In my opinion the best part about collaborating with a production designer is achieving a positive end result, one that represents the many discussions, presentations & script changes which occurred during the process. Just like a love relationship, at the end of the day the goal is to create something beautiful together in harmony and to find out if you want to continue the partnership to the next project or many more to come. Clarity is the key. But as a decorator you have to determine what that clarity is and that it was achieved during the project. The best that can happen is that the project is a great experience for both the PD and the decorator. The worst that can happen is an unsatisfactory end result. In order to avoid it, the most valuable thing during the collaboration is the time spent together with the designer, something that’s not always easy to achieve given time constraints (especially on low budget productions). You have to be persistent in getting your PD’s attention in order to gain his or her trust. Otherwise you will start butting heads and conflicts will arise. Having a dialog is essential. Everybody’s egos are at a different level. You have to assure the designer that you are providing options without altering their vision.
The best projects happen when you are working with an understanding and sympathetic PD –– a PD who is open to ideas, discussion, and willing to look at alternativ suggestions. You have to be clear with each other from the get-go and emphasize not only what you want to see but also what you feel you should not introduce into the design.
A presentation that demonstrates your grasp of the PD’s vision while also offering ideas that enhance what they want to achieve is
always a good start. Sometimes it is double work but is often necessary to achieve the best results. I always enjoyed tossing around ideas as well as questioning the PD about his or her vision, script and character interpretation. Hopefully, the PD is open to reviewing your ideas. I find demonstrating your understanding of said vision through show & tell and including your ideas very helpful. The more visual tools you use the better. Sometimes you literally have to “kill them with pictures” to get your point across.
Shopping with a designer can open many new ideas and discussions. However, it can also add time to the process. Since they can’t shop with you a whole lot of the time, you will still spend most of your effort interpreting their ideas on your own. I would never turn down an opportunity to spend a day with the PD.
The kind of budget you are working with also plays a factor in the communication process between PD and the decorator. In low-budget productions there can either be a lack of vision or unrealistic expectations interpreting said vision. These situations often take more time and energy and require alterations that need to be carefully explained and demonstrated. Often there is no time for backups or options. You have to be quick on your feet as well as flexible. With the right budget the sky is your limit.
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