Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Natural Clusters

Here’s some more on film work and how the departments break up.

There are natural overlaps between what we do. My department, Production Design, already consists of construction (carpenters build the sets), set decoration (the folks who populate the sets with furniture), and the art department (someone has to find or make posters, artwork, ticket stubs, and so on – if you can see it on camera, it’s not an accident). Another group in there is greens, the people who work with plants, trees, and so on. Also painters. I think that’s it. So we’re big and sprawling, and that’s important to know, because that’s not the overlap I’m even talking about.

We connect most naturally with props, and somewhat less so (but still regularly) with wardrobe. Here’s a simple example – let’s say a couple is on a date and it’s chilly outside. They’ve got jackets – so that’s wardrobe, right? Everything they’re wearing is the wardrobe department. Except their wedding rings, those are props. Why wedding rings and no other jewelry, which are considered wardrobe accessories? I could make a guess, but it’d only be a guess. In any case – that couple at that dinner scene involves wardrobe (the clothes on their backs), properties (all the food that they’re eating and the utensils with which they’re eating it), the art department (for the menus), and set dressing (for everything in the background, the color of the tablecloths, and so on).

Flash forward to the end of a good – no, we’ll call it a great date. They’re in bed. They’re making love. The camera pans across the floor, following a trail of shoes, pants, jackets, panties, bra, and so on. Because, yeah, we all get undressed like that. Sorry – where was I – realism? No! That’s storytelling! I was talking about departments! Those clothes on the ground? Who’s wearing them? The correct answer is nobody, which means they are no longer the responsibility of the wardrobe department. Now they’re in set dressing territory. On the set that I work on, one wardrobe people comes over to me with all of those clothes, carefully placed on hangers or in plastic bags, and then I dress them to camera, one breadcrumb-piece at a time. Things go the other direction as well. There’s a piece of set dressing just sitting and minding its own business when an actor and a director decide now would be a good time to pick it up. Now it’s a prop.

It’s not that we squabble about who has to touch what – there may be shooting crews like that, but we’re not one of them. What it means practically is that one department is responsible for management of said item. Costume pieces are cared for by wardrobe, no questions asked, but I dress them to camera. Someone picks up a chair and shakes it, sets it back down? It’s still my department, but now props has to track that item and know when it was used, scene and episode, in case they have to do re-shoots or match it for a later episode. So: dressing, props, wardrobe. We’re a natural cluster.

Grip and electric form another one. The electrics department puts up the lights and runs power for everyone who might need it – for video village (where everyone watches the monitors and sees what the camera is seeing), for the dollies should their batteries be running low. They drop “lunchboxes” all over the set for easy access to power, but of course what that means is that the rest of us are charging our smart phones on them all day as well. It’s probably pretty annoying. If the electrics department is in charge of producing light, the grips are in charge of shaping it. They put up the flags (dark fabric for shuttering light), the bounces (light or reflective fabric for re-directing it), the tree branches (for dappling with shadows), and so on.

And here’s an awkward overlap some days: greens and grip. Basically, the rule of thumb is that if you see the leaves on the screen, it’s greens. If you see the shadow, it’s grip.

Anyway, grip and electric. Those guys have to work together all the time. On commercials and small shoots, they’re basically one and the same.

Hair, make-up, and wardrobe are often called “the vanities.” They have the most direct connection with the actors most frequently. They’re all involved with the presentation of a character and how we as an audience understand who that person is. But imagine that person applies make-up in a scene? Props! And how that person keeps their house? Set dressing.

Camera and grip interact pretty tightly. Grips move stuff that’s not dressing out of the way for camera – walls, ceiling pieces, and so on.

Dressing works with the sound department to minimize reflections from boom poles so that you, the audience, can’t see that we’re filming. We don’t want you to think about the fact that we’re filming, right? Camera and sound do the same thing, working together to look for reflections.

All of this makes for lots of potential friction. What if we don’t like one another? Play nicely? What if I’m swamped with a full re-dress of a tricked out office and the sound guy is bugging me about raising a chandelier so that he can run his boom pole more easily? Not that that’s ever happened. The thing that it all comes down to is that even though we’re structured like a machine, we’re still a bunch of people.

What I said last time – we’re built for speed, not efficiency. We could collapse departments. We could be leaner. Instead we cluster.

Leaner is not faster.


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