Conrad Chitwood has worked in the industry for three decades on both coasts and internationally. He inherited a love for construction from his father, a contractor, and was a willing worker at an early age. Conrad loves the interaction of the wonderful people we work with above and below the line.
In the beginning:
In starting a project I feel it best to learn how the designer needs and wants to work. Often if everyone is starting cold then it best to make the time to figure the project out. Some designers are lucky enough to have the time to see the project and define the creative path. These days the prep is shorter and shorter so making the time to imagine and create is crucial to defining the work. In short, it’s all in the planning.
Coordination and integration of a great deal of complex information, procedures and execution do not happen overnight but over many nights as we all know. For me, the better the vision is defined the better I can estimate and plan so I avail myself for defining any problems or opportunities that may arise in the early stages of development whether aesthetic, structural or financial. As stressful as this industry can be it is important to remember this is the fun part in creating a collaborative vision. Some of the best ideas come from conversation and rolling a notion around a room.
As a project progresses a number of changes and additions happen. It’s just a fact of life. So knowing you as a designer and how you work is even more important when alterations arise. Being prepared for this is a necessary entity with time and finance in the balance. Changes happen. So if we need a giant red wall it is in our best interest to explore that in a big sample rather than going down a path of a big repaint.
In working with the art director, communication and procedure of information is so important. Often when a designer is viewing the progress and sees a necessary change or addition, that information needs to be communicated to all so it is adjusted. If the information is coming from rumor or from the bottom up, it takes time to assess.
I know it can be hard to bring an entourage everywhere so communicating to the art director to disseminate the information is the best. Art Directors hate to be the last to know. I am happy to change or augment whatever comes up but communication is crucial for everyone’s sanity.
Some of the best sets I have done are a result of the designer taking advantage of a material or structure in the progress of building. A daily visit to the set can present many ideas and opportunities. I can not encourage this enough. If a change becomes necessary then the earlier the better for construction. Knowing your crew can be a huge asset. Gaining the visual vocabulary of the plasterer, painter or propmaker can bring a lot to the table. They all have a solution or idea on executing the vision and most love to bring voice to the conversation.
Ideally, I really do not want you to think about the finances but the reality is we have to discuss and discuss. Making a design fit the finances is an art in itself. Some designers can ace this in their sleep and others need assistance to say the least. Its tough to predict the future but if I do my job correctly, the funds are there. If I can know the unknown, I can budget it. It is a process and a good producer knows this and is prepared. Again, it comes down to communication on everyone's part. It should not be a poker game but often in locking down an estimated budget it feels like a smoky room and a strong whisky smell. Save the drama for the screen.
When finishing a set and getting last looks I hope to invite that day well in advance of set decoration. Suddenly it’s not our set any more and the more crew on set the harder it is to adjust anything without affecting others so if time allows I like to be early. I am sensitive to the designers last moments before this birth of a set and there is always something to be done but if possible I enjoy an early delivery.