Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Set Decorator

“I am sure you’ve seen barren sets on empty sound stages come to life under the set decorator’s touch. Compare it to the architect who has completed a house, but it is the interior decorator who breathes life into the rooms.”

--Henry Grace, longtime set decorator at MGM

They report to a budget minded production designer, take their design cues from the pages of a script, accommodate the needs of a director and cinematographer, juggle a variety of decorating demands and often design a fantasy setting all in a day. Their workspace can be the size of a football field on a backlot or in the middle of nowhere on location. Just think of them as the glamorous cousin of the interior designer -- the set decorator.

Set Decorators are part of a creative design team for a film, television, commercial or video and responsible for the overall design and decoration of the sets. This can include everything from furniture and accessory selection to working with furniture craftsman and scenic artists. Their jobs are as diverse as the medium itself  which can range from decorating a high-end interior for a period film to a high-tech lab for CSI:pick a city.

And while their responsibilities are similar to those of interior designers (budgets, fabric selection, floor plans, demanding clients, etc.), the job differs when fantasy has to overstep reality. Such was the case for the Moroccan meets Park Avenue kitchen in A Perfect Murder (1998)-- look closely and you will see those fabulous travertine floors are actually wallpaper and the lampshades throughout the house are cork paper. While some budgets allow visits to the to-the-trade-only design centers, others require scavenger hunts on ebay and visits to the proverbial prop house. (Design concessions are made on every film so I won't spoil anything else for you.)

The sets are a beautifully decorated mixture of antiques, artwork and contemporary furnishings for the world of a Wall Street titan (Michael Douglas) and his heiress/UN translator wife (Gwyneth Paltrow). The completely convincing Fifth Avenue abode was decorated by Beth Rubino (who also gave us Something's Gotta Give, 2003) and of course, the film's interiors were shot on a soundstage.

For those interested in a career as a Set Decorator, a background in interior design and studies in set decoration, production design and filmmaking in general are strongly advised. While it is not a career for everyone -- many find themselves off on location or living on a studio backlot for months on end --  seeing your work on the silver screen can be pretty rewarding.

For more information on Set Decorators, check out the Set Decorators Society.

Photo credits: Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cinema Soundtracks

While I admittedly will see just about any movie to check out the sets, I have also been
known to race out of the theater to buy the soundtrack too. Here are a few of my favorite film soundtracks (some classic and some quirky but  always great for background music). I would love to hear your picks ...

A Man and A Woman
Almost Famous
August Rush
Best of James Bond
Bridget Jones Diary
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Cinema du Monde
Cinema Italiano
Cinema Paradiso

Dances with Wolves
Doctor Zhivago
Fabulous Baker Boys
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Gone with the Wind
Good Night, and Good Luck
Indecent Proposal
John Barry Moviola

La Vie En Rose
Legends of the Fall
Love Affair
Love Story
Mamma Mia
Marie Antoinette
Married Life
Message in a Bottle
Mulholland Falls
North by Northwest
Only You

Out of Africa
Paris je t'aime
Sex and the City
Something's Gotta Give
Somewhere in Time
Sunset Boulevard
The Graduate
The Holiday
The Reel Quincy Jones
The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Way We Were

Thomas Crown Affair (original and sequel)
Tortilla Soup
Twenty First Century Film Classics
Varese Sarabande 25th Anniversary
Waiting To Exhale
West Side Story