The Daily Grind: My Life as a Production Designer

People assume that when you work for the film and TV industry, you’re either an actor, a director, or an assistant. I currently work as a production designer–and being one is no easy task.

Image source: filmmakeriq.com

Being a production designer means working for the art department. Together with other production designers and consultants, I help in conceptualizing a film, TV, or theater production.

My role at a certain project starts during pre-production. I meet with directors, director of photography, and scriptwriters to create a strategic visual backdrop for each scene. After this has been established, production designers will go into research and design. How does a salon in the 1950s look like? What were fashion trends during the Motown era? These details are important to make a set believable. After we’re done with the research, we come up with a stage or set plan for the art department. The rest of the art department will materialize this vision that we came up with.

As a production designer, I work long hours. There’s no such thing as a 9-to-5 shift. I also travel a lot, if the script or if the design I made requires me to. Most production designers have finished a degree in architecture, technical theater arts, fine arts, or interior design.

Do you think you have what it takes to be a production designer? The work may be tough, but it’s all worth it.

Image source: freshtvinc.com

David Berkowitz here, a Chicago Bulls fan and production designer for indie films. Know more about my love for basketball and filmmaking when you follow me on Twitter.

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Off the Shelves: Effective Improvisation in Old School Filmmaking

The impressive starships shown in the opening sequence of the first “Star Wars” film in 1977 was seen by many as a triumph of cinema. The extremely detailed craft was the first time the audience ever saw spacecraft that impressive, a far cry from the saucers and rockets that dominated the era before.

Princess Leia’s Tantive IV and Darth Vader’s Devastator of that opening sequence were matched in geometric grandeur and impression of scale only by its television counterpart, the Enterprise from “Star Trek.” These are what we have come to expect from spacecraft, and they manage to impress us even today.
Also, all three crafts were miniature models set in a studio. Darth Vader’s personal space limo was, in fact, a last minute hack job that ended up creating some of the most impressive visuals in cinematic history.

Devastatortantiveiv

Image source: starwars.wikia.com

In the nascent time before CGI, science fiction films and television series were pretty much running on next to nothing, and due to the need to create a futuristic fantasy, the constant demand for special effects ate through their budgets. To cut costs, sometimes creators quite literally decided to go to the toy store and told their creative team to take things apart and get to work.

Known as kitbashing, this form of bargain bin special effects allows filmmakers to create impressive models on the cheap by mixing and matching elements from preexisting models. And in the hands of a particularly skillful design team, the results can be brilliant. “Star Wars” remains the shining example of impressive kitbashes, with the trenches of the Death Star being the most triumphant expressions of the art.

In more contemporaneous settings, effective kitbashes can add a sense of believability as well. The Ecto-One of “Ghostbusters” had decals that were taken from commercially available odds and ends—not an unreasonable thing to do when you’re as strapped for cash as the Ghostbusters were in the film.

Ecto-1_0

Image source: blastr.com

Kitbashing and other off-the-shelf props continue to be popular today due to budgetary constraints and are often the first course of action for science fiction indie filmmakers.

I’m David Berkowitz, ChicagoBulls fan and California-based production designer. Catch me on Twitter for more on my thoughts on film and filmmaking.