The unrelenting pace of production stretched over a long period of time can prove a serious challenge for any designer, and we all face the risk of physical, mental and creative fatigue. Our colleagues tell us of their routines and share tips to stay inspired and healthy.
Jasmine Ballou Jones
"Burning out is a real danger, so I have to rest and recharge to keep the creativity and positive vibes alive."
"I've learned to trust collaborators while maintaining my autonomy."
"I always say that if I won the lottery and didn't need to work, I'd keep my job."
"Maintaining energy is more about time management."
March 25th, 2019
How do you maintain your energy and creativity over a long project?
Jasmine Ballou Jones
Jasmine Ballou Jones is a production designer and set decorator for film and TV. Among her set decoration projects are the films "Blue Valentine", "The Place Beyond The Pines", "St. Vincent" and "Mediterranea", and the TV shows "Inside Amy Schumer", "Master of None" and "Crashing". Jasmine's production design credits include the films "Super Dark Times" and "Blow The Man Down", premiering at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
Knowing that you're about to enter a long project, you gotta get your ducks in a row! I like to take care of any looming personal business possible - this brain cleansing makes it much easier to focus on the professional. I also definitely try to get in as much friend and family time as I can before going underground… they gotta remember who I am :). I usually prepare for upcoming projects by watching any films or ingesting any artistic mediums that could inspire the design/decoration. Never too early to start design decks or moodboards!
Like everyone else, I fully commit to projects and give them my all, but when I’m working on a longer term gig, say TV or a big film, life inevitably presents important events (weddings, reunions, music festivals, etc.). I do ask for long weekends when needed. In some instances I’ve passed on jobs that conflicted with an important personal event. That said, A few years ago I took two weeks off for my own DIY wedding and still get flak from the producer about it. It’s a tough balance, but losing touch with friends and family can sap your energy and creativity in the long run. I find it important to strive for a healthy balance.
Every project I set out to achieve a daily routine including exercise, cooking dinner and spending time with my partner, but you have to be flexible. While most everything in my life gets put on hold for a job, I rarely sacrifice a full night of sleep. 8 hours or more. It’s priority number one for clarity and a positive mindset.
Besides sleep, healthy eating and exercise really do the trick for me. I’ve definitely been known to do a juice cleanse or two, but starting the day with something green will get you on the right track. I try to eat as healthy as possible, but chocolate happens. Luckily none of us are shackled to the chains of catering, so I simply type 'organic cafe' into a google map search at each location and go with the best option. After work, I usually eat at home and keep it light.
My daily green juice, yoga or barre 3-4 times a week, and a nightly download with my partner keep me going. Relationships outside of the job provide a welcomed reality check and recharge. I try my hardest to be present with friends and family, in workout class, or wherever I am outside of work.
Burning out is a real danger, so I have to rest and recharge to keep the creativity and positive vibes alive. Watching a great film, attending an incredible concert/performance, or absorbing any impactful art always helps to motivate me. Daily life in NYC is so inspirational. This city has so much art and culture to keep you propelling forward. Simply walking around, fully aware of your surroundings can be an incredible experience. Nature can have the same effect. Just getting out of your work environment physically and mentally can clear some space for enlightenment.
While at work, your crew is your chosen family. You must surround yourself with the talent to succeed (of course), but also with kind, hardworking, like minded friends. Showing your appreciation for the crew's hard work on a daily basis is key. I always get to know my crew and at least get the names down of any day players. When a team spirit is present, productivity is also there. When times get really tough, surprise ice cream will do wonders.
So in short: get as much sleep as your body needs, eat healthy but enjoy some sweets from time to time, drink more water than you think you need, be as active as possible, listen to music while you work, get to know and joke around with your crew, be mindful, and keep up the love and laughs in your personal life.
Andrea Purcigliotti is a Production Designer known for "Saturday Night Live" Film Unit, "Vice" Live, "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", forthcoming film "Vampires vs. The Bronx", "The Other Two" pilot, Six Seasons of "Kitten Bowl", "Love and Hip Hop" Reunions and "The Real Housewives of New York".
I love, love, love my job. I always say that if I won the lottery, and didn't need to work, I'd keep my job at SNL Film Unit. I've been at SNL for nine years, Season 36 through current Season 44. I am the Production Designer for the SNL Film Unit and over see the Film Unit Department. We have 3 Units making all the pre-taped video content, in the form of parody commercials, music videos, shorts, and film trailers. We run the unit like a production company. Saturday Night Live is indeed a LIVE show, but in order to get through all the scenery, costume, wig and make up changes, the Live show needs a bit more time than the commercial breaks allow, thus, the "pre-tapes" were built into the show's format. Lorne is also very cognizant of the value of these pieces outside of the show, considering how people view, digest, and share bite-sized content, nowadays. Our pre-tapes have a life of their own.
Im sorry if this wordy, but we have a very strange format for a show. A 44 year old, variety style live sketch comedy show is a fickle beast. There is "normal production" and a sort of "right way to do things"....SNL knows little of this. I often say SNL is like the Galapagos Island of production; it broke away from the mainland many years ago, and all the animals evolved into weird things with beaks, and pouches. So my "energy" is drawn from sheer terror, and my "creativity" is drawn from the fact that I have one day to pull off our film unit sketches. Always.
Our week starts Wednesday 6PM. Thats when we walk into pile of scripts that may become pre-tapes. Our writers may chose to use the weeks Host's current TV show, movie, or it could be a music video, commercial, or anything really. At the table read, reactions to the words on paper, as they are acted out generally determines what gets picked. Wednesday night at about 8:30-9PM is when we get "picks". Wednesday night is when the terror begins. Luckily all three designers and our AMAZING Set Decorators are all together hashing out how we can actually accomplish any of these possible scripts in one day. The team aspect of this great brain-storm and trouble shooting is the most manic and creative exchange of ideas I have ever been a part of. Not uncommon script discussions we have (and keep in mind we just have Thursday to engineer, build, fabricate, print, decorate, EVERYTHING): inflatable/exploding or chocolate toilets, 4 set walls that fall down, a fake fast food restaurant with its own branding, a swimming pool on a sound stage, all of which we HAVE had to do.
I am designing my sets in the wee hours of Thursday morning, and there is a creative challenges to how vanilla basic I have to make these sets, knowing the shop just has a few hours to construct the walls for me. SketchUp and Layout make this possible. Build-wise we do utilize a lot of stock scenery, but those pesky Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and complete realistic parody sets often require iconic recreations. I have become very good at the balance of complicated cheats: smoke and mirrors paired with CNC routering. I rely greatly on the talents of my construction grip are, my set carpenters and my scenic artists to make up for where I don't have the time to design, or design by triage, or OTF Designus-Maximus, lol. By Thursday night the trucks have dumped the sets and they are all up by midnight, 1AM. The paint is literally still wet when the dress crew is doing their thing....At 5AM our shoot day begins. Still Terrifying!
Almitra has been working in film and television since 2004 but began accidentally making sets in college as a sculpture student creating environments, installations and happenings for critiques. It wasn't until about 10 years later the connection was made that those works were all sets. Some of her favorite projects have been "Catherine", "The Invitation", "Lucky", "This Is Heaven", " Banana Split", "Lil Dicky" and "Untitled Drake Doremus Project". Almitra lives in Los Angeles & New York with unending love for Virginia. Her role models are Polly Platt, Paul McCarthy, and Sophie Calle.
It has taken me an unreasonably long time to figure out how to balance and maintain my creativity and energy over the course of a project, particularly longer ones. I'm still learning new tricks every day, but a few things that have been working as of late are thankfully quite simple in both theory and practice.
Trusting my collaborators and trusting my own creative instincts has made my work life immeasurably better this past year. I've found it easier to maintain these trusts by implementing a couple different types of meditations and revisiting creative ideas I came up with in high school and college.
I practice a type of yogic sleep and occasionally float in a sensory deprivation tank to clear a path in my mind to work I began 20 or so years ago and in some capacity reimagine or more fully realize ideas to include in my sets now. It's exciting to remember all of the weird and unfiltered thoughts from my teenage brain and place them into the nebulous structures of film and television sets for the world to see.
Basically, I've learned to trust collaborators while maintaining my autonomy, trust myself and instincts no matter how many years they've been waiting to bust out, and am learning to be open to explore new paths. I also drink a lot of water, often sleep too much, and take a beat before responding to questions.
Cecil Gentry's production design work includes film and TV work, music videos and tours, commercials and trade shows. Among his credits are the films "Swimming with Sharks" and "Imperial Dreams". He is currently working on season one of "Into The Dark", a Hulu/BlumHouse anthology series.
Fortunately, "Into The Dark" is an anthology series - ninety minute movies with only two commercial breaks. Nonconsecutive in format, the series allows me to create a different design for each episode/movie. There in lies the essence... the ability to maintain a prolonged energy and creativity comes from a creative reset of the mind and energy. There’s newness in this mind set and newness is a good thing. It allows you begin with a fresh canvas. Maintaining energy is more about time management. I call it TMEE (Time Managed Effectively & Efficiently).