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The Art of Illusion … by Wendy Laybourn

THE BOOK!

I’ve been really busy for the past couple of years helping my Art Director friend, Terry Ackland-Snow, to write a book about working in the film Art Department. We decided to call it The Art of Illusion: Production Design for Film & Television because that’s what making a film or a television programme is all about – sorry to dis-illusion you but what you and the rest of the audience sees on the screen isn’t altogether real!

Like all good things, this project was started over a glass of wine. Maybe I should think twice next time – but I’ve really enjoyed working with Terry and helping him to pull this whole thing together.

Essentially, the book is aimed at anyone wanting to make a career in film production and it will take you through the processes involved in creating a film set step by step. Film sets have been constantly developing from the simple canvas backcloths used on theatre stages, right through to the present day where computer generated effects augment the highly sophisticated art of designing, building and dressing sets.

All of the tips, tricks and techniques described in the book have been used and refined over many decades and, although the technology might have changed, the essence of film making is still the same as it was in those early days.

The Production Designer and Art Director are artists who can adapt their style to any number of different types of production. They integrate themselves and their team into the mood and feeling of any project, comedy, musical, costume drama or science fiction. The range of materials used and the scope of the design evolve as the development of technology and visual processes year by year.

In film and television production the learning process never ends and so even the most experienced film maker will find each new project a challenge!

The book is due to be published by The Crowood Press in September, provisionally priced at £18.99 and with ISBN number 978 1 78500 343 1. It will be available to buy from all good bookshops and from the Crowood website, www.crowood.com.

 

 

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Working in Costume – not for the faint hearted! … by Iona Smith Oliver

Iona Headshot

Iona Smith Oliver

After completing a degree in Fine Art at University of the West of England and in the same year losing my Father to cancer, I worked – any job would do, I just wanted to work and keep busy. It wasn’t until about a year later that I had a chance to reflect on the fact that I was really stressed and exhausted, splitting my time between babysitting, pub work and a variety of unpaid internships. Even though I had put in a huge amount of effort, I still had no direction and no career plan for the long term.

I have always had an interest in sewing and alterations and have been adjusting and reconstructing charity shop clothing since I was very young – and I even used to make fur coats and Spice Girl shoes out of old corks, plaster and dental floss for my Barbie dolls. However, it never occurred to me in later life that ‘Costume’ could be a possible career path for me. By sheer coincidence I started babysitting for a Costume Designer who was incredibly supportive in my quest for work and got me onto my first Costume Assistant job, helping her out on an Argos commercial. It was a great first job as I got to experience lots of different elements of filming, not only to do with Costume but also working with green screen, working with a large group of people (what seemed like five Assistant Directors!) and working with puppets and puppeteers. I remember the first time I went into her studio to pull outfits and the excitement I felt at the realisation that this job really ticked all the boxes for me.

From then on I started to be proactive in my search for work and most importantly (seems rather obvious but top tip!) when asked – I told people that I worked in Costume. You would be surprised at the amount of people that are willing to put you in touch with their niece or old school friend or housemate and it is really, really worth following these contacts up! One of the main lessons I learned very quickly was that finding work is all about connecting with people and being present in a community – you never know where any conversation or email will take you. One particular example of this was a seemingly random phone call I got from a Supervisor asking if I could assist her and the Designer on a feature film up in Leeds. I was unable to do the job at the time but we got on so well on the phone that she asked me to assist her on a low budget feature later that year. We have since become great friends and have formed a strong team with the Designer from the Leeds job and have now worked together on several features.

Carey Mulligan as Maud in 'Suffragette' - 2015

Carey Mulligan as Maud in ‘Suffragette’ – 2015

Through the first women I worked with, I was fortunate enough to get a few dailies on ‘Suffragettes’ which was a period feature. It was unlike any experience I had had before. The sheer scale of the production was over whelming. To give you an idea, on one particular day I was one of 18 dailies who were responsible for dressing and assisting 200+ extras. A whole street was shut down in Central London and transformed into a busy working Victorian street, along with horse drawn buses and a hot chestnut stall. This is something I find especially exciting about working for Costume on screen as it is all about making the illusion believable. The attention to detail and the work that goes into these productions does make me feel really proud to be a part of it.

When I’m working on say a 4/5 week shoot my life tends to be dedicated to the process for the whole of the shoot. This is purely because the working day can be anywhere from 12-16 hours and Costume is usually the first to arrive and the last to leave at the end of the day.

There are many qualities I think you need to survive in the world of Costume and I use the word ‘survive’ as it can be an incredibly tough and competitive industry. First and foremost strong people skills are a must! Working with large groups of people for long hours and often under a time constraint, people will get stressed (you may too!) and I tend to have the policy that what happens at work stays at work and doesn’t affect my personal relationships. Problem solving and efficiency is another good quality, as things do and sometimes will go wrong. You need to be able to think fast and act quickly as time is always of the essence.

'Hi-Lo Joe' 2015

‘Hi-Lo Joe’ 2015

I have been working in the industry for just under a year now and, although I have had a wide and varied amount of experience though all sorts of budgets and roles I am now concentrating on being a hard working Costume Trainee. I think you learn and grow from experience on every job you do and in many ways I’m sure this will continue throughout my career. I’m still unsure if I want to be a Costume Designer per se but am very keen to improve my making and construction skills and feel that this may be a large part of my career in the future.

I have been fortunate enough this year to become a part of the 2015 Sara Putt Trainee Scheme and especially lucky, as this is their first year of taking on Costume Trainees. It is so amazing having the support not only from the agency but also from a close network of fellow Trainees. I would really recommend getting involved with a Trainee Scheme as they can be an invaluable resource when learning how to find work and network effectively. Check out my CV (resumé) on this website and contact me via my LinkedIn page.

Iona’s credits to date are: Suffragettes, Hi-Lo Joe, Writer’s Retreat, Foxes, Black Sea, Golden Years, Lady in the Van.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2015 in Costume Department

 

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HOW I GOT INTO SOUND POST-PRODUCTION … by Ben Simpson

My response to the question: “Oh that’s Sound Post-Production … what got you into that then?” – by Ben Simpson

It wasn’t so much that I was incapable of doing the work at A Level, it was more that I wasn’t in the right state of mind to make a good job of it. I know I can’t be the only one to ever feel this way – too much time spent being talked at rather than to. I suppose the insipid teaching is partly responsible. After I came out with two AS levels in Law and Psychology and an A level in Drama, I felt my time in education was over and so I went into full time work.

The monotonous tedium of jumping from job to job got old all too quickly and all I knew was that I wanted to be involved in music, creating it, producing it and making it sound like the tracks I’d admired for so long. I decided that now was the best time to ‘follow my dreams’ (kind of) so I enrolled in a BTEC course in Music Technology. Three tutors in particular were very encouraging and kept pushing my limits, which I loved because it gave me a challenge that high school never could. It was the best experience I’d ever had in education – apart from Reception because you could just mess around in the sand pit all day; you do that now and people think you’re odd.

It was during this course that I did my first post-production module and knew that I’d found what it was I wanted to do with my life. It had never occurred to me before that sound should be recorded separately from where the film was shot. It sounds silly to me now obviously, but not many people will believe you when you tell them that, for example, 98% of the sounds in ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ were created entirely separate from the filming. Foley and composition were the main parts of post-production that stood out for me. I got to write music and also create some natural effects with weird and wonderful techniques, such as kicking a bin in various ways with different things in it to create the sound of an exploding tank. It’s all about layers – like an ogre.

From here I managed to convince an award-winning director to let me compose some music for his short film ‘Grotto’. By this time the film was already picture locked and so I asked if he would give me a few days to compose something to it and if he didn’t like it, then at least he would know he made the right decision. From what I can gather, it is now being made into a feature length film, which is awesome. I wasn’t as confident with Foley back then as I am now and so I didn’t dare apply for that role too and potentially ruin it! Though with hindsight (being 20/20), it would have been well worth just trying to get involved in it somehow because although I wouldn’t have been able to contribute all that much, I might have been able to help now and again and would have learned a lot. Sometimes though, you want to make a splash when you do something for the first time instead of just wading in slowly from the shallow end and have everyone think you can’t do full lengths of butterfly. My plan was to get good behind closed doors, then kick it down like ironman with the sound effects to boot!

I worked so hard at college that I got the best possible grades, showing me at least, that not all intelligence is measured in academia, and the value of a person in society should not be forever coupled to the measure of how well they could regurgitate what they were told as a teenager. As Albert Einstein said, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on how well it can climb a tree, it’ll go through it’s whole life thinking it’s an idiot.”

I chose to go on to University to do a Music Production BA, knowing I could specialise in post-production, and doing so for my second year as well as for my final year project. I have been taking every opportunity, which has lead me to talking to some of the top Foley artists in the industry for advice and insight, get advice from seasoned professionals by the sheer luck of going into the right church just to ask if I could record some Foley in there for the ambience, be the composer for a excellent final year film project for the Leeds Beckett Film School, be a Foley artist for a TV series pilot that is currently – at the time this is written – filming, record the Leeds Symphony Orchestra and write this article – all alongside my work for my final year. To get the composition job I used my old trick of “give me a few days and I’ll send you something over, I know I can deliver what you’re wanting.” This time it wasn’t picture locked so I couldn’t sync the music to the picture, I just had to capture the feel of the whole thing by reading the script over and over and listening to what the director and producer were saying they wanted. It works, for me, like an inverted mind map. The centre is the goal and I have to use my knowledge surrounding it to get there, as opposed to expanding outward endlessly.

University – although ‘expensive’ – has been one of the best ways to get to know people in the industry, so that’s the route I’ve gone. I was the antipode of a typical student, I think I went out ‘on the town’, so to speak, only once. To be honest though, I really dislike drinking, being deafened by endless dubstep and ‘dancing’ around sweaty drunken strangers anyway, so it worked out for the best!

However, I believe that because I’ve worked hard it has given me confidence in my abilities. I can demonstrate and discuss what I do and why I do it, meaning when I apply for positions and opportunities, I do so more positively and with more equanimity. That is one of the most important lessons I have learnt from University. The grade is mostly in the justification. If you can’t justify why you’ve done something creative then it can be confusing, but if you can, then it becomes more understandable and shows off your creativity in the light you intended. Think of all that modern art – an unmade bed was one I believe, as was a light switch and a bin full of make-up – it’s how it was justified that made it artistic.

The way of the creative industries is that no one is “the best”. Ask a group of people who is the best actor is and I’d wager it’ll be a while before you get a repeated answer … unless it’s the morning after the Oscars when “Best Actor” has just been awarded – but again, that’s the opinion of a certain group of people – and why would their opinion change yours? What I’m trying to say by bringing up subjectivity and justification is that I’ve found that you can have sound coming from a spaceship whilst in space, you can have elephants shaking the ground with their steps and you can have longbows creaking when arrows are drawn, as long as it makes sense with the film.
I am confident that – with this work ethic – I can continue to be part of wonderful projects, each of them improving my knowledge and making me more and more pleased to have dropped out of work to go after what made me happy. So I tinker around on a piano making nice sounds for brilliantly creative films and it seems my journey through education has come full circle, because ironically enough, I spend a large number of my days messing around in sand pits after all … and I don’t care if people think I’m odd, I love it!

The author's self-portrait

The author’s self-portrait

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2015 in Sound Department, Uncategorized

 

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CARE FOR WHAT YOU SHOW by Peter J Knight

 

Peter J Knight

Peter J Knight

The most important thing is the way that a film is screened for the audience. It is, after all, the very last link in a production chain which will have taken a huge amount of money and involved hundreds of talented people – so if it is not presented in the best possible way then all of that effort has been wasted.

I was asked by Wendy to write this article back in 2009 when digital cinema was actually a bit of a way off, although definitely on the horizon – but there were still projectionists working in the box and they were still a very important part of the audience’s enjoyment.

For various reasons the article was started but never finished and, over the intervening years, things have changed at a great speed, which has seen the majority of projectionists lose their jobs. In most large multiplex environments, the technical roles have been taken over by cinema managers. However, I wrote an article about the Art of Projection: http://www.indieplex.org/the-art-of-the-projectionist/ and this article for Network Nine News came back into mind and this article takes a look at some of the history of the projectionist but also why it is still important to put on a good show.

I call myself a projectionist and am likely to do so for a good few more years – sometimes I add AV Technician as well – but I am still a projectionist. I have been a projectionist for nearly 16 years which, compared to many in the industry makes me fairly junior, especially when you consider I’m only part time. However, one of the things I have always found and been told, or had reinforced to me, is that the projectionist is the last link in a massive film-making chain which has evolved through thousands of people, years of work and millions of pounds/dollars – and if you get it wrong at the point of screening, it has all been wasted.

In the early years of cinema, the projectionists were the showmen who entertained audiences, usually in village halls or fairgrounds showing off this latest technology – a sight which many would have been unaccustomed to. Many of these showmen went on to make their own films, people such as William Haggar, who produced many short films in the early 1900’s for his local Welsh audience.

Early cinema shows were often known as ‘cinevariety’, as it wasn’t just the one film which was screened – there would be a news reel, followed by a ‘B’ movie and then the main feature so with all the projectors and stage lighting there could be anything up to five people in the projection room – this went on until the multiplexes came into fashion.

The usual way that a projectionist was recruited was as a young boy (or girl), often replying to a slide advert in the cinema. Like most trades and apprenticeships, projectionists would start at the bottom, learning about cleaning (projection rooms were always kept sparkling clean) then perhaps going on to be a rewind boy.

Projectionists are a weird bunch; they spend the majority of their lives in darkened rooms with their closest friend often the flickering light on the screen. Through history the projectionist has been responsible for the care of the presentation of a film. Written in numerous projectionist manuals is a line to the effect …”The Projectionist is the last link in the filming making chain and it is your responsibility to show that film in the best possible way”. It was this belief and value which was instilled into the projectionist for more than a century. Right from the very beginning, showmanship and presentation was at the heart of the role. Once upon a time the projectionist would have to hand crank the film, working out the best way to make the projector work and to crank the machine at the proper frame rate!

Often the projector and film would be bought without any instructions in the early days, when many ‘bioscopes’ were run and operated by funfair showman. These basic affairs of a tent with a few benches and a screen got more and more ornate as the showmen tried to out-do each other and persuade the audience to visit their film show rather than a rival. There were big fair organs, powered by steam engines, as well as live stage shows. All required a great deal of skill to make it happen. In the USA it was common for small storefronts to be converted into theatres, charging five cents for a show, thus the ubiquitous name ‘nickelodeons’.

A projectionist would have to earn their way to being chief projectionist by learning the requisite skills, starting as a rewind boy and spending all their time cleaning the projection room, often for many months before being allowed anywhere near any film – and it would be a long time before they would be allowed to touch a projector.

This extract from what is obviously a much longer document demonstrates very clearly the care and attention that went into the projectionist’s work – cinema showmanship Late 40′s style: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvQWMSZS-Rs. In fact, such was the importance and value given to the projectionist, that there was an ‘Operators Creed’ – this was not written by me but was found in a 1935 Projectionist Diary – but is just as true today as it was then!

THE OPERATOR’S CREED

  • Remember yours is one of the most highly skilled jobs in this modern wonder age and technical developments succeed one another with bewildering rapidity.
  • Concentrated within the spool-box is the consummate artistry of playwrights, actors, producers and camera-men. You are the last and the most important link in a great chain.
  • According to your diligence and craftsmanship, so has this artistry, this anxious care, this enormous expense been wasted or justified.
  • Yours is the task of taking thousands of your fellow men and women away from the cares of an often drab and colourless existence, transporting them on your magic carpet to a land of make-believe and sending them away refreshed to tackle the world of reality with renewed zest and high courage.
  • To achieve this you have to master a formidable list of highly technical subjects, you have to be resourceful in emergency, calm in danger and unremitting in sacrificing your time and, if need be, your person in the interests of the public you serve.
  • A noble and inspiring calling that is surely, if slowly, receiving the recognition it deserves.

However, slowly and over time, cinema chains have decided that it is no longer necessary to have curtains, masking or lighting adjustments in the auditoria. Audiences now walk into a cinema with a big, white, blank screen – and some of the awe that had once filled the auditorium was inexorably and finally lost. With the advent of Digital Projection it is possible for the presentation of an entire cinema circuit to be controlled from a room, anywhere in the world, by only one person. For the majority of cinemas, a single uniform presentation style began to be implemented. Only a very few independent venues still have a projectionist because of their desire to continue to do some theatrical presentation.

Cinema has become more complicated with all the different formats, aspect ratios, sound systems and other requirements from content makers. This film which shows the number of different aspect ratios which have appeared over the years helps demonstrates some of this: http://vimeo.com/68830569.

While the everyday films can often be run by low-paid, non-skilled workers who have no sense of whether the film is being shown in the best possible way, or whether all the speakers are working properly, or if the lighting source lamp is aligned correctly, or if the 3D filter is in its proper place – and so many other questions that most of these amateur ‘projectionists’ don’t even know to ask. This work is often delegated to concession workers, assistant managers, or anyone who just happens to be available when something needs to be done in the booth – or if, heaven forbid, something goes wrong during a screening.

The new digital technology has convinced cinema owners that the projectionist can go the way of the lighthouse keeper or the steam train stoker. Where once there may have been five or more projectionists in the box, now there will be nothing but blinking lights and whirring fans as servers and other digital equipment which replace the showmen of yesteryear. Like all technology, it is great when it works but it is when it is misbehaving, or when there is something unusual and technically tricky to screen – that you need the hands, eyes and experience of the expert projectionist.

THE FUTURE

Even in modern cinema with all the latest technology, there is still the need for a projectionist, or at least a technical person in the box. While the everyday requirements of making up and running a film may have been reduced in their overall complexity, a projectionist is still a useful person to have around. Digital projectors still need maintenance, still need someone to reboot them when something goes wrong – but that is the easy part. Cinemas are looking to making use of this new technology through hiring the venue for alternative content which is where a technical person is of most value – there are now more formats and aspect ratios and ways of connecting equipment than ever before – and someone who knows how to get the best from the equipment and wants to put on a good show should still be an essential part of the cinema experience.

It doesn’t matter what your role is or where you work, the most important thing is the way that a film is screened for the audience. It is, after all, the very last link in a production chain which will have taken a huge amount of money and involved hundreds of talented people – so if it is not presented in the best possible way then all of that effort has been wasted. It should not matter whether it is a big blockbuster, a low budget, or a short – people have spent their time and money to make that dream come true – so is vital that the film is shown in the best way possible.

About the author: Peter J. Knight, otherwise known has The Mad Cornish Projectionist (www.madcornishprojectionist.co.uk), has been involved in the cinema exhibition industry since 1997, when he was started as an assistant projectionist at Flix – Loughborough Student Cinema. Later becoming head projectionist and actively involved with the overall running of the organization. After graduation Peter moved to London where he has freelanced as a Projectionist/AV Technician since in a variety of different venues from arts centres to preview theatres and even at the Glastonbury Music Festival. Peter is chairman of the Projected Picture Trust (www.ppttrust.org), an organization interested in the preservation of cinema technology equipment, and is also the vice-chairman of the BKSTS Cinema Technology Committee, an organization which is interested in the education of the current day cinema technical worker and cinema technological development. Peter also writes extensively about all areas of the cinema industry and the technical elements of projection. He has also recently just launched We Can Still Show Film (www.wecanstillshowfilm.com) a free international website which is aimed at recording all the people, venues and companies still able to handle film.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Cinema Projection

 

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THE ART OF COSTUME DESIGN by Lindy Hemming

From a 2010 article in Network Nine News ©

Lindy Hemming with her Oscar for 'Topsy Turvy'

Lindy Hemming with her Oscar for ‘Topsy Turvy’

 

I was born in a remote country village in Wales in 1948, the eldest of 5 children. I was always bilingual, speaking Welsh at school and English at home. Both my parents were creative in a craft way and supplemented their rather overstretched income by making and selling things in our local town market at weekends. During the week my father worked at various kinds of sales jobs and at night he worked as a talented woodcarver. My mother was a teacher – she could draw, design and make clothes – mostly in my case, converting ‘hand me downs’ and sometimes, if we were really lucky, she used new fabric – although in rural Wales this usually meant something in design and fashion terms which looked about 10 years out of date, especially to my beady eye as, even from about 7 or 8 years old, I was very concerned with what people wore and how they looked (I was also very worried that the previous owners of the hand me downs would recognise them on me, in their newly converted state!)

So we spent lots of time hanging around in market places, seeing wild and wonderful people on their one day out off the mountains and later on, when I was about 8 years old, we moved into a village shop where we all took turns to serve and observe.

Anyhow, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in people – who they were, what they did, where they came from, what they thought and why did they dress like that … and what did it say about them – what are they saying with their clothes, hair, jewellery, shoes, creases, wrinkles, wear and tear –  so many clues to be gleaned but never knowing at the time that this weird obsession would one day form the basis of my work.

I didn’t ever attend art school as my father had convinced me that I must do a ‘worthwhile’ job. So I trained as an orthopaedic nurse which, though seemingly irrelevant to costume design, meant dealing closely with people and observing and listening to them, which I later found incredibly useful in my career.

The Oscar-winning 'Topsy Turvy'

The Oscar-winning ‘Topsy Turvy’

Eventually, encouraged by the example of friends, I attended The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and studied there for three years, encompassing Stage Management, Design and a notably bad attempt at acting an old woman in a Checkov play!  It was at RADA that I first encountered ‘Costume Design’ and loved it from the first moment, knowing that it encompassed everything I was interested in.    

It’s my strong opinion that before all else, a person who wants to be a costume designer needs to have an innate, inquisitive and abiding interest in human beings of every age, type and class (this justifies my nosiness!) and be strong enough to hold on to an idea and play a long game … have patience … because, in its simplest form, what designing costumes for film, television, theatre or commercials is all about, is clothing the human body in something which the designer believes will speak both to the actor – who wears the costume – and to the audience, thereby playing a part, however subtly, in creating the character ‘with’ the actor – thus providing more information to the audience and helping with their understanding and enjoyment of the play or film. This applies equally to both ‘period’ and ‘contemporary’ films.

The work is often so subtle that it is pretty subliminal. It is a good exercise to watch contemporary films and think about the garment choices that have been made and whether you think they are perfect. Often, uninitiated audiences think that in a contemporary film the actors are wearing  their own clothes.

A costume designer, like most kinds of ‘designers’ by definition is going to spend a huge portion of their life solving problems and being creative within prescribed parameters which arise, not  solely from practical and financial reasons – but from having to take into consideration and often incorporating the ideas and opinions of many other people during the design process; director, producer, studio executives, accountants, actors, et al (not to mention the egos which come with the territory!) It is agreed, I think, by most of us that contemporary costumes are much more difficult to execute, precisely because so many people feel they know what a character would/should wear – with period costume there is a barrier called ‘historical accuracy’ which quiets the suggestions of the … ‘wouldn’t it be good if ‘ … or worse …‘my wife loves shopping, maybe she could do your job’….

Lindy’s sketch for Elektra’s costume in the1999 film‘The World is not Enough’

Lindy’s sketch for Elektra’s costume in the1999 film
‘The World is not Enough’
© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

Sophie Marceau in costume as Elektra, Maiden’s Tower© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

Sophie Marceau in costume as Elektra, Maiden’s Tower
© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first work as a costume designer was at a fringe theatre on Tottenham Court Road called The Open Space Theatre. I was the general and often only costume person and so designed, made, shopped, washed and ironed. I was then fortunate to work at The Hampstead Theatre Club as a designer for several years, simultaneously looking after and supporting a young son and daughter. It was a fantastic opportunity to really find out how theatre costume design worked at a time when there still was political and experimental writing and producing happening. I worked in Fringe Theatre for about 10 years in all and gradually was asked by directors such as Michael Rudman, Mike Leigh, Alan Ayckbourn, Trevor Nunn, Richard Eyre, Howard Davies and Nancy Meckler to work on bigger and more mainstream shows, consequently working in the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as the West End of London and Broadway in New York. The magic was, at one point, having  five shows running simultaneously in London!Anyone who has worked in theatre will know that, whilst it is the most satisfying design experience there isn’t, even at that level, a decent living to be earned for a costume designer. So, for that and other reasons, after about 15 years I began to hope that I might be fortunate enough to be asked to design the odd film or two! Good fortune, in the forms of Richard Eyre and Mike Leigh, smiled at me and for the ensuing twenty-six years I have almost exclusively designed for film.

How is this different … well, initially you feel it must be, as the method of production is so different – but all the costume design basics remain exactly the same …

Firstly, there is an interview/meeting situation where you are asked to read the script and then go to meet the Director and possibly the Producer. At this time you are expected to have had some ideas and make some observations and even, if you feel an idea or two forming, you can look out some reference/research to show them, which is a useful aid to your interview and gets them reacting, thus giving you an idea of what they might be thinking. Mainly though, they will be looking to see if you have ‘suitable form’ or a CV which interests them and whether they feel they will be able to work creatively with you. Often they are also thinking of how you would get on with the actors they have in mind – whether you will ‘gel’. IF they decide to engage you, you will have more meetings with the director to discuss his/her and your vision of the film and who the characters in the story are, what their background is and how do we feel their clothing reflects their personality. You will begin to draw your ideas, not necessarily fully-blown costume drawings but sketches and details that you think of, or see, in reference material.

This part of the process is really fantastically enjoyable – a time when you can do loads of research and learn about the world that the film is portraying, whether it be historical or contemporary – it is equally challenging and equally important to come to a conclusion and be clear about what you would aim to do with each character. It could mean spending time in libraries, art galleries, magazine shops, in a hospital or a factory, or just riding on public transport. Collecting things which reflect the colours or textures you want to use and swatching for fabrics either with the intention of using them to make the clothes, or to show alongside your drawings as an aid to understanding what you mean. Often on large films, there isn’t time for lots of drawing and I often use tear sheets and collage boards to get my point across – for contemporary work they are sometimes clearer.

It’s at this time that you consolidate the LOOK and collaborate with the actors. It is important to them during their creation of the character that they know what the person they are creating will look like.

Here is also the time for you to explain your ideas to the Hair & Makeup department who ideally are working towards the same goal as you. It is important in film to lead a creative ‘team’ of people and share information – failure to do this can have horrible results.

At this time it is very important to meet with the Production Designer, who will have probably been engaged months before you and will have a broad vision of what the whole film should look like and is responsible to the director for the overall look of everything. He/she can take part in the costume design process and can help you greatly with things like the overall colour palette of the film and what colour the sets are which – don’t forget – your costumes will be standing in front of !!

Also there will be the Director of Photography to liaise with. The DoP can be ones greatest ally or downfall. Faces and fabrics change radically in different lighting situations and obviously, so do colours – I’m sure that you know, different film stock will alter the whole look of the film.

Armed with all this information, now is the time to go and meet the actors starting, most sensibly, with the principal actor/actors or STAR …. you will probably be the next person after the Director and Producer that the actors will meet and so you become the representative of the Director’s vision of the film. This is not always a welcome position to be in, especially when the actor discovers that the director’s lifelong concept may include something radical for instance like …. ‘everyone wears a shade of blue’…. and the actor …. ‘Hates blue, every time I’ve ever worn blue the film was a flop’…. ‘under no circumstances’…. etc. Now you’ve got it! You are up and running, carrying the torch (concept) and trying to negotiate the minefield of everyone else’s ideas, without letting the torch going out!

My film work could be divided into pre-and post ‘Bond’. Before the fateful phone call asking me to come to Pinewood Studios for a meeting with Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, I had been working consistently on smaller British films, often financed by Channel 4. My previous work with Mike Leigh on ‘Abigail’s Party’ in the theatre led him to ask me to work with him on ‘Meantime’ (one of my favourite films) then ‘High Hopes’, ‘Life is Sweet’, ‘Naked’ and ultimately ‘Topsy Turvy’ for which both Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud (Hair & Makeup) and I were awarded Oscars. That was, sadly, my last film with Mike Leigh and really I have not changed my way of working from that time – which came from his unique method of improvising everything. Mike Leigh is a National Treasure!!!

Amongst many other films, I have also worked with Steven Frears on ‘My Beautiful’ Launderette’, and (another favourite film) ‘Funnybones’ directed by Peter Chelsom – I also designed the very successful ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ for director Mike Newel.

Angelina Jolie in the title role of the 2003 film ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’ Another distinctly original costume design

Angelina Jolie in 2003 as ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’

When I was told about the ‘Bond’ interview by my agent, it seemed as if someone was playing a prank so far was it outside my normal film experience. So legendary and so glam! Anyhow, it was and is, a fantastic relationship with the Broccoli family who are the dedicated and hands on custodians of their ‘Bond’ world.

What fun and what a privilege it is to travel the world and see it whilst working. Since designing the look of the two new  ‘Bonds’ and creating the look of Angelina Jolie as the ‘Tomb Raider’ (1&2), I have worked on mostly American studio films. During the past few years I was fortunate to be asked by Chris Nolan to design the new ‘Batman’ films. This has been a new departure for me involving learning lots more about different technologies of costume such as ‘Batsuit’ design and manufacture – and the new Joker was just a pure joy to create!

 

Heath Ledger as The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ - 2008 The costume is designed to reflect The Joker’s personality - twitchy, grubby, corrupt

Heath Ledger as The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ – 2008. The costume is designed to reflect The Joker’s personality – twitchy, grubby, corrupt

This past year is typical of my varied work experiences. Firstly America to work with Martin Campbell on ‘Edge of Darkness’, a dark Boston-set contemporary thriller, then quickly back to London to work with young director Louis Letterier on the new ‘Clash of the Titans’ – phewww.!!! Now a rest!

 

Sam Worthington as Perseus and Ian White as Sheikh Suleiman in ‘Clash of the Titans’ - 2010(C)2010 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc & Legendary Pictures. Photo by Jay Maidment

Sam Worthington as Perseus and Ian White as Sheikh Suleiman in ‘Clash of the Titans’ – 2010
(C)2010 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc & Legendary Pictures. Photo by Jay Maidment

I feel that I have had the most fantastic opportunities in the world of film and theatre to have worked with some really good producers, directors, actors, production designers and cinematographers – but most of all I have had the pleasure of being able to be surrounded by some of the absolute best technicians in the world in my own department. Supervisors Dan Grace and John Scott. Assistant designers Jaqueline Durran, Michael O’Connor, Guy Speranza, Andrea Cripps, Graham Churchyard, Maria Tortu and Gabriella Loria. Cutters Anne Maskerey, Jennie Alford and Alison O’Brien. Dyers/distressers Tim Shanahan, Vicky Hallam and Steve Gell – and so many makers, wardrobe men and women, sculptors, leather workers, embroiderers – all of whom are artists who are loyal and dedicated to producing the best in their own disciplines.  Thank you to everyone who has helped me in my work life and for the opportunity to write this article!   

Lindy Hemming’s film credits include: The Dark Knight Rises – 2012, Clash of the Titans – 2010, Edge of Darkness – 2010, The Dark Knight – 2008, Casino Royale – 2006, Batman Begins – 2005, Tomb Raider 1 & 2 – 2001 & 2003, Die Another Day – 2002, Harry Potter – Chamber of Secrets – 2002, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Topsy Turvy – 1999, Little Voice – 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997, Blood and Wine – 1996, GoldenEye – 1995, Funny Bones – 1995, Four Weddings & a Funeral – 1994, High Hopes – 1988, Wetherby – 1985

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Costume Department

 

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The Stuntman’s World by Jim Dowdall

Fom the perspective of one who has been ‘at it’ for rather a long time and should know better by now!

Jim Dowdall

Jim Dowdall

When I came into the industry in the 1960’s as an armourer with Bapty’s, my first film was ‘The Dirty Dozen’ – and what a picture that was to cut your teeth on!

Surrounded by the legendary luminaries of both the acting and technical departments, I began to realise that, despite my mother’s exhortations that I would be destitute for life without the obligatory 5 ‘O’ levels and 2 ‘A’ levels, it might be possible to make a living in an industry that neither required nor asked for bits of paper – and that my single English ‘O’ level was not required on the voyage!

A prior spell working with big cats as a beastman for Bertram Mills Circus, with a bit of trapeze thrown in and a number of other odd jobs, had infected me with the ‘adventure bug’ and, having left the armoury business some time after finishing on ‘Where Eagles Dare’, I joined the Parachute Regiment, got the Champion Recruit’s Cup and thought that the army was going to be my career – but a parachuting accident left me unfit and I was invalided out 18 months later.

It was now the early 1970’s and the film business was booming, so I enrolled with the ‘Ugly’ agency and a couple of others to get some walk-on work and thus acquire the very desirable (and hard to come by in those days) Equity card.

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ - 1989

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ – 1989

 

The Stunt Register was just being formed as a professional stunt body within the remit of Equity and I squeezed in with a few of the stunt contracts I had acquired working for an agency called ‘Havoc…Specialists in Hazards’.Since then, life seems to have been a fantastic whirl of various films, TV shows, commercials and occasionally, live shows (which are always unnerving for their very real inability to ‘go again’)

The normal course of events runs like most productions with a script being offered, various meetings to ‘get the job’ and then the business of breaking down the ‘gag’ to work out the best way of translating the director’s wishes into the camera – and always within the limitations of the producers depth of pocket. Of course, just occasionally, one gets the chance to work on various productions (like the earlier Bonds) where you just said what bits of kit and personnel were required and it was so.

 

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

The early days of Bond were a real eye opener for me as everything (as on all productions in those days) was shot in-camera and we would sometimes have weeks of rehearsals either on location or in the Band Room at Pinewood Studios – which would be fully kitted out with mats, trampolines and all the other bits of equipment which might be required, usually for the ‘end sequence’ in the villains lair, which then had to be blown up over a number of days. When we did the submarine sequence for ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (for which the famous Pinewood 007 stage was constructed) filming began shortly after Christmas in a very cold January on a vast stage with a requirement for a number of us to do ‘falls’ into the water. Although we would be paid a stunt ‘adjustment’ for these falls, there was a certain ‘hanging back’ as we knew that it would be unlikely that we would have time to change into a dry costume before take two – and few of us owned such a sophisticated piece of kit as a wet suit!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

Wire work on pictures like ‘Superman’ 1 & 2 was pushing the envelope at the time and Geoffrey Unsworth’s capacity to ‘light out’ the wires was masterful – in those days it was without the benefit of ‘Paintbox’ or such sophisticated bits of kit which would come on stream in the 80s. I remember being on wires wearing a space suit with the helmet sealed on which gave me a limited amount of oxygen before I began to get a bit woozy. I would then see Geoffrey up and down a tall ladder spraying the wires with a black paint aerosol just before we shot. I had to be revived twice with a whiff of oxygen after a couple of …‘sorry, just need a second on the wire spraying’… occasions.

For ‘Flash Gordon’ doubling for Timothy Dalton, we spent weeks rehearsing the fight on the disc floating in space with knives coming up out of the floor. We also all had to learn how to use a bullwhip from one of the stunt boys, Reg Harding, who had been a ‘jackaroo’ in Australia and was a master with that very dangerous (mostly to the user) bit of kit

Hours spent in the chair having prosthetics put on to double the monster on wires

With Michael Caine  on 'The Eagle has Landed' in 1976
With Michael Caine on ‘The Eagle has Landed’ in 1976

 

for Michael Mann’s ‘The Keep’ meant a 6am start and sometimes a 10pm finish 6 days a week with all the penalty payments and overtime one could imagine – luckily all before Christmas – and the car park at Shepperton Studios, stuffed with a variety of our newly acquired BMWs and Range Rovers after the holidays, became known as the ‘thank you Michael Mann’ car park!

As the 1980s progressed and the sophistication in filmmaking began galloping forward, commercials became a great laboratory for new devices and gimmicks as the repetition on TV, combined with bulky production budgets, meant that the directors wanted to use every new device that was either coming on stream or was just nudging its way through a crack in the door.

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

For me, this was an opportunity to be introduced to the cutting edge of every new gizmo whether it was the ‘Hothead’ or ‘Paintbox’ – and I was fortunate enough to be involved in some of the early experimental work on Libra with Nick Phillips and Harvey Harrison by driving various vehicles either on racetracks or bolted to the side of Land Rovers going over really rough territory.

‘Star Wars’, ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’, ‘Bond’, ‘Indy’, ‘Private Ryan’, ‘English Patient’, ‘Enemy at the Gates’, ‘Corelli’, ‘The Pianist’ etc etc, all have their interesting facets and learning curves which require a certain thought process and how we can make it look good safely (within reason….) and the challenge continues!

The main differences between then and now is that we all have mobiles and email and GPS and CGI … but when it comes down to it, the business still requires a good script, good direction, good actors and good action where required. We are just a part of the jigsaw puzzle, the big difference is that the successful ones can put the linament on the bruises with a £50 note!

Stunt people have, by definition, to be jacks of all trades and sometimes master of one or two – tomorrow might be a stair fall on fire, Tuesday falling off a horse, Wednesday turning a car over, Thursday a high fall and Friday a fight sequence.

I did have a week like that a couple of times. Exciting it is, boring it ain’t!

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins ‘inspecting the meat’

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins
‘inspecting the meat’

Jim Dowdall’s film credits include: Skyfall – 2012, Safe House – 2012, Blitz 2011, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows – 2010, The Descent 1&2 – 2009 & 2005, RocknRolla – 2008, Death Defying Acts – 2007, The Flood – 2007, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 2005,  Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 2005, Sahara – 2005, Finding Neverland – 2004, The Bourne Supremacy – 2004, Die Another Day – 2002, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – 2001, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Entrapment – 1999, Little Voice – 1998, Saving Private Ryan – 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997, The English Patient – 1996, Batman – 1989, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade – 1989, Whoops Apocalypse – 1986, Brazil – 1985, Octopussy – 1983, For Your Eyes Only – 1981, Star Wars V – 1980, Force 10 from Navarone – 1978, The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977, A Bridge Too Far – 1977, Star Wars IV – 1977, The Eagle Has Landed – 1976, Where Eagles Dare – 1968, The Dirty Dozen – 1967.

Television credits include: Eastenders 2012, Call the Midwife – 2012, Richard hammond’s Invisible Worlds – 2010, Rock & Chips – 2010, The Bill – 2004 to 2009, Top Gear – 2008, Dalziel & Pascoe – 2006 to 2007, The Gathering Storm – 2002, Prime Suspect – 1995, Minder – 1991, The Professionals – 1982, Doctor Who – 1975.

 

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Saul Bass 1920-1966 – The Master of Film Title & Poster Design

Saul Bass

Saul Bass

Saul Bass was not only one of the great graphic designers of the mid-20th century but the undisputed master of film title design thanks to his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Martin Scorsese.

Bass was one of the first to seize on the potential storytelling power of the opening and closing credits of a film. He used a number of styles (animation, live action, type treatments) to create credits for a diverse range of films. What he created were opening credit sequences that did not simply announce the credits and open the film but were a logical extension of the film. Each sequence was, in itself, a short film that prepared the viewer for what was to come.

He was a celebrated graphic designer before he ventured into the film world. Born in the Bronx district of New York in 1920 to an emigré family, Bass studied at the Art Students League in New York and Brooklyn College under Gyorgy Kepes, a Hungarian graphic designer who had worked in 1930s Berlin before coming to the USA. Kepes introduced Bass to Moholy’s Bauhaus style and to Russian Constructivism.

After apprenticeships with Manhattan design firms, Bass worked as a freelance graphic designer or ‘commercial artist’ as they were then called. Chafing at the creative constraints imposed on him in New York, he moved to Los Angeles in 1946. After freelancing, he opened his own studio in 1950 working mostly in advertising until Preminger invited him to design the poster for his 1954 film, ‘Carmen Jones’. Impressed by the result, Preminger asked Bass to also create the film’s title sequence.Bass 3

After ‘Carmen Jones’ he got commissions for two 1955 films: Robert Aldrich’s ‘The Big Knife’ and Billy Wilder’s ‘The Seven Year Itch’ but it was his second project for Preminger, ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ which established Bass as the doyen of film title design.

When the reels of film for Otto Preminger’s controversial new drugs film, ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ arrived at US film theatres in 1955, a note was stuck on the cans ….. ‘Projectionists, pull curtain before titles’…… until then, the lists of cast and crew members which passed for film titles were so dull that projectionists only pulled back the curtains to reveal the screen once they’d finished but Preminger wanted his audience to see this film’s titles as an integral part of the programme.

The film’s theme was the struggle of its hero – a jazz musician played by Frank Sinatra – to overcome his heroin addiction. The titles featured an animated black paper cut-out of a heroin addict’s arm. Knowing that the arm was a powerful image of addiction Bass had chosen it – rather than Frank Sinatra’s famous face – as the symbol of both the film’s title and its promotional poster. That cut-out arm caused a sensation and Saul Bass reinvented the film title as an art form. By the end of his life, he had created over 50 title sequences for Preminger, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Frankenheimer and Scorsese. Although he later claimed that he found the ‘Man with the Golden Arm’ sequence …. ‘a little disappointing now, because it was so imitated’….

Bass 5Over the next decade he honed his skill by creating an animated mini-film for Mike Todd’s 1956 ‘Around The World In 80 Days’ and a tearful eye for Preminger’s 1958 ‘Bonjour Tristesse’. Blessed with the gift of identifying the one image which symbolised the essence of a film, Bass then recreated it in a strikingly modern style. Martin Scorsese once described his approach as creating ….‘an emblematic image, instantly recognisable and immediately tied to the film’…….

In 1958’s ‘Vertigo’, his first title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock, Bass shot an extreme close-up of a woman’s face and then her eye before spinning it into a sinister spiral as a bloody red soaks the screen. For his next Hitchcock commission, 1959’s ‘North by Northwest’, the credits swoop up and down a grid of vertical and diagonal lines like passengers stepping off elevators. It is only a few minutes after the film has begun – with Cary Grant stepping out of an elevator – that we realise the grid is actually the façade of a skyscraper.

Equally haunting are the vertical bars sweeping across the screen in a manic, mirrored helter-skelter motif at the beginning of Hitchcock’s 1960 film ‘Psycho’. This staccato sequence is an inspired symbol of Norman Bates’ fractured mental state. Hitchcock also allowed Bass to work on the film itself, notably on its dramatic highpoint, the famous shower scene with Janet Leigh.

Assisted by his second wife, Elaine, Bass created brilliant titles for other directors – from the animated alley cat in 1961 ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, to the adrenalin-laced motor racing sequence in the 1966 film ‘Grand Prix’. He then directed a series of shorts culminating in 1968 Oscar-winning ‘Why Man Creates’ and finally realised his ambition to direct a feature in 1974 with ‘Phase IV’.

When the film unfortunately flopped, Bass returned to commercial graphic design. His corporate work included devising highly successful corporate identities for United Airlines, AT&T, Minolta, Bell Telephone Systems and Warner Communications. He also designed the poster for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

To younger film directors, Saul Bass was a cinema legend with whom they longed to work. In 1987, he was persuaded to create the titles for James Brooks’ ‘Broadcast News’ and then for Penny Marshall’s ‘Big’ in 1988. In 1990, Bass found a new long term collaborator in Martin Scorsese who had grown up with his 1950’s and 1960’s titles. After ‘Goodfellas’ in 1990 and ‘Cape Fear’ in 1991, Bass created a sequence of blossoming rose petals for ‘The Age of Innocence’ in 1993 and a hauntingly macabre one of Robert De Niro falling through the sinister neon lighting of the Las Vegas Strip for the director’s 1995 film ‘Casino’ to symbolise his character’s descent into hell.

Saul Bass died the next year. His New York Times obituary hailed him as …‘the minimalist auteur who put a jagged arm in motion in 1955 and created an entire film genre … elevating it into an art’….

Saul Bass’s film credits include: Casino – 1995, Mr Saturday Night – 1992, Cape Fear – 1991, Goodfellas – 1990, War of the Rose – 1989, Big – 1988, Broadcast News – 1987, The Human Factor – 1979, Rosebud – 1975, Grand Prix – 1966, Bunny Lake is Missing – 1965, The Victors – 1963, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World – 1963, Walk on the Wild Side – 1962, West Side Story – 1961, Exodus – 1960, Spartacus – 1960, Ocean’s Eleven – 1960, North by Northwest – 1959, The Big Country – 1958, Bonjour Tristesse – 1958, Around the World in Eighty Days – 1956, The Man with the Golden Arm – 1955, The Seven Year Itch – 1955, Carmen Jones – 1954.

 
 

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