Tom freely migrates among feature films, Imax, episodic series, documentaries, Broadway dramas, musicals, and regional theatre. He originated the hit ABC series “Desperate Housewives.” Currently he is the designer for Netflix’s, “Longmire” and the first season of Epix’s, “Graves.” On Broadway he designed the world premiers of “Children of a Lesser God” and “Zoot Suit.” More Recently he designed the Off-Broadway productions of “Anapurna” and “Play It Cool.”
Attention: Art Department Dog Soldier candidates, only those with a high tolerance for mental pain without whining will be considered…while precious “snowflakes” need not apply!
“Wanted, an individual with a Type-A personality and the centered calm of a devote Buddhist. Must be capable of channeling the life experiences, talents and knowledge of an artist, painter, writer, forensic researcher, historian, military strategist, digital artist, photographer, sculptor, dramaturge, thespian, humorist, architect, urban-planner, engineer, general contractor, interior designer, draper, furniture mover-fabricator-restorer, blacksmith, armorer, quartermaster, business administration & accountant, logistics manager, teamster, navigator, physicist, anthropologist, archaeologist, biologist, herpetologist, meteorologist, psychologist, sociologist, theologist, zoologist, alchemist, botanist, forester, shape-changer, wizard (black & white magic), mind reader, snake oil salesmen, gourmet, bartender, party planner, camp counselor, long-distance-runner and or sprinter, diplomat, code breaker, soldier-sailor-tinker-spy, world builder and most importantly….. Survivor! “
There once was a time when the art department resided in carpeted and clean air-conditioned offices, with nice commissaries, big stages, organized mills and direct access to a veritable cornucopia of suppliers and prop houses with seemly unlimited resources – but with the advent of incentive financing and the challenges of distant location filming, those days are now tattered and faded romantic memories.
Today, you are more likely to get a phone call late on a Friday night with a commitment of employment and a directive to travel on Monday morning to a place that most likely makes no sense what-so-ever for the production you are about to design…and by the way, only if you are extremely persuasive might you be able to bring someone you have worked with before down this rabbit hole with you.
As the proverbial “White Rabbit” or “No.1 Canary” in the cage, I find myself all too often having to turn total strangers, irregulars and rugged individualists into a well oiled, trusted and prized human resource art machine. As the ultimate head of the art department – and mine being the first head that will roll if things don’t work out – the qualities that I look for in a crew as we prepare to submerge for a 6-month tour of duty under the ice caps are humor, strong work ethics, talent, resourcefulness, good campers with sensible hygiene, solid art & design skills, an ability to roll with the punches, and possessing a thick skin. If one is looking for on-camera glam and workplace adulation then the art department is not for you…it is not a petting zoo with sensible business hours. But if you have the ability to look at nothing and see everything…all the possibilities, and you are prepared metaphorically to move mountains so that others will be able to see the vision as clearly as we do, then the art department just might be the right place for you.
Glibness aside – but only momentarily as humor remains our best alternative to puddles of tears - one can come from many disciplines and make a home in the cinematic arts. I personally am a creature of the theatre where my most formative design and craft experiences were derived. So wherever work takes me I look for those like-minded souls who come from the live performance art-craft traditions. I have found that these individuals are the most adaptable, resourceful and capable at dealing with the unknown and ultimately they have proven for me to be the best cinematic citizens and co-habitants in my particular type of rabbit hole.
In reaching out to employers, one should contact the Production Designer, Art Director, or Art Department Coordinator without fear of rejection – remember what I said before about “snowflakes.” Best to be respectfully tenacious and know that all of those whom you are trying to contact are overworked, under paid, and not disinterested in you but rather just trying to cram 24-hours of work into a 12-hour window of time on any given day.
As Garrison Keillor would say, “Be well, do good work, and stay in touch!”
back to top
back to FORUM