with some cheesy birthday music, cake and fizz, I think we may have got more excited than he was!
Final day at Still Life! I was very sad to be leaving, it had been such a great week! We spent the day at John May’s flat location, continuing in the kitchen, sticking a strong double sided (carpet) tape onto the edges of the cupboard doors so that new fronts could be stuck onto the dark wood underneath. We had to protect the doors underneath first with masking tape so that they wouldn’t be damaged, and make it easier to remove all the sticky! I also measured each door ready for Martyn to cut the new cupboard fronts at the weekend. We then tidied the location, about finished off in the living room with a bit of dressing, ready for the director to visit and see what had been done! The location looked great! I was very sad to leave at the end of the day, I had learnt so much and I know for sure now that the art department is where I want to be!
Ruby Utley-Williams, 2nd year, Costume with Performance Design, Arts University College at Bournemouth
Today was the first day at the Still Life Art Department. Luckily as my parents live in South East London it was really easy for me as I just walked there! We got introduced first and foremost to Martyn the Props Master who gave us a low down on the kind of thing that the previous weeks work experience had done, what we’d be doing and generally how the shoot was going! Felt instantly welcome which was lovely. We then went to the lock-up with Rusty to get some doors to take on the van with us to John May’s flat. It had been used for two other sets so far and each time transforming, I was really excited to see the location. We started painting wooden cabinets for the CD’s at the flat with the paintily effect that features so strongly in Lisa’s look-book. I then painted the fake front door and it was interesting to see all the camera trickery! I was then pulled off from painting to go with Caitlin, the buyer, to help do some dying and some curtain making, as I chose costume and set design, as apposed to costume making I felt glad that I had had one initial year of sewing teaching or else I would have been a bit nervous?
It was decided that instead of going to the flat again that I would have a day with Caitlin, buying, dying and sewing! We went to try and get a few props for the set like an ink blotter, which just seemed impossible to find! We also picked up a new lampshade and things to help us complete the curtains. I did some hemming and dyed the lampshade blue to help it fit in with the colour scheme of John Mays. I found it really interesting spending the day with Caitlin, buying is something that I have always had an interest in however, I feel that my on the spot decision making skills are not fast enough yet, and that to be a buyer you have to be quite confident in your own choices and ideas, as well as making sure you adhere to the designers wants and needs. There is a lot of problem solving involved in all aspects of the art department, I learnt that it is important to keep calm and not make rash decisions!
I spent this day with Chloe; the graphic designer on the team. I am in some ways familiar with programmes like Photoshop. However I had only used it in terms of Costume Design; for example adding scanned in fabrics to drawings and being able to add borders and names. So therefore this kind of neat and graphic use of Photoshop was a little bit of a challenge for me! I had to make holiday posters for travel agents, advertising their holidays, it was important they looked authentic, like they would be up in a shop window however not too much detail or colour. I think I was quite slow at first but after I had done a few I got into the swing of it! I also had to go through facebook and find holiday photos of my friends abroad in obvious places for the other half of the posters. Most if not all of my friends were happy to oblige! Later in the afternoon Rachael and I part decorated the inside of one of the coffins with silk which staple gunned pleats into! We did a few other odds and ends and then finished, the week was flying by!
The previous evening Martyn had sent me on a mini mission to head off to find a trim for the coffin, and also buy some Pigs Might Fly fake blood from Screenface. I confirmed with Caitlin that I would head off to Rolls and Rems in Lewisham, a fabric shop that I knew well coming from South East London but also one Caitlin had become familiar with working in the area. I walked up to Rolls and Rems, and found nothing! All the trimmings were either too thin so they wouldn’t cover over our staples, or the right size but the wrong colour as I needed a stark white. I explained my situation and they suggested buying lace and then sewing and cutting to the right size, however I thought this could look a little messy. I then remembered that Sakhi Fabrics also in Lewisham has a massive range and in there I managed to find the perfect bright white lace that would be thick enough to cover everything and for a bargain £1.50 a metre! Luckily I had measured the coffin the day before and new I needed 4m. I then headed to Screenface near the Seven Dials in Convent Garden to buy the Pigs Might Fly blood, it was exciting to be sent out buying and I really enjoyed that morning!
In the afternoon I went with Lisa back to John Mays flat, she talked very openly and honestly about the joys and the struggles of the job and the industry. I found the individual chats with all the members of the team about their current role, and how they had got their/what more they wanted to achieve one of the most interesting parts of the week as I feel that everyone gave an honest and realistic view of how the industry works and what goes on.
When we got to the flat disaster had struck, one of the curtains was longer than the other! Caitlin and I couldn’t understand where we had gone wrong! Nevertheless I got to see Scenic Steve do some great paint effects on the walls, and the CD racks Ollie and I had done previously. John Mays was finally coming together! We also got to have cake and fizz back at base as it was Martyn’s birthday the next day and the last time we’d see him!
The last day and feeling a little sad! Can’t believe how quickly the week has gone! Spent the morning fixing the curtain error, and me and Caitlin re-upholstered a chair in some great fabric, took us a little longer than expected! We then had to tidy and dress the set as Uberto the Director was visiting the set that evening in preparation for next weeks filming! All in all I had a fantastic time with a fantastic team and want to say a huge thank you for letting me on board. I got to do such a variation of tasks, I couldn’t even fit them all in to the diary, and got a really broad sense of how it all works on set! It was a fantastic opportunity and a great week, can’t wait to see the film now!
Louis Grant, 2nd year, Film Production, University of Creative Arts, Farnham
After arriving and being offered a welcome cup of coffee, it was explained to us that the current art department office was needed for additional props storage, so everything had to be moved into a new unit upstairs. This was probably the best first task we could have had, as it was the perfect way not only to wake up in the morning but also to get to know everyone working in the art department. After this we met various members of the team more formally, and learned a little about their job titles and roles on the film. Once the office was fully reassembled, Chloe (graphic designer for the film) set me the task of cutting and assembling rail tickets that she had designed, along with cheques for John May’s chequebook. After I’d finished this we headed out to a memorial stonemason that had been selected by the locations manager for the headstone-carving scene. The catch was that the budget did not cover actual purchase and carving of a stone, so this would have to be shown in another way. It turned out to not be a problem as the method now employed by the mason involved sand-blasting through a stencil to form the lettering; far easier to imitate a stencil on the stone for the camera than a chisel chipping away at it.
In the afternoon I began work on a Photoshop visualisation for the shop-front of the travel agency location, selecting and using images sourced by earlier work experience people for the window display, based on effectiveness of composition, trying them in the display to check that the layout and colours worked with the shop front. Chloe told me that the photos we wanted were especially those depicting people enjoying themselves – the director’s idea was to have a sea of happy faces staring out at John May from the window, and it was fun trying to realise this vision. As I worked, it became apparent that we were slightly short on ideal images, so I spent the remainder of the afternoon sourcing and obtaining permission for appropriate photographs.
In the morning I resumed work on the travel agency, and showed Lisa my progress. She and Chloe gave constructive criticism regarding how well the visuals worked to realise the director’s wishes; some of the images didn’t show enough people together in one shot, or the subjects were too small in the frame to read on camera, so I set to cropping some of the images, discarding others entirely, and sourcing replacements. The challenge here was finding images that not only showed enough people for the purpose of the display, but also where I could obtain sufficient permission from the subjects; but soon enough I had assembled a number that I thought worked well together.
However, because most of the photographs came from Facebook or were reduced in size and quality for sending via email they were mostly low-resolution, and contained artifacts and other issues resulting from repeated compression. When enlarged to A3 (as needed for the display) these problems became far more apparent. I used blur and noise reduction filters in Photoshop coupled with pieces of the unaltered original images and touched-up with various brush tools to create composites of each image which remedied the worst of the problems.
I should mention here that while working in the office for two days hearing information trickle in from set, listening to decisions being made, seeing developments happen with the film in real-time gave me insight into the workings of the department, and a real overview of how the film was progressing. Despite what Chloe and I discovered the day before at the masons, the director had decided he wanted to see a traditional carving process taking place, which would mean actually buying the stone after all. After a short discussion, Lisa and Chloe came up with a plan to get the stone resurfaced once it had been used for the shoot, so it could potentially be sold on to recoup some of the purchase cost – just one of many tricks for working to a budget whilst dealing with constantly changing requirements. My time in the office has taught me that no decision is set in stone…
Today began with double-checking the travel agency display with Martyn, and then going to get the A3 posters printed. Although before (and after) printing I was still unsure if the resolution of the photos was good enough to read on camera despite my work, Martyn put me at ease by saying that if you held the photos at arms’ length and squinted, they looked fine – an effective quick way of imitating the focus and contrast of the camera.
Next Martyn told me I would be going to set. A quick trip on the tube, and I arrived at the location – a Greek Orthodox Church being used for one of the funeral scenes. As the coffin was slightly small for the actor playing the dead man, it was necessary to get the coffin down from its trestles to let him out to rest after every shot was completed. It was particularly interesting to experience the unit in action having heard news from set while in the office, and having formed a notion of what was going on, then to compare the reports and discussions with the reality. I could then see the reasoning for decisions made in the office. It also gave me a better knowledge of all the core roles on a film set, and especially the responsibilities of the standby art director and standby props.
Being on a large location meant learning quickly where the “safe” places to stand were in relation to the camera and lights, and who was doing what for what purpose (so as to know when it was okay to stay in place or necessary to move position). Getting to stand behind the monitor during shots, to see a scene assembled and discussed (e.g. whether it was necessary to have the actor in the coffin for a long shot), and then framed and lit through the camera, was great. The final task of the day was painting one of two folding chairs in a particularly strong shade of dark pink that Lisa had chosen for the hospice scene.
I began today by finishing the chair from yesterday, and getting extra keys cut for the office. In the afternoon we went to prepare the location for the interior of Kelly’s house. This being just a normal suburban house, it required the clearing of the entire lounge. Martyn talked through the most efficient way to clear a room quickly as we worked: starting with the smalls and moving on to larger items and then finally the main pieces of furniture, preparing the room for a set in such a way that it could be returned to its original state once shooting was over, so reducing the impact on the schedule to a minimum. As Martyn said, it is amazing how quickly a room can be cleared if you don’t have any personal attachment to any of the items in it – even if it’s relatively cluttered, a well-lived-in space can be cleared in a little over an hour.
Today was spent dressing the set. Lisa had said that the magnolia walls at the location were too plain, but there was little money or time for redecoration. She explained her idea to use strips of masking tape to texture the walls based on the work of (I think?) Dutch artist Kees Goudzwaard, who makes abstract patterns in the same way. However while she was waiting for the rest of us to arrive on set through the heavy morning traffic, she had come up with the idea to use – rather than a wholly abstract pattern – a leaf motif, inspired by the large plant acting as a corner-piece in the room, and by leaf designs on the lampshades in the room. We began experimenting with different looks and methods for making the leaves, including ripping, and cutting the shapes with scalpels. We settled on tearing for the first wall (most likely to be seen close up on camera) as it gave a bolder texture, and then had to move on to cutting for the other walls due to time constraints. We also worked out a way to quickly create a vein effect in the leaves by pinching creases in them before sticking them down. Using common sense in considering how the location would be shot without a member of the unit there to advise, dressing it accordingly and putting varying amounts of time in to different areas, taught me a lot about dressing a set for the camera. Today possibly more than any other day really made me feel like part of a team, and was a great lesson in set decorating on a tight budget without compromising on essential elements. It was inspiring to see that Lisa was bold enough with her vision to try something as unorthodox as covering an entire room in leaves made from nothing but masking tape, and the sense of achievement after finishing the room was a perfect end to the week.
Being mainly used to student films and seeing projects through from beginning to end, it felt quite strange to be leaving so soon. However, realising it’s common for professionals in the industry to move on after finishing their part without necessarily being attached to a film from beginning to end, I took this as a final lesson. After the week spent on the film I know I have a better knowledge of the working relationships between the various art department roles than before, as well as what is expected of everyone in the department. Understanding what each member of the department was responsible for and who reported to or consulted with whom in any given situation, along with having the chance to work on and make creative choices for things that will (I hope) be seen in the finished production, were the two most rewarding aspects of the work experience. My thanks to Lisa for the opportunity, and to the entire Still Life art department for a brilliant week! Given the choice I’d happily return for more.
Emily Britton, 2nd year, Film Production, University of Creative Arts, Farnham
When I arrived at the base office in New Cross, I was introduced to the majority of the art department team; Caitlin, Chloe, Dave and Rusty. We were then quickly told that this morning was going to be hectic due to the entire office being relocated upstairs because the storage space they had been using to store props was no longer going to be available thanks to schedule changes. After the quick turn around, we went to meet Martyn, Still Life’s prop master and our port of call for the rest of the week. He told us that whatever he would have us do, any other member of the art department could be asked to do too, there was no hierarchy within the department. I was then sent off to help Rusty and Dave (who has the most wonderful beard) to move props from storage, just around the corner, into their new space. This gave me a chance to see everything that had been used in the previous sets, giving me a real sense of the film without having to have seen the locations. It also gave me an opportunity to ask Rusty and Dave questions about industry, things they’ve worked on and how they got into it. After lunch I helped Dave unload all the props from the morning into the new props space, where the office had previously been – all of this was stuff that we could potentially use again or hadn’t finished with. All the things in Rusty’s van were to be sold, donated or recycled. After this Martyn gave me the job of dirtying up a laundry bag that would be used by a tramp in a scene the next day. My instructions were to make it look ‘loved’, and he showed me everything I could use to create different effects, from dirty down sprays to shaving foam and a heat gun. The first thing I did was rub a couple of wet tea bags on the white fabric of the zips and stitching. Then I took a couple of the dirty down sprays outside to give the bag a bit of history and colour. I used ‘Blonde’ which came out as a light brown over most of the bag and ‘Moss’, as you would expect came out green. I sprayed the ‘Moss’ one in the bottom of the bag as well as on the bottom corners, where I had imagined that damp and the elements had gotten to it. I did a bit of ripping here and there on the handles, then patched it up with brown parcel tape. Advice from Martyn: ‘brown parcel tape can make anything look used, old and loved’. Finally, from his suggestion, I threw a couple of potatoes (they were lying around, don’t ask) in the bottom and dragged around the car park a good five or six times, much to the delight of the people working with their windows open. When it had been ‘loved’ to the best of my ability I was asked to wash the remnants of old stickers off of whiskey bottles and disinfect them. Then I removed any remaining glue by using lighter fluid and rubbing it off with a tissue (another Martyn tip), finally it was my task to put the fabricated stickers on the bottles to be used the next day.
On Tuesday I worked with Caitlin, the props buyer in the department. The morning I spent researching where we could find two identical armchairs that matched the colour palette (raspberry and olive tones) and had legs that we could potentially saw off to put books underneath, oh and within the east London area. Proving tricky I spent the rest of the morning for looking for interesting Madonna and Child pieces like tapestries or relief items for the hospice set and selling other items we had used on eBay. After no luck online with the armchairs we head out to second hand furniture stores across Lewisham and Harpenden. Choices are slim but we still take photos of potential chairs and whilst we’re there we tried to sweet talk florists into letting us take their dying flowers away to use in a funeral scene, to show time passing. We picked up a bunch here and there, and picked up some fabric to make the small pillow for the coffin. When we got back we tied up the flowers to dry out and then helped Martyn with a bit more props making, I helped make the candle holders for the scene next day by cutting small flaps out of card discs and when I had finished this I checked with Lisa what colour paint she wanted for the Hospice chairs and walked to B&Q to get the paint made up, by the time I got back it was time to go home.
When I got into the office work experience Caroline and I were sent on an errand to Marylebone to return some music cases and also drop off a train timetable to the standbys on set, luckily the music shop was down the road from where they were shooting. They told us all about what it’s like being a standby and what they actually do, which was great for me because it was my first time really learning about this role and added another component to the art department. We also got to travel with them to St. Pancras station and a Greek Orthodox Church in Bayswater, although not before a spot of lunch with the rest of the crew. Gammon or hake. I went for the fish. Then I swapped places with Louis and went back to base to make more props with Martyn. I made John May’s hero cheque book by sticking all the stubs together by glueing one side of each stub and laying them over the top, and then sticking that little book into the cheque book cover, which had been made earlier on. After this I then got to work on painting the hospice chairs with the paint I bought yesterday. Quick tip, if you want to earn brownie points, wash up your paint brush and paint tray without having to be asked. They love that. And it means paintbrushes don’t die a sad death.
I met Lisa and Caitlin at the Superhire Props house in North Acton (got lost first, but that’s not the point) and I walked around with Caroline to try and find the set of armchairs we needed for Kelly’s living room, took a few photos of ones we thought might work, then reported back (we did a few of these trips). Then when Caitlin and Lisa had picked out a pair, I was asked to pick out the cushions to go with the chairs and match the colour palette. My first choices didn’t go down so well (to me, this was the end of the world pretty much, how will I ever get a job in the art department now?!). Pulling myself together, I reviewed the colours that we needed and my second go went a lot better. Turns out it doesn’t always work first time around, who knew? I chose a pair of worn out looking terracotta cushions and very well versed in Superhires cushion department. Seriously. Ask me anything. The rest of the afternoon | spent with Caitlin choosing side tables, lamps and lampshades. With Caitlin I learnt so much about props buying and sourcing and props houses in general, I learnt what a PO was, (Purchase Order by the way) and that to hire anything you need one of these. You also need to decide on what you’re going to buy rather than a lot of maybes, prop house people don’t like that. We also needed a throw for the sofa at Kelly’s so we went to Shepherds Bush to see if we could pick up any fabric to make into a throw but they all turned out too expensive, so we decided on one from the market. When we got back to base I started work on giving a sheet a fake hem so we could use it on the beds at the hospice so it didn’t look like we’d just cut up a double sheet and tried to get away with it as a single. Seeing as my sewing machine skills leave a lot to be desired, I hemmed it with a basic (very basic) running stitch.
I started off the morning with Caitlin to find candlestick holders & romance novels at Deptford market. We found a few books that matched our colour palette, but no luck with the candlestick holders, we then had a look in a handful of charity shops and discount shops but still left empty handed, we came to the conclusion that we would only find what we wanted in Ikea so scheduled a stop off there. Then we made our way to Uxbridge, where everyone else was dressing Kelly’s living room, on the way Lisa told us to bypass Ikea for the mean time and go to Dunelm Mill which could have what we wanted, as it wasn’t somewhere we had tried yet. After getting a bit lost (it had been a long day) we looked in there but they still didn’t have what we needed, although it was good to look into for future reference. When we got to Kelly’s house we found everyone cutting leaf shapes out of strips of masking tape to stick on the hero wall behind the infamous armchairs. We also had to cover the rest of the room in them, so there was me, Louis, Caroline, Martyn, Rusty, Dave and Caitlin cutting these leaves out using scalpels and make shift cutting boards out of cardboard boxes. Near the end of it we were running like a well oiled machine of cutting them out and sticking them on the walls. Safe to say I’ve never done anything like that before but it turned out looking really great and taught me to think outside the box when it comes to limited time and resources. And no one will ever know they’re made out of masking tape. Unless they read this…
Andy Young, 2nd year, Design for Film & Television, Nottingham Trent University
Day One. 18/6/2012 My first day.
I arrived at the Still Life Art Department and was greeted by Martyn, the props master,he introduced me to the members of the team in the office. Everybody seemed really welcoming and genuinely seemed pleased to meet me, it was nice to be welcomed into the actual team rather than being ‘ work experience’. Martyn gave a quick talk about what we be doing during the week and made it clear that we were part of the team and that it should be a learning experience for us not just us helping them out. The atmosphere was really friendly. Me and the two other two work experience students had discussed how we were really excited to be involved with a feature film although a little bit nervous. For me these nerves quickly left after chatting to the team. I firstly helped unload the props van and then me and Dave waited for the hire van to arrive.
In the waiting time me and Dave had a good chat about his experience and entry into the industry and it was interesting to learn that he was possibly only two/three years into his film career and it was good to talk to someone who was not too far up the ladder yet and where I could be in the near future. Dave was really friendly and we had a good conversation about the different roles people have in the department.
When the van arrived we drove to Iver to the location of Kellys home where we began to strike the set and replace the owners belongings. I learnt that it is important to be organized in these situations especially when it is somebody’s home that needs to be put back in place.
We later went to John Mays’ office set where I met Lisa the production designer and she was also very welcoming and friendly and seemed keen to chat to me further. Dave and I then went to a builders merchants to pick up materials for the set and then returned to the location where we proceeded to scavange the building looking for dressing of the set. Squatters had just vacated the location and their belongings still remained. It was interesting to note that the squatters had left the place in a way that looked almost like a art installation. Talking to Lisa about this she said that in production design it was sometimes really important to put a different angle on a set, the squatters den looked nothing like the stereotypical sqautters place you would imagine and actually resembled a kind of set. We continued to search the building and collect objects until about 7 o clock when we finished and returned to base. Although I was in the van a lot of the day I really enjoyed my first day getting to know people and getting in the swing of things and I know there will be a great opportunity to get involved in lots of different roles and learn a lot from those around me that I would maybe not get on other work experiences I have done/ will do! I am looking forward to the rest of the week it will be good.
Day Two. 19/6/2012
Today was very physically demanding but I really enjoyed getting stuck in! I started the day by immediately helping Russ the Construction manager unload his van and set up a work area. Carrying in the heavy tools and timber. My first job that russ set me was to cut up timber with a circular saw to make the framework of flattage. It was good to be given responsibility of something that was integral to the sets and if done incorrectly would cause problems. After cutting the timber I helped Russ make the pieces of flattage and went on a coffee run. Speaking to Russ the best way to learn set design is to actually be involved in the construction process so you can get a good grasp how things work and how your designs would look.
For most of the remainder of the day I helped Martyn collect marked props and scavenge the building for various dressing. It is impressive the amount of actual objects that are needed to dress at set effectively. I have learnt that when designing or dressing a set you have to think why those objects would be there, what do they tell about the character, story. The objects should aid the storytelling in the scene. Martyn and I moved some very heavy and awkward objects down to the ground floor which was very tiring but I think the objects will look great in the set.
I finished the day by working with Steve, the scenic painter. I had a rough grasp on how to wallpaper but Steve gave us a crash course in applying wallpaper. We then went on to apply the chalk lines on the walls of John Mays office. I was surprised how something as simple as the chalk lines took the detail up a level and stopped the walls from looking plain and boring. Steve was really enthusiastic and friendly and was happy to help in any way possible.
Although very tiring I really enjoyed today and learnt a lot of practical skills.
Day Three 20/6/2012
I started my day by painting a door on set with woodstain. Eventually the door had to be given two coats to achieve the right tone. I then helped rusty bring the hospice props into the building. Russ had made a wall to be seen through John Mays office window and I had to treat the wood with a PVA water mix to seal the wood so texture could be applied to it. I then made up a batch of Artex that would be applied to the wall to create a texture which Steve would later paint on.
In the afternoon I went with Lisa to location where I would be doing Stand by. On the journey to location me and Lisa had a conversation which I found to be extremely interesting and knowledgeable. The conversation really made me think about things such as management and budgeting as well as experience and the line of design I want to go into. The chat with Lisa really made me think about the things I want to learn and achieve and I am definitely going to find out about the workshops that Lisa runs that cover things that my course possibly doesn’t. I would really like to talk to Lisa more about her experiences the knowledge she has gained in the industry.
We arrived on Location during lunch so we ate and I met Alex and Simon, the Stand By’s. Lisa left and I went in the van with Alex and Simon to where the crew were shooting. It was great to see the crew setting up and to be in actual film shoot, I was really excited. In this particular shoot there were not may props so I did not have a lot to do but it was really interesting to be on set and learn how shooting runs. Alex and Simon were really nice and explained the role of Stand By well to me. It was great being on set and learning how it all runs, I also met Eddie Marsan who seemed nice. So far I have learnt a lot about the different roles in the art department and I am getting a good feel for how the art department works . I am really enjoying my week and look forward to the next two days.
Day 4 21/6/2012
I started the day by going with Dave to the builders merchants to collect supplies and the metal shelving units that would be used in John Mays office. I built 4 of the shelving units when we returned to base and me and Georgia then proceeded to spray the shelving units with a matt primer grey spray. The paint chipped off the galvanized metal extremely easily and moving the shelving about had to be done carefully. I helped collect props and move objects from the upper floor to the lower floor and then continued to make another two shelving units with the help of Georgia. These shelves proved to be very frustrating as they would not fit together properly as the units were not particularly well made.
We eventually fitted the shelves and had to adjust the shelves on the previous units to allow for the hanging folders. I then had to fill in gaps and broken plaster on the set using filler and wood filler. These adjustments would add to the overall finish of the set and look better on camera especially the parts that would be in direct shots. Martyn and I then began to modify the shelving units so that folders can hang on them. We did this by attaching metal strips to the inside of the shelving. This job required accurate measuring and drilling. Although this day wasn’t as fun as the others I still learnt a lot and did enjoy it.
Day 5 22/6/2012.
My last day started with Caitlin the buyer. We continued to attach the metal bars to the shelving but ran out of the appropriate lengths so had to stop. Caitlin and I then scavenged the building to find props for the Prison Officers office and the Council Managers office. For the Prison Officers room we needed lots of white folders and I spent a while scouring the building until by chance I found loads inside a cabinet. I found blue folders for the managers office in another room and filled them with papers to make them look full and stand upright. The dressing of the folders really added to the sets and I am looking forward to see what it will look like on screen.
The team returned to location and me and Caitlin went to Superhire where she showed me around the huge prop store and told me about how it works when prop buying and the do’s and don’ts when in prop houses. It was really good to learn these things as it is something that our course probably wouldn’t cover in so much detail. We collected graphics from the print company there and Caitlin showed me some breakdowns and some of the budgeting side of things. It was good to see these things and I would like to try buying for a bit but not as a career. Me and Caitlin got on really well, she was extrememly nice and I learnt a lot from her. My last job of the week was to measure, cut and fit hanging blinds, a tedious job but I was pleased to see the final result. I really tried to make sure the attention to detail was righ by making double sure the blinds were the same length and attached the ropes and attachments between the blinds.
I really enjoyed my week on Still Life everybody was so welcoming and really prepared to help me learn. Everybody seemed to be genuinely interested to know who I was and what I do. I feel like I’ve have learnt loads about the practical an mental sides of production design and art department and I feel a lot more confident about the skills I have learnt during the week as well as reinforcing the skills I already had. Lisa’s way of production design and thinking has really made me think about how I look at production design and has taught me to think a lot deeper in my designing. I would have loved to stay longer on the film as I feel I was just getting into the swing of things and hope I impressed but feel I have more to show which maybe a bit longer would have done. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to show the crew more of what I can do in the future! I look forward to the Wrap party meeting the crew again and other work experience students and talking to them about there experiences on set.
Sophie Newton, 2nd year, Film Production, University of Creative Arts, Farnham
After deciding to travel from Brighton each day I managed to make it to the office with no trouble where I met both Andy and Georgia who were also about to start their week of work experience. A few minutes later Martyn the props master arrived and introduced us to some of the fellow art department team Rusty and Dave who welcomed us with tea and coffee. We were then taken to Martyn’s office where he gave us an introductory team talk and allocated me to go and assist ‘Scenic’ Steve on location at an abandoned sixth form college. After helping unloading the van Martyn drove me to Maida Vale where I had the chance to ask Martyn a few questions about himself as well as his role on the project and how the progress of the film as a whole had been going.
After a good chat we arrived at the abandoned sixth form college which had been the home to a group of squatters for three weeks, I was taken through the building where random art pieces were still left from the squatters such as glass vials hanging from a staircase filled with different coloured liquid. This was accompanied with a silhouetted man lying on the glass ceiling above the main corridor (yes, very odd). I was introduced to ‘Scenic’ Steve and said a quick hello to Lisa and Caitlin before I got down to work helping Steve paint the walls of what was the school’s canteen area that would soon become John May’s office. I began roughly painting or ‘cutting in’ the walls and did so for a couple of hours as well as chat to Steve about his career, which has involved working in the art department on children’s television as well as Deal or No Deal, Scrapheap Challenge and many more. It was the first time I was able to get more of an idea of what is involved with being a freelancer within the television and film industry and how having skills in multiple areas of the art department can be very beneficial.
After lunch Martyn took me around the abandoned building for a scavenge, looking for anything that can be used within the set. This was not only a good chance for me to venture round this strange building but also witness Martyn at work using his initiative and imagination choosing abandoned furniture and all sorts that can be used for props as well as keeping in mind the low budget the art department has been working with, I then realised how this building turned into a goldmine. I returned to Steve and assisted him by beginning to paint a classroom for the set of the Manager’s office briefly until we returned back to John May’s office where we began to ‘ping’ the walls with red chalk line, reflecting the grids of the panelled ceiling. Lisa explained she wanted the theme of grid patterns throughout the locations, being a repetitive aspect of the look book, so without knowing what the final outcome would be we began to ‘ping’ for the rest of the day which turned out to be a lot of fun.
Today I headed straight to Maida Vale where I tackled the morning underground where I carried on working as Steve’s assistant with painting the manager’s office which took up the majority of the morning as progress on John May’s office was put on hold as flats were being installed and the lights fixed. During this time Steve showed me his portfolio that was another great insight into what work he has been involved with, from a range of scenic paintings to sculptures and set design. Soon after Martyn grabbed Andy and I to help him carry a lot of heavy school furniture that they had found the day previously, which was one way of realising I should probably do more exercise. For the last few hours of the day I helped Steve once more as we continued to ‘ping’ the walls and complete the grid pattern, then Andy and I were given a crash course with the techniques of applying wallpaper. From observing those working in the art department today was an example of how unpredictable the work ethic is through Steve, who originally signed up for one day but was needed for today and tomorrow as well. Yet I can imagine the spontaneity of working in this sort of career can be very exciting and unexpected. Also today was one of the first days I witnessed the effects of how quickly things can change with the schedule as the Hospice location had fallen through, meaning the art department had to change priorities and work with other locations in the mean time.
Lisa had previously explained to me how she wanted me to see the set of John May’s office develop over time and witnessing the different stages involved to making this happen. So I arrived at the sixth form college once again where I bump into Lisa who told me she has arranged for me to work on set with the film crew tomorrow, though I would not be told until later that day where and what time the crew would be meeting. In the mean time Martyn gave Rusty and myself the challenge to search the building for sandy coloured furniture that can be used for the manager’s office. This was a great opportunity to work with Rusty who I hadn’t had the chance to work with yet and fortunately she was a lot stronger than me so we just about managed to carry a load of office furniture down multiple stair cases. I then returned to help Steve as we continued to mark the walls that eventually turned out very well, considering we both learned and developed a technique of how to obtain the best effect throughout the process. As the painting was now finished I appreciated the opportunity of working with Steve throughout the three days to see the progress and transformation of John May’s office and learn first hand the skills involved.
The day came to an end and I had only just heard from Lisa about the time and whereabouts the team would be meeting tomorrow, which turned out to be 6.45am at the office. After a stressful hour and a few phone calls I managed to find a place to stay in London for the night for the early start, this was another reminder of how unpredictable this industry can be yet it only made it more exciting.
I arrive at the office at 6.20am making sure I got there in plenty of time to avoid being late knowing the film crew would be sticking to a tight schedule. I meet Alex and Simon who are the stand by art department team and we head off to Whitstable. On the way we had a good chat and I asked them how the shoot was going and their experience so far with the film. When we arrived we joined the crew where Alex and Simon were expecting to dress the location for the B&B, however the director was not happy with the look of the building so the crew along with me and Alex moved further along the coast to shoot another scene whilst Simon had to find another location for the B&B exterior. In the meantime I mostly observed the shoot and Alex making sure John May’s briefcase was at risk of no harm being a very important prop that was almost irreplaceable. The crew worked very efficiently and from watching you could tell the relationships people had formed from working closely together that also can easily be applied to the art department team. When the shoot on the beach had finished Simon had found another location that happened to be a block of flats that he dressed with a few borrowed props to look like a B&B that fortunately the director was happy with.
After the filming we then headed to a few other locations before we had lunch and I spoke to a few of the crew members, all whose advice were get as much experience as possible in order to get into the film or television industry, which made me appreciate this work experience even more so than before. After lunch the crew began to film at the multiple fish and chip shops which Alex and Simon had to dress and rearrange any advertising or obscure colours quickly so the crew could shoot as quick as possible. However as time seemed to be against the crew a few of the fish and chip shop scenes had to be cut in order to shoot the last scene which Simon had to go ahead to the industrial park and fix the sign which the graphics team had designed for the bakery location. I tried to assist as much as possible without being in the way of Alex and Simon who you could see worked very hard together and both had the mind set of getting the job done as efficiently as possible with keeping attention to detail. As the day was wrapped and even though it was very long I still found the experience fascinating. From studying Film Production and usually being around an environment of student filmmaking, it was inspiring and refreshing to see an example of a professional team in action having to make key decisions and trusting each other to get the best outcome they can achieve.
Waking up Friday morning made me realise how incredibly deceiving the weather can be as my face was incredibly sunburnt. However this aside I got a text from Martyn informing me to go to the ‘office location’. When I arrived at the usual time at New Cross I got to the office to find Martyn when I realised I had misread the text and in fact I was meant to be at Maida Vale to work on John May’s office location. So after a bit of a bad start to the morning it soon passed over as I helped Martyn with organising some CDs then we headed to Maida Vale. At the sixth form I got the chance to work with Caitlin for the day where I was allocated cleaning duty to wipe down all the furniture that had been abandoned for a few years. During this I got to chat to Caitlin where she explained to me her role of being a Buyer and how much she enjoys doing what she does for a living. She had so much enthusiasm for her job and was a pleasure to work with making the next few hours run by until I helped Rusty once more carrying large cabinets to a room that now became the policeman’s office. I cleaned the policeman’s office and then helped with John May’s office where some of the furniture was now placed, which was initially quite surreal from seeing the state of the room when I arrived to now starting to be dressed. The last job I was given was to move the furniture and shelving out of the office in order for the floor to be glazed, it was during the last few hours that I realised this was my last day and that the week had been so busy I didn’t even realise I would not be returning the following week.
Being someone who has not managed to get much previous experience, having this opportunity is by far one of the most enjoyable and beneficial things I have ever done. I loved every minute and it was one of the best learning experiences of what lays ahead in the real world working in the art department and also making me realise more of what skills I need to learn and what is required of you as a person. Everyone in the art department team were amazing and all so keen to answer your questions and to find out more about you, making sure you get the best experience you can and get involved as much as possible. It was more fascinating seeing people working in an area they love and have so much determination for, even if the hours are long, to make sure they achieve what Lisa has envisioned for the final outcome. I just want to say a huge thank you to Martyn, Steve, Rusty, Alex, Simon, Caitlin, Dave and everyone else I had the chance to work with and in particular Lisa who I am so thankful chose to teach at UCA as your lessons have been the most eye opening and insightful to what Production Design really is, and thank you again for letting me work with the art department team, If I had the chance I would jump back into it with out a doubt.
Elizabeth Garton, 2nd year, Design for Film & Television, Nottingham Trent University
25 – 29th June 2012 Day 1
When I found the art dept for “Still Life” Caitlin was there and she greeted me as if we were already good friends! This was so comforting as I was nervous having not worked on a feature film before. I got the same warm and welcoming greetings from Lisa and the rest of her team! The first task given after a nice settling in brew was to decorate the spines of photo albums which would be used by John May. Later, Caitlin and I went to Shepherds Bush Market to get some smalls. It was such a good trip out, we were laughing loads and the excellent conversation was had as we walked around in the clammy heat. We then went to the location where sets – including the set for John May’s office – were being set up. The location is a closed down college which I got chance to have a look around. It was a little creepy with equipment still left out and notes written up on whiteboards still from the squatters who’d been kicked out only two weeks earlier!
Today I drove to Scenery Salvage in the morning, just outside of London to pick up some casters. My first time visiting it and what a place! Instead of throwing things out they keep and recycle old scenery, set decorations and furniture. I was told that the two boats from the recent James Bond film got sent there but sadly weren’t there on my visit. When I got back I was asked to go around the college and collect drawing pins. This was a perfectly good opportunity to explore the college some more. I ventured quite deep and found rooms that still had food, mattresses’, pillows, clothes and used cutlery! I returned to the props room and began to change the spines of folders to hide the logos that were already there. Straight after I began sorting through a mass load of boxes filled with cardboard folders to pick out the ones that matched similar colors to the hero folders that we had to dress John May’s office.
Today wasn’t as exciting as the previous ones, I continued matching folders to the hero folders to go on the 4 lots of shelving units we have which all have 6 shelves on that needed filling with 75 of the appropriate colored folders. A time consuming task to be sorting through all day I must admit. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere or even helping that much as I couldn’t see much progress. However I was assured that I was. Due to the fact that I was looking at it all the time I didn’t notice it but other members of the team coming in and out as I worked noticed the change so I was reassured. I did get to go out and pick up some things needed later on that evening so it was good to get outside and have a break (aside from the lunch break – but I would never miss that!) Looking forward to tomorrow, we’ll be filming in the college location so I’ve been told I’ll get to help out on set – very exciting!
Today I got to watch some filming after we’d finished John May’s office set! Very interesting to watch how everyone works as a team together and that the detail and hard work that we all put into dressing it paid off. Seeing the set on the monitor screen made the work worth it. Tomorrow is the last day and I’m so sad that it is! I’ve had a blast and met SO many great friends.
Last day today and last blog entry – boo! Today I assisted in helping out decorating and dressing for the two pick up sets and got to watch the final takes being shot in John May’s office. I got to talk to Lisa a lot today about production design and it was great to hear from a professional her way of how she went about designing for ‘Still Life” as well as any other production that she’s worked on. A great insight! I’m sad to be leaving, everyone who I’ve met this week has been brilliant and I’ve really felt like I’ve been part of Lisa’s team due to the responsibilities and trust that they had in me along with the work I did and assisted with. Thank you so much, Lisa for letting me come and work with you!