Monday, November 23, 2015

Scouting Locations

I've only designed for one film so far - Ciao, an award-winning indie by Yen Tan - but the experience was memorable.  I remember converting two identical condo bedrooms into two different sets, right down to carefully double-stick-taping faux window mullions in one room, to help differentiate.  Cleaning, prepping, and set dressing the kitchen for shooting (which the film crew needed to use for real lunches), having that shoot rescheduled, then cleaning up lunch mess and doing it all again, several times.  Literally waiting on paint to dry for the shot - all of us, the whole production with lights and camera and me with a hair drier hurrying things.  Serious phone conversations from the depths of Home Depot on how to artfully place an on-set towel, "...a little wrinkled, not perfect, 'cause it was used in the last scene, right?..."  And, funniest for the bystanders, us scouting locations...

We drove around Dallas in a little teeny car and, when we arrived at a potential location, piled out:  the driver and AD, a big burly guy with "Rosebud" tattooed on his shoulder; the co-writer/director, a tall, lanky Malaysian guy; the producer, a short, determined, firecracker of a guy who looked about twelve; and me, the production designer, short, plump, gray, looking like their Den Mom.  Kinda like watching a clown car unload.

What brings this to my mind?

This interesting little vid about film locations HERE.

10 Movies That Stole Their Sets From Other Films

This may be the biggest difference between film and stage work, finding real world locations instead of building all scenery from scratch.

Mind you, there's always a lot more modification to that real world location than the audience realizes.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Enjoy the Lulls

Although I do still have one show a'building this year (today in fact), I'm in a relative lull... at least compared to the crazy crazy pace of even a few weeks ago.

I'm enjoying the lull.

Next week, of course, the annual Turkey / Christmas crazy begins, but today, lull.

Well, after I sort the reimbursible theater receipts...

Then dig out my drawing board, trashed while pulling out drawings for yesterday's set design workshop, and needing to watercolor pencil one last little rendering, and...  I can't even find the drawing surface at the moment.

Then cleaning out my car.  The poor ol' Scenic Ride is filled to the scuppers with STUFF from six shows or so.

It must be time to take a lull... because my desk and car are too trashed to use today!

I sometimes joke that I know I'm done designing a show when I discover that I'm drawing on a sheet of paper I can only get to by peeling off the tape of other, higher levels of drawings and sorta crawling under them - paper tenting over my head.  Then it must be time to stop.

Well now, clearly, it's time to get organized!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Set Design Workshop Today

This afternoon from 1:00 to 3:00 I'm giving a workshop on theater set design at Tarrant County College NE (that's in Hurst).  Open to students and public.  

Drop on by.

Drawings, models, carved foam fish-like creatures... everything you'd expect!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What a Month

Theater is a marathon not a sprint.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but I've been working flat out... mostly trying to get Mainstage Irving's The Addams Family open.  

And then - instead of collapsing - trying to catch up on my other shows: Death of a Salesman at Fun House Theatre and Film, Sexy Laundry at WaterTower Theater,  and The Importance of Being Earnest at Tarrant County College NE.

Opening night at The Addams Family had a few rough spots in sound and lights, but the set and projections were DONE.  (The paint was even dry.)  An accomplishment of heroic proportions let me tell you.

The Addams Family, Mainstage Irving Los Colinas - photo by Mainstage

Here you can see one scene set in the Addams' conservatory, a combination of built scenery and 3D projection by Nathan Davis.  This was a show that really was about collaboration!  And even more about drawing than I expected: the Addams Family originated as cartoons in The New Yorker, so it seemed right that the projections be largely drawings rather than photos, but, in fact, they were often, as here, a combination of hand sketches (architecture) and photos (sky, moon, and cobblestone floor).  My original background sketch was actually an assemblage of three sketches of about 14" long so it's kinda wild to see them blown up to almost 30' wide.

The projections for this show are fantastic!  Three dimensional spaces into which we fly in or out, doors and gates open, animations - Fester's "Moon" scene is wonderful - all just amazing.  Nathan did an incredible job.  For my part, I'm particularly proud of how well the projected scenery and the built scenery merge.

Even more merge-y than intended, actually...

Because of the press of time, much of the detail on the built set that was supposed to be real 3D construction, ended up as hand drawn/painted linework too, like all the paneling and trim shown here.  Which help coordinate the two worlds alright.

My hand is tired.

If you have the chance, go see the show - a still photo just can't show the coolitude of the projections. 

(And, you know, the cast are... incredibly good.  A very accomplished and fun show.)

Friday, October 9, 2015

Deep Breath


I've been heads-down working for the last few weeks.  But, tonight, Uptown Player's production of Harbor opens!  With what I think is a good set, a Greek Revival house restored by an architect in Sag Harbor.

The play itself you ask?

Really good - with a fantastic cast.  Both entertaining and touching.  (Go see it!)

This was my second show to work with set dresser and interior designer Kevin Brown - who acquired furniture, art, and set dressing and painted and...  Worked really hard!  But we in theater take that for granted, just as we assume carpenters, painters, and designers (and actors, directors and many more) will all slog away faithfully to get the work finished in time for the audience.   It's hard work.

But that's unremarkable.  What I do want to remark on is the clever way he used pasted-up photos  to explain furniture choices to the director and producers:

Image by Kevin Brown - copyrighted

This composite of images over a photo of the as yet unpainted set was created using, I believe, Powerpoint, but could be done in Photoshop or even with scissors and tape.  What a great way to explain things!  It was part of a neat package that laid out various choices for furniture, lighting, and art.

As often happens, the final choices of furniture include some stuff from stock, some borrowed from several sources, and some bought from less expensive stores like IKEA and Walmart.  The art is all on loan (and aren't we being careful with it!).

Meanwhile,  construction on Other Desert Cities at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth is almost complete, with painting proceeding, but furniture and carpet gathering has hit a snag.  The budget is forcing some changes, but mostly the handy-dandy warehouse and in-house storage are not producing the furniture we want....

Budgets!  Availability!!  The Dreaded Sofa!!!!  Argh.

At the very least there will need to be a LOT of reupholstering before any of this furniture goes on stage.  But we're still looking...

And there have been meetings.  Many, many meetings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Model Making: Tapes and Glues

Just found a great discussion (by an architect who obviously builds models) of various tapes and glues at  HERE.

To which I'd add a recommendation of gaf tape - wonderful gaf tape!  On stage, of course, it's ubiquitous, but it's also useful in tiny amounts in model-making, especially used as hinges between cardboard pieces.  Particularly if it's a painted model.

And I'd add a caution about all glues - and even tapes - to beware the fumes and chemicals involved.  You can develop chemical sensitivities to the stickem if it touches your skin; the fumes can be sickening, carcinogenic, or occasionally instantly fatal like the methylene chloride used in paint strippers.

Ventilate, people!  Read safety instructions!


Also helpful is a brief post on the same site about building architectural scenic models HERE.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Books, Books, Books

I had a very refreshing chat about books the other day.

Nothing is more fun.

(Well, okay, hardy anything.)

What jogged my memory today was a blog post HERE about a new book called Soviet Bus Stops, by Christopher Herwig.  I haven't got my hands on this book yet, but it looks fantastic...  a photo study of ubiquitous, humble - yet socially important - architectural monuments.  These small buildings seem to have received all the whimsy and delight that official Soviet architecture quashed.  Just Google "soviet bus stop" for the wild range of styles.  This one I like as sort of Romanesque-Modern with a flavor of '60s Pop.  (It'd make a cool garden folly.  Please mentally add a blue pool and girls in Holly Golightly sunglasses, sipping martinis.  See it?)

Not sure if this photo is truly from Herwig's Soviet Bus Stops.  
Copyright-holder please let me know if you want it removed.

Folk architecture - whether designed by amateurs or pros - is always lively.

Picture books are fun aren't they?

That book chat was not about architecture or picture books, actually, more on WWII topics.  I'm currently reading Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm.  The man can write!  Another WWII book was recommended to me (but I don't have that note handy); in turn I recommended George McDonald Fraser's The Complete McAuslan, entertaining stories of  a Scottish regiment at the end of that war, and his more serious, excellent memoir of fighting the Japanese in Burma, Quartered Safe Out Here

A recent good novel about that period I highly recommend is All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  This read was the result of book club friends recommending it to my mother, she to my sister, then the same copy on to me, then to my child...  That's a catchy book!  I won't spoiler it: let's just say that I had to stay up all night to finish it.  Dawn, I'm sayin'.  Actual dawn.

At about the same time a kindly person lent me a copy of Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.  Also engrossing - apocalypse plus traveling Shakespearean orchestra... how could I resist?  (NPR on it HERE.)  Naturally, I had to give copies of both novels on to others... nothing is as catching as a book.

It's a good week - month! - when you get two excellent new books to read.