Thursday, March 28, 2013

Art Department survival Kit

Being on set is often a whirl wind of activity, and you never really know what kind of challenges are going to await you once you get going. To really succeed in the the art department you should have a well stocked bag of tricks to help you get through the day. Here are the items I want to have with me while working a set.

As you are about to notice I tend to over-pack. Being usually one of perhaps three art department members I feel it is part of my job to come prepared to handle anything that gets thrown my way. so I will divide the list into sections

  1. My ipad/iphone and charger which covers the following necessities:
    1. A digital camera for continuity pictures
    2. A copy of the script
    3. A copy of the shot list
    4. A copy of the shooting schedule
    5. access to email during the day
  2. A leatherman or other multitool
  3. level
  4. metal ruler
  5. LED flashlight or key-chain light
  6. Head lamp
  7. work gloves
  8. broom
  9. dust pan
  10. vacuum or dust buster
  11. duster
  12. oxi clean
  13. bucket
  14. sponge
  15. windex
  16. bleach spray
  17. Paper towels
  18. cough drops - for those moments during filming when you just can't keep the cough away through will power
  19. sharpies, markers, pens, pencils (2B+)
  20. power bars - to help get through the 6 hours or more between breaks
  21. large umbrella
  22. lint roller
  23. seam ripper
  24. hand sanitizer
  25. first-aid kit
    1. band-aids
    2. gauze rolls
    3. gauze pads
    4. alcohol pads
    5. nitrile gloves
    6. medical tape
    7. benadryl
    8. aspirin
    9. neosporin
    10. tweezers
    11. poison ivy wipes
  26. a small sewing kit
    1. black safety pins
    2. various colored threads
    3. scissors
    4. needles
    5. Velcro - sticky backed
  27. Tape
    1. black and white gaff
    2. masking
    3. multiple rolls of different colored electrical tape
    4. crystal clear packing tape
    5. double stick tape
    6. mounting tape
    7. black painters tape
    8. generic painters tape
    9. duct tape
  28. Glue
    1. super glue
    2. Elmer's glue
    3. spray 77
    4. glue stick
Items for your own comfort:
  1. rain coat
  2. spare coat
  3. extra pair of shoes and socks
  4. sunglasses
  5. camping sized adjustable folding table
  6. folding chair or stool
  7. insect repellent
  8. sun screen

Items to keep nearby - in the art van etc.
  1. A basic paint kit 
    1. black spray paint
    2. acrylic paints: black, white, red, yellow, blue
    3. variously sized paint brushes
    4. water bottle just for paint water
    5. rubber and dirty down spray
    6. dulling spray
  2. trash bags
  3. command picture hanging hooks and strips
  4. extra batteries - for when that darn prop decides it's done
  5. small fire extinguisher
  6. lighters and box of kitchen matches
  7. W-D 40
  8. measuring tape
  9. laptop and printer
  10. paper to print on
  11. spare ink
  12. extension cords
  13. work light - preferably battery powered
  14. clamps
  15. bungee cords
  16. rope
  17. cutting mat
Tools you will be grateful to have if you need them:
  1. safety glasses
  2. particle masks / respirator
  3. moving blankets
  4. furniture dolly
  5. tarps
  6. screw drivers - Phillips and flat head
  7. hack saw
  8. wire cutters
  9. allen wrench multitool 
  10. container of nails and screws
  11. cordless drill and charger
  12. drill bits
  13. circular saw
  14. dremmel with bits
  15. hair dryer
  16. sandpaper
  17. sculpty clay
  18. putty knife
  19. spackle
  20. exat-o blades and handle
  21. box cutter
  22. scissors
  23. fuller's earth
  24. steel wool
  25. wire
  26. tea bags - for aging
  27. ziplocks
  28. post-it lables
And even with all of this - I still feel like I'm missing things. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Script breakdown

Pretend you are a production designer; feels good right ;-)

Anyway, you now have a brand-new script in front of you. What do you do now?

Step one, just read it through. no thinking, no note taking, just read it to experience it.

Good job. Now, go back to page one with either a bunch of highlighters or using Adobe reader's highlighter function and get ready to make your breakdown. Now I said production designer, but this a time honored process for any decision-maker on set. (PD, AD, Artistic Director, Props master, Wardrobe Supervisor, you get the picture.)

Breakdowns are the skeleton you will need to get started on the project ahead of you. I like to pick a different color for each of the following categories as I delve into the script.

  1. Scene description- where, time of day, general descriptive notes in the script "INT. Grandma's house, Morning"
  2. Weather because sometimes, they want it to rain or be foggy, and you get to rig it up- "rain trickles past the window"
  3. Set dressing- highlight any specific set dressing notes "the ancient couch groaned beneath his weight as he sat."
  4. Props  (including vehicles) - "He sipped shakily from the chipped blue tea cup"
  5. Characters- "JAMES walked into the room"
  6. Wardrobe (aka costumes) often have distressing (mud, blood, damage) and I always note that in red, because the continuity of these things is always important to keep track of- "his shirt was soaked with rain and covered in blood, mud coated the cuffs of his jeans"
  7. SFX (special effects like monster make-up or wounds)- "He winces as he pours rubbing alcohol over the gash on his shoulder."
Once you've made it through the script it's time to open up a spreadsheet. I tend to use Googledocs- because it's free and accessible anywhere (just make sure to make it offline accessible. there's nothing worse than relying on the cloud for your information and then having no signal). Excel or Evernote works also.

Next make a three sheets in your new workbook. They should be "Wardrobe" [which will have all the wardrobe, character, and SFX/make-up notes], "Props", and "Set Dressing" [which will also be home to any weather notes]. 

Each sheet should be set up as follows: the first column should be scene number, followed by location, followed by the category in question.

Check out the example below:

Ta-da! You just made a breakdown. From here you can make up your budgets, checklists, and track your purchases.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The power of Pintrest

Using Pintrest for something other than web surfing? Is this possible?!

Why yes. Now that there is an option to have secret boards I have been using Pintrest to share research, props shopping, pricing comparison, location photos, and renderings with the production and art teams. There's no file limit to things you can upload (unlike drop box) and everyone can have instant access to everything in an easy to digest format.

Here's a few examples from a past project that is not secret anymore:

I put together these boards so that the director, DP, and SFX all knew where I was going with the color palette and design. And rather than spending time to put all of the research together into a pdf to email to everyone it was all right there. Another bonus- all the comments stay connected to the pins. No more "I like the second one down from the top of the left column."

The best thing about the boards is that you can collaborate on them. So the DP can post his research on angles and lighting, right next to all of my research on wardrobe and set renderings.

It's also super helpful when I'm trying to track down the best prices for props. You pin the image and then you can link right back to the page you found it on. Tons of time saved! No more copy-pasting the heck out of the internet to find what you need. To keep the shared boards less cluttered, I tend to make a separate board when I am hunting for a specific piece. For sample, my research on perfume bottles:

So there you go, Pintrest- beyond pinning pictures of food and crazy nail polish.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Set Etiquette

Film Set Etiquette is so incredibly important.

And a lack of it is the tell-tale sign of someone new to set.

As usual I quote from with a few additions of my own. 
Check out The original posting which focuses more on the G&E perspective: or keep reading below:
  • Drug and alcohol use is frowned upon on set. Films sets are fun to work on, but they are also super fast paced and you need to be able to keep up. A head fogged up by anything slows down the process, and no one is fond of that.
  • Keep you mouth shut and your ears open. Only speak when you need to. If you're gabbin' away in the corner your undoubtedly missing the AD and Director deciding that they're going to "flip the world" shortly. ("flipping the world" means turning the camera around to see the other half of the room.) Or- eeep! you missed the "Rolling!" and have now been caught talking during a take.
  • Respect the chain of command. 
  • Be polite, say please and thank you.
  • Learn people’s names. You'll be working together for a while and it is always easier to work with people you are on a first name basis with.
  • Be watchful and respectful of your co-workers. 
  • Try to show up a little early. Do some networking, learn where the equipment is, read the call sheet, have a coffee. Do whatever it takes to prepare yourself for the day.
  • If you discover you will be late for any reason- call you boss immediately! Film crews work as a team and anyone missing can potentially cripple the process. The sooner your boss knows the sooner they can work around it.
  • Arrive on set prepared with the tools you need to do your job. (For the art department- I will have to post again later about what I tend to bring with me to set.)
  • At top of day report to your department head, introduce yourself and be respectful. They always need to know once everyone has arrived.
  • When given instructions in person or over the walkie be sure to acknowledge by saying “copy” or “copy that”. Do not copy if you do not fully understand the instructions. Feel free to repeat back, ask questions or do whatever it takes to fully understand what you are being instructed to do. More walkie talkie etiquette on
  • When in need of a washroom break be sure to tell your boss! You are fine as long as your boss knows and someone is around to cover you. As a Cinematographer, Director, or Production designer the AD must be told.
  • Watch your boss and be aware of what is going on in your department and around you.
  • Work hard, but don’t over do it. Pace yourself, the days are long and there will be plenty of work.
  • Allow others to do their jobs, don’t be a hero. Don’t chirp in about things that have nothing to do with you or your department.
  • If you want to help another department ask them if they need it first. A simple “may I?” before moving a camera case or stand can save you a lot of grief later. The bigger the set the less likely you will be allowed to touch anything that doesn’t belong to your department.
  • Take a call sheet at the top of the day or print one the night before. In most cases many of your questions can be answered by looking at the call sheet
  • If on a longer job don’t be afraid to ask for a one liner, It can help you to be ready for future days.
  • Do not just plug items into any available outlet. Never unplug anything. ALWAYS ask an Electric.

If you're in charge:

  • Be patient with the less experienced and try to teach as you go. 
  • Don’t be afraid to assign tasks or delegate responsibility, even if someone is working for a lower rate or for free that doesn’t mean baby them. In most cases people working for free are there for the experience and would be willing to do almost anything within reason.
  • Appreciate their hard work and thank them graciously. It’s a simple as saying “great morning guys, thanks for the hard work” or “awesome work today, thanks” at the end of the day. Even covering one pitcher sometime and saying “thanks” goes a hell of a long way.
  • Look out for your people! Don’t let them get taken advantage of, make sure they are being paid fairly, being well fed and getting their full lunch hours. Why? Because they deserve it, the better paid, well rested and fed they are the better they will make you look and the better you will make your boss look.
  • Be assertive when you need to be. Don’t be too nice because you will be walked all over. 

Dealing with Production:

  • If you have a question or concern make sure you are bringing it to the right production team member, don’t hassle the director about something the PM (production manager) should be dealing with and don’t ask the PM something that the AD’s should be dealing with.
  • Know the roles of the production staff, it will get your issues dealt with more efficiently.
  • When you are asked to reply to an email or phone call try to do it as soon as possible. It makes for a very stressful day if you can’t get in touch with the crew the day before a shoot starts.
  • If anything strikes you as odd or concerning on the call sheet let the distributor know as soon as you receive it, don’t wait until you are on set and it might be too late.
  • Keep a copy of the call sheet on you at all times, production doesn’t need to be bothered with questions that can be answered if you just read the call sheet.
  • Don’t ignore the call sheet, some people think that all they need to know is what time they show up and then act surprised when there is a location move. Production doesn’t spend hours working on them for you not to read them.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions or raise concerns, there is a lot going on in a production office and it is possible that things get overlooked.

Sensitive Locations:

  • Respect the home owners wishes. If the home owner is around or you’ve been given instructions to not unplug something or avoid going in a certain room follow those instructions to a T. Otherwise you could get the whole production kicked out. 
  • Careful when removing tape from painted walls or hardwood floors. Although you should be using 2 inch black paper tape (painter tape essentially) it can still cause some damage, so be gentle. 
  • Never use gaff tape on painted surfaces. It will always take it along of the ride when you remove it.
  • Avoid using nails and push-pins on walls- unless given specific permission to do so. Use command picture hanging strips or poster puddy, every time. The reason is mostly due to respect for the location but it also avoids tiny holes all over the place every time you have to move a picture to compensate for the tighter shots.
  • Use moving blankets when sliding around heavy furniture. It saves you back and the floors.
  • Do your best to return the location to the condition it was in when you arrived. If you damage or break something tell Production ASAP. Even if it’s something tiny they can easily be doing damage control or figuring out how to repair or replace it.

Based on that information here’s how to deal with the Electrics:

  • Tell them that you need a line for a certain item, don’t just ask for cable. You could go as far as telling them the wattage, but just saying “Hey, I’d love a line for my smoke machine” is enough. That sentence alone tells them that it will probably be 10-15amps and from there they know exactly what they can do.
  • When they say they will get to it, they will get to it. Don’t pester. Things are prioritized and in many cases there are 5 things that need to happen before they can get you power.
  • When and if you’re done with the line tell someone, don’t just leave it laying there. You could also wrap it yourself, but be sure you know the proper way of wrapping cable.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Whoa! Wait a minute! I could have sworn it was 9 o'clock like- 3 minutes ago! I don't understand how it happens, but when I get really into something I'm working on I get sucked into these weird time-warp moments and come out bleary eyed and dazed. Good thing I don't have to be up early tomorrow. JK, I have to be at an SFX fitting in the morning as the behind the scenes videographer. Lol, I think I'll keep it on sticks for the most part. No reason to go all clover field on it just because I couldn't figure out how to look up from my budgeting.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hmm... Nope.

Last post I mentioned how excited I was about the casting call we where having. The search continues, since neither of our two little actors showed up. You'll never get cast if you don't show up. Just saying.

While in waiting

A pretty slow moving and sludge-like day. I have no problem saying that script breakdowns are not one of my favorite things to do. They are necessary, and I love them with a fiery love once they are done, but I still hate doing them... Ah well small price to pay to do work I love.

So my day has been spent using final draft tagger, and taking breaks to do research for specific props. It would perhaps come as a shock to some of my pintrests followers to realize most of my boards are straight-up research for upcoming projects. Lol

Right now I'm hanging out in the gallery waiting for tonight's actors to arrive for their auditions for a project my husband and I are producing. Their reels seems very promising, and they're hella cute. I hope we find the right little actors tonight ^_^

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Make. Art. Work. artists workshops this Saturday

Hello readers,
One of the many perks to living with a bunch of artists is I often get to hear about upcoming events in the art world without having to hunt high and low to find them. Today's tidbit is about two career strategy workshops for artists being presented by Make.Art.Work this Saturday, March 9th, at the university of New Haven.

From 10am to 12:30pm Jackie Battenfield will present a "Marketing Your work" workshop.

Jackie Battenfield is the author of "how to make a living doing what you love" and will be sharing some of her knowledge and personal experiences on the challenges of sustaining a career in the visual arts. This workshop will explore helpful networking and promotional tools, and how to develop a marketing strategy based on your art and goals.

Then, from 1:30pm to 4pm the "Working with Exhibitors "workshop will bring you an impressive panel of arts professionals who will walk you through how to work with exhibitors. The speakers will include directors and curators such as independent curator Deborah Frizzell, Helen Kauder of Artspace, Laura Marsh of the University of New Haven, Viera Levitt, University of Massachusetts and Sophia Gevas of Silvermine Arts Center. This collection of experts will share their knowledge including what they are look for in the artists when considering them for an exhibit, and obstacles that artists often make for themselves.

Tickets are $28 each or $56 for the full day. Boxed lunch tickets are an additional $10.
Visit for more information and to register. They expect to have a pretty hefty turn-out, so they recommend pre-registering.

Make.Art.Work., Career Strategies for Visual Artists, is presented by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, Greater Hartford Arts Council, with support from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.

For more information contact Jeannie Thomma, Program Coordinator, at

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tips for Art Department to live by

This is the art department companion guide to's 

105 Tips for Grips and Electrics to Live by

Because they said it first, and they said it best, but I just wanted to gear their words of wisdom towards my domain :)
Working on set can be challenging. Long days, not a lot of sleep, and in the art department, you will always discover something new and unexpected once you get to set. So you always have to be thinking five steps ahead of what's currently happening on set.

32 Tips for Arties to live by:

  1. Keep receipts for everything: We often have to buy more than we use, so always keep your receipts, in a neat organized fashion and pay attention to store's return policies. 
  2. Learn the voice of your bosses. I have kept ahead of the director, AD and Cinematographer countless times because whenever they group up to discuss the upcoming shots I invite myself into the conversation or at least keep an ear on it.
  3. Listen for the Assistant Director, you can always be one step ahead if you pay attention. They are the heartbeat keeping the set's pace after all.
  4. Pay attention to what is going on in other departments. Much of the support they require can be determined this way. I hate to say it, but eavesdropping is kind of necessary sometimes.
  5. Listen for people in your department and be aware of any support co-workers may require. Often times just flying someone a sandbag, stinger or a larger flag can really speed things up. Remember, teamwork is very important.
  6. When flying in large or heavy items be sure to call it out. Calling out things like “Couch flying in!” or just "Points!" is essential. Never turn a corner or go through a door without calling it out. As an Art department member I will often call out things like "Breakables flying in!" or "Hot coffee!" if I happen to be carrying something hot. I've noticed saying hot coffee will get anyone's head to perk up.
  7. Work safely, never run but do keep up a good pace. And always double check your work. Did you grab the prop from the actor? Or did they put it into their pocket?
  8. Never ever ever plug something in without asking someone from Electrics first. Whether it's a hair dryer for some paint, a sewing machine for a quick fix, or a practical for set dressing- ask first. You never know what circuit might be close to capacity with lighting equipment. So always ask first.
  9. Always wear appropriate clothing and shoes. Closed-toed comfortable shoes, modest tops, and pants or shorts. There is no reason for dresses or skirts on set unless you're talent.
  10. Add some sash chord to things like knives and wrenches. When on a ladder or lift,  wrap the sash around your wrist. The last thing you want is to drop something on someone’s head.
  11. Learn the names of your coworkers. It is understandable that you might not be able to learn all the names on set, but be sure to know the names of the Key Grip and Master Electrian, Everyone in Camera department, the director, AD, 2nd AD, Key PA, and of course everyone in Arts. Basically anyone you will be working along side.
  12. Be respectful to other departments, we are all working towards the same goal, even if we all do it different ways.
  13. If uncomfortable with an assigned task or unsure, always ask! Someone else might be more suited for that job (say climbing a 12step ladder to greek a sign) it takes time to hone your skill and become comfortable with the various situations you might be put in. However, don't be timid, you should always be trying to push your limits and grow.
  14. Although we all love having a fun time on set, keep personal conversation to a minimum or at least away from set. Even work related conversations should be kept fairly quiet. 
  15. Come to work prepared to do your job. For and indie artistic director that means everything from tape, to a camera and saws. I'll post soon about what to pack in your art kit.
  16. Label your personal gear. People won’t intentionally steal from you, but sometimes they just forget.
  17. Although you should have your most important tools on your belt at all times that doesn’t mean you should carry EVERYTHING! In fact, having too much stuff on your belt can be dangerous or a nuisance to the sound department. So your general belt buddies should, at least, be a multitool, walkie-talkie, and safety pins.
  18. Invest in a proper multi-tool. Leatherman is the way to go. You can get cheap alternatives, but a Leatherman is industry standard and will last you years. 
  19. Always be sure to return tools to the original owners. This goes for gear too. If an electric lets you use an extension chord you should try to return the cable in the same condition it was given to you. 
  20. Gear (props, set dressing, ext.) is to be staged neatly. Like items kept together, everything easily accessible. When finished with a piece of gear it can be returned to the staging area, but not returned to the truck until wrap.Staging should be set as close to the set as possible without being in the way.
  21. Learn “Camera Left” and “Camera Right”. These mean from the point of view of the camera. If you are facing the camera “Camera Left” means your Right.
  22. Learn “Up Stage” and “Down Stage”. Down Stage means closer to camera, Up Stage means farther from camera.
  23. Watch every take it is your responsibility to act as a second set of eyes for anything prop, set, and sometimes costume continuity.
  24. Treat all gear with respect. If and when a prop or tool is damaged or goes missing you must report it to the Production designer and/or artistic director.
  25. There is always work to do on set. When not on any particular task you should spend your time cleaning up the staging area or preparing stuff for the next setup. You never want to be caught sitting around. 
  26. Try to Work Smart, Not Hard. Plan things out instead of just diving in. It will save you time later.
  27.  Save your back, get into the habit of always lifting with your legs, never your back. This goes for lighter items too. The key is to keep your back straight and bend at the knees.
  28. Always pay attention to weather, things can change from one moment to the next. Wind can pick up or a storm can come in. I know it sounds unlikely, but I’ve been there before. Safety first. Which is a good reason to always dress in layers
  29. Keep a spare set of clothes and a rain coat in your car. In the art department you will be amazed how many times you discover yourself covered in muck by the end of the day.
  30. If asked for an ETA on your wrap, it might be beneficial to over estimate. Wrapping takes time, you never know what can go missing or other unforeseen issues.
  31. ALWAYS do a dummy check. Missing gear makes you and your team look bad. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.
  32. Leave a location the same or better than you found it. Make sure the furniture and knick-knacksis back to where they started, make sure all the things you flipped around to hide logos are put back in order, take the tape balls out from under pictures. We tend to touch everything on a location, so it is up to us to return it to sorts.
  33. Always have a Head-Mounted Hands Free LED flashlight on you at all times. Best is a bright white/Red combo.