Born in Canada, Ethan Tobman designs film, television, commercials, music videos and photo shoots. His latest projects include films “Room“ and “Wilson,“ and the TV series “The Grinder.“
Film has always been my first love. I learned how to be a production designer on the sets of small independent films, where everyone was learning as they went along, and departmental responsibilities were often blurred as we each helped one and other get to the finish line of a mad-dash 25 day shoot. I’ve always considered myself to be a “film designer,” and I’ve always been in awe of the endless variety of finished products that can emerge from a film production.
So as we’ve watched this current Golden Age of television be ushered into our industry by the likes of AMC, Netflix, and HBO over the last several years, I’ve found myself asking if the term “film designer” would need to be broadened and if this side of the industry was something I should be exploring. When I was offered a period pilot for HBO this summer, it became the perfect opportunity to dip my toes into television and see if my experience as a film designer could be easily translated into this arena.
From the day I started, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the learning experience one moment then feeling entirely lost in the next. The pace is quite a bit faster in TV, the budgets are structured very differently, and terms like “amort” and “cross-board” are slipped into nearly every conversation. However for me, the biggest challenge was grasping the overall dynamic. Whereas in film there’s generally one voice that is followed, I quickly learned that in TV there are many. Admittedly I found this daunting at first, and like any film-lover I was somewhat uncertain as to how efficient a process like this could be. Initially I found myself concerned that a vision outlaid by not only a director---but also by a show-runner, writers, creative producers, studio/network execs, and more---could only lead to inconsistency and a scattered final product.
However, over the course of this HBO pilot I saw the distinct benefits of this structure. Every voice that I listened to offered an original perspective, championed unique goals, and raised interesting points to think through. Ultimately when all of this boiled down, what was left was a blending of the most inspired ideas and cinematic goals of all the ones put forward, and this piece of storytelling became the most enriched version of itself. The content on our flatscreens at home has never been more sharp and sophisticated than it is right now---perhaps this is one of the reasons why.
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