I have been thinking about collaboration and how to put into words the relationship a charge scenic artist has with a production designer in the film business. I have been a scenic artist for almost 30 years now and have certainly worked with many designers over my career. Each and every one has his or her own style and design process. Learning to adapt to those needs is a big part of my job. Establishing a genuine collaboration is a complex process—but worth the effort.
First: The designer hires the charge scenic. I know that there are producers and UPMs who try to hire or appoint the scenic charge, hoping that the scenic’s loyalty will be to them and their ideas of budget and design. I try to steer clear of those situations whenever possible. I find the best situations are those in which the designer is hired for his or her talent and experience; is treated with respect; and is trusted to bring together a solid team. That is how a great collaboration begins.
Second—and seemingly at odds with those facts: Charge scenics have many bosses. Art directors, set decorators, UPMs, DPs, even construction coordinators, leadmen and prop masters, often bring scenic charges problems to solve and needs to be addressed. Yet we are hired to execute the vision of the designer! Charge scenics may have many bosses while working on a film, but the strongest and most important relationship is always with the designer who hired them. I keep that in mind and it is a solace during the chaos of production.
Third: Building continuity and teamwork matters. We are not always lucky enough to work with the same team over and over, but if that can happen the work flows smoothly. That’s because over time the designer and the scenic team establish trust. And as a scenic charge, when you earn the designer’s trust then a project becomes enjoyable, the communication flows and the scenics’ work can be done in the most efficient and beautiful way. We are all freelancers and independent thinkers with strong opinions and strong visions. Making this work toward a common goal is our desire and what gets me up in mornings!
I will always remember the time when, surrounded by the chaos of an impending deadline, a designer and I walked into a room that was built on stage. “What are you looking for in here?” I asked. “Lauren,” he said with a sweep of his hand, “just do that stuff you do.” Sounds crazy I know, but at that moment I felt as if I had arrived! I was so excited and honored and I knew exactly what he meant…the colors, the aging, the overall feel he wanted and needed. This could only happen after developing a trust and a strong sense of collaboration with the designer.
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