Tell us what you're currently doing and what's involved with the position.
I am a freelance Art Director for film and tv in IATSE 800 Art Directors Guild. Recent credits: The L Word: Generation Q, Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, Yellowstone. Simply- an art director executes the vision of the production designer.
Can you share your path since graduation that led you to your current gig?
I graduated right before the 2008 crash- a time when a lot of 500k - 1 million dollar budget movies were being made. I production designed many low budget films at that time. I was often a one person art department where I did everything that falls under the art department umbrella- sourced and aged props, built/plastered/painted/wallpapered walls, shopped and decorated sets, dressed in greens and also acted as the on set dresser and prop person. While I sometimes cringe when I look back at how exploited I was, I did learn a lot…specifically when to say no, when to ask for more help, a bigger budget or more time.
After 5 years of working on low budget indie films I decided I needed to get out and get into studio work. I had my fill of printing wallpaper for a set that shoots the next day at a Kinkos at 3am. I bothered everyone I knew working on studio projects until I finally got an art dept PA job on a pilot. I was hired to the series when it was picked up and then I moved up and joined IATSE 871 as an art department coordinator and then 4 years later after many movies and shows I moved up again and joined IATSE 800 as an assistant art director and after 2 years I moved up to where I am now- an art director.
It sounds somewhat seamless but bumping up from art department coordinator to assistant art director wasn’t easy but luckily the art director and production designer I worked with on Twin Peaks were able to hire me as an assistant art director on the inaugural season of Yellowstone.
How did you break into this particular part of the industry?
The pilot I was hired on as an art dept PA was staffed with a super talented production designer and set decorator who helped me get subsequent jobs. I still keep in touch with them and occasionally work with them when our schedules align.
What are the key skills required to handle your job?
Being able to creatively problem solve and think outside the box. There is never enough time or money (even on the biggest shows) so being able to think beyond the knee jerk answer has helped me create and execute dynamic sets that feel fresh and interesting and correct.
Being an organized and thorough communicator is also key. When I boil down the job, my main task is getting people the information they need to create the set the production designer / showrunner / producers and director want.
Are you working with other Drexel alumni? How has that network paid off for you?.
I have worked with other Drexel alumni and have hired alumni to my art department but I didn’t know they were alumni until we worked together. Coincidentally I married a Drexel Dragon who is an IATSE 44 Prop Master but we met in LA.
How did Drexel prepare you for getting to this point in your career?
I am naturally an information seeking person and as a result I have developed a deep knowledge of films and filmmakers. I will say that that knowledge isnt required to work in this field but it has elevated the work I do and helped me communicate my ideas to the people I work for- the production designer / showrunner / producers / director. Being able to speak in the short hand of another movie or show that did something similar to what I want to create is often a lot more effective than a Sketchup model, mood board or construction drawing.
Drexel film curriculum and the other movie lovers I met while at Drexel helped nurture my love of movies and helped me see that this art form and craft is where I want to be.
What advice would like to go back and give your undergraduate self?
I would tell myself to relax and trust that it will all work out. And to ask more questions and trust my gut.