Friday, 16 March 2012

Set Dressing Adventure

About this time last Friday I had just woken up and was straight onto the task of list making to double and triple check the props for that evening's shooting. Believe it or not it isn't every day I get to play with sealing wax, creepify photos and curate a little collection of eerie oddments so I was excited at seeing everything in situ after all the sourcing and making that had gone on. 

I'll start by saying that Tristan, my boyfriend (feel so juvenile calling him that) of 6 years, is a video editor and corporate wizard by day and independent film maker by night. One of the things that drew me to him was his passion for film and photography, he gave me the picture-taking bug and for that I am very grateful. The only annoying part of it all is his unshakeable belief that I can write scripts. I can't. Story ideas? Come on down, I'm full of them! But script-writing seems to be an art I'm too daunted, or incapable, to master. This project though was a little different - it is a short film in which a policeman is called out to a tenanted farmhouse - the occupant hasn't been seen for a couple of days, there is mail piling up on the doorstep and his landlord begins to suspect something untoward going on. There was no way I wasn't getting a piece of the spooky action so I volunteered pretty sharpish to help dress the set!



Our friend Alistair is a cinematographer and T's partner in crime, the boy can paint pictures with light, it just so happens that he lives 15 minutes from us onto the Peaks and his grandma owns a beautiful period guesthouse. Look and location both sorted in one. Alistair's lady - my lovely Lulu - is a bad ass makeup artist, T's schoolfriend Matt is a charismatic actor, T's Dad kindly consented to be aged and corpsified as 'the body' - the crew seemed to come together pretty quick! Throw in talented lighting and sound volunteers in the form of Alistair's friends, Alex the rain maker, a home-cooked Thai feast courtesy of T's stepmother, and there you have a short film shoot.





My job was to seek out some of the costume details (thank you Salvation Army!) and gather/make the props needed to evoke a forbidding aura of superstition and religion combined. In reality the brilliant location did the bulk of the work on that score, I just put the finishing touches to the room in which the corpse is found. This was where I could indulge my tendency to create backstories for everyone and everything! T had decided that the corpse was Polish, most of his family had been killed during the war by the Nazis, but he clung to the idea that there were fates worse than death and more to folktales than most would believe.


Little details like this roughly cut picture, the cluttered dressing table, faded and stained pictures with religious iconography seemed the best bet to be a realistic fit for the possessions of an elderly, superstitious man living alone.


Some things - like the card index drawer full of aged index cards covered in script and symbols - I just wanted to include purely for the creep-factor and to add layers to the table.  Letters in 1947 generally weren't sealed with wax but it seemed logical that such an old man would have similarly old friends - possibly back in rural Poland - who shared his paranoia, perhaps an order of sorts which had a seal. Jars and apothecary bottles full of consecrated earth (coffee grounds), sand from the holy land (unrefined sugar), holy water and embalming (olive) oil also fit the bill. Where would any self-respecting creepy film be without crucifixes, rosaries and images of the Virgin Mary?



See what I mean about some of the work being done for me? I couldn't stop ogling the intricate lock and key to a huge walnut wardrobe in the corner of the room we were using.


Any excuse to cut and stick! The old book was one I picked up a while ago, I actually posted about it here last summer, it got a bit of a visual makeover and I think - depending on the final cut - it makes an appearance as being in the hands or lap of the corpse.


The policeman (Matt) in full costume talking to the landlord (Tristan! Directing and acting isn't easy!) who is decked out spectacularly in tweed. Matt found the period police gear in a London costume hire shop and it looked fantastic on. The shot above is a bit awful actually and doesn't do them justice - here they were rehearsing and hadn't yet been utterly drenched by the improvised rain machine, I've no idea how neither of them ended up hypothermic given the hours they spent in sodden clothes. Total troopers the pair of them!


Lastly a still from the footage courtesy of T, I can't wait to see how the finished product plays! Bit of a departure from my usual posts but I hope you've enjoyed a rambly glimpse into the maiden adventure of a novice props mistress!

25 comments:

  1. I lOVE this! I think you have completely found your calling - you'd be amazing at this job for real. Obviously once Tristan and friends hit the big time you'll be in massive demand too. It all looks brilliant and the little details are what can elevate a good film into the realms of classic and allow countless re-watchings. Will the completed film be online anywhere? My friend's husband makes great short films too.

    Incidentally, I was once in a low-budget natural history film, illustrating the concept of 'safety in numbers' for herd animals. We were a bunch of students out on a jolly through the woods, slowly being picked off by a madman!
    x

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  2. More more more please... I feel like I've just read a chapter in a very good book... Oh the suspense! Love your work :-)

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  3. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! Thank you very much for sharing this with us all Jem! I was so interested in hearing about how it looked after you mentioned set dressing in one of your posts last week and this is an awesome post. Your photos are great as usual but I've got to say its really nice to read more of your thoughts and your writing. Keep the gorgeous images but write more too!!! by the by it looks like you'd be a pretty good career set dresser lol! Poppy x

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  4. Great post!! It's so nice to see behind the scenes pics, you did such a great job - really atmospheric! I bet the peak district was perfect for that as well! It's funny, I sometimes shy away from posting too much about my set design work on my blog because its not what I usually post about and might not be interesting to all of my readers... but you have inspired me to include it more! Be sure to post a link to the film when its done, I'd love to see it :) xxx

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  5. I love this post so interesting and it looks like you did a great job xxx

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  6. Like, WAY cool Jem!! Now this is what life's about! The excitement of film making, creativity, mystery, a little blood and a great set! Maybe you could post a sort of trailer on your blog for the finished product!

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  7. I really enjoyed reading this post, Jem! It looks like so much fun.

    Not only did you manage to create a spooky and intriguing atmosphere with your props judging by the great pictures, but you've also drawn me in to needing to know more about this film. Would love to see a little exert or trailer! :D xx

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  8. Such a fantabulous post...having heard you mention you were doing this, I was very intregiued to see the end results, and it looks like you did an amazing job! I agree that if you don't become the internationally renowned writer that I know you will, set dressing is definitely a career option for you on the table!!

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  9. this is really cool! I enjoyed reading this and seems so much fun! and haha that picture with the family and their eyes taped out totally freaked me out

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  10. All I can say is WOW! There is so much detail - you've done an amazing job thinking up all the little things. Looks and sounds a really interesting plot line too!

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  11. Everything looks great! How exciting!
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

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  12. Oh my god - amazing!! Totally up my street, any creepy stuff i adore :o) Scarlett x

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  13. Amazing blog Jem! Your set design was brilliant, and I love these pictures, reminds me of an old horror film. Looking forward to the next project :) xxxxxxxx

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  14. I just wish I was part of this. Can I make the tea and sandwiches or something?
    I agree with Lakota, your eye for detail, colour, texture and beauty is exceptional - it should be earning you big bucks!

    Have a great weekend,

    Lucy x

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  15. The photos are great, and hint at the quality of the work you've put in here, and of the team that's created this short. I look forward to seeing the finished product...not least 'cos Tristan has asked me to consult on the story and script of a forthcoming one!

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  16. Wow, this is so amazingly cool!!! All your ideas are fantastic! I love the creepy photo with the eyes covered up, and all the little details that make the set come alive. I hope we'll get to see the film when it's finished!!

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  17. This is fantastic, the photos really capture the creepiness. Hope to see the film too xx

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  18. Must be so exciting being on an actual film set! X

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  19. What an absolutely fascinating post, I loved every word and picture. Your pictures are stunning and your imagination and attention to detail is astounding. x

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  20. I loved this post even if it was different! How cool is this? You did a great job with everything!

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  21. Looks huge fun - must have been a total lark. And your props were great - everything just seems to be exactly right. Great post Jem. Ta! :)

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  22. Oh, I love it! You did a great job. Brilliantly creepy. I'm loving that old fashioned policeman's uniform, too.

    You better let us see the finished project! :)

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  23. Wow so amazing! i get the creepiest vibe from these photos)

    >'.'<

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  24. I love it! I love the creepy shots, the old letters, the old family photograph gave me abit of a creep hehe the intricate lock and keys are gorgeous, everything is just awesome! all of you did a great job! i would love to see a sneak peak of the finished short film! and i think the cut and stick in the old book is a great idea!

    xx susan

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  25. I can feel the excitement about dressing the set up, especially with such a wonderful location and set for the making. The attention to the detail is incredible, you should be very proud. It sounds like a wonderful experience, I’m glad you had such a enjoyable time xxx

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