Anne Stuhler has an extensive resume in both film and television. She has been fortunate to work on Fox Television’s “Fringe,” the first 3 seasons of “Blue Bloods,”( CBS,) ABC’s “Forever” and “Mysteries of Laura.” From the film world, Anne’s credits include “Boiler Room,” with Ben Affleck, Jon Favreau’s “Made,” Alan Taylor’s “Palookaville” and “Walking and Talking”, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. Anne is currently in Atlanta working on BET’s “Being Mary Jane.” She lives in NYC.
There are 2 main reasons for conflict in an Art department. Sometimes it’s just chemistry or different ways of working. More often it’s about lack of time and the resulting lapses in communication. Most people want to do their job well, and feel frustrated when they don’t have the time and info to do that. None of us got into this business thinking it would be easy but we liked the work and wanted to feel creative and engaged. Biggest challenge right now is finding the time and space to enjoy our work and each other.
Changes in the industry, especially high-pressure TV schedules, are causing tensions to crop up with more frequency. Crew with overloaded episodic schedules are further challenged by tandem days, inserts, 2nd units and photo shoots. As scripts and decisions from the highest level are handed down later and later, the art department must scramble to catch up. The Art directors design as fast as they can, hand the drawings to construction, giving them just enough time to fabricate. Any changes and additions from above will deliver the set to Scenic and Set dec that much later. Although we are accustomed to multiple departments on the set at the same time (along with electricians and riggers, etc.) we all know that a pile up of different departments creates a lot of tension. When Set dec gets the set with a day to dress, having expected (and needed) 2 or 3, there will be a problem. This is a situation that we all know well.
If this happens once or twice on a production, it will most likely not be a problem. Could be unusual last minute changes from above that everyone understands. If it happens every episode, resentment builds and something needs to change. So how do we deal with this?
First thing I do is make sure - as much as possible - that everyone is getting the information early and at the same time. Certainly not a new concept, but I try to have art department meetings with notes, pictures, sketches, drafting and a schedule the day before each episode starts. We don’t always have as much info as we’d like for this meeting but passing on what we DO have is essential. And when changes occur during a fast and furious schedule, info needs to be passed on at that pace, too. Finding the time to get together around the same table, familiarize everyone with the plans and give them a chance to air their concerns, is invaluable. I ask everyone to take the time needed to evaluate what our plans are and let us know if something is too ambitious. Most the time we can change course if necessarily. If the consensus is that we can’t deliver what they want in the time or budget, then I go to production to cut back in some way. Gathering with all members of the department on a regular basis, helps keep un-aired concerns and misunderstandings to a minimum.
One on one conflicts need to be handled differently. Problems can be caused by some of the above pressures or just different ways of working. We all go through an adjustment period at the beginning of each job. Every production has it’s own rhythm. When a new group is working together, it takes more time to get used to various ways of working. Sometimes a crew member is in the wrong role in his or her department ie: on set rather than off set, or in a foreman role that isn’t working. Changing that can make a big difference.
I don’t like to let things build up and will speak to someone right away if I sense a recurring problem. If 2 crew members are not getting along, I’ll sit down with them- sometimes multiple times- and try to talk it through. So often different working styles result in miscommunication.
Often a department needs more help. On one job I could see that Set Dec was seriously understaffed for our increasingly ambitious sets. Not only did I find myself at locations dressing and opening for the crew, the decorators were really frustrated and unhappy. It took a few weeks of arguing with production to add that position but they finally did. Having the necessary support on that job made all the difference.
Last thought I have is one that is most important to me. Having FUN. Not every get together needs to be about work. Without sounding too Kumbaya…shared lunches whenever possible and even an occasional Friday night gathering will allow everyone to let down a little and get to know each other in a different way. It reminds us all that we have a shared purpose. With ever tightening schedules, and pressures from a growing workload, (and the World at large,) it’s easy to forget this.
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