Interview with Set Decorator Lori Mazuer (The Mindy Project, Popstar)

Lori Mazuer is a pure talent. She has worked in the Art Department on over 50 productions in the last 20 years, including her recent stint as the lead Set Decorator for the hit TV show “The Mindy Project”. She was also the Set Decorator for the 2016 hit movie “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”, starring Andy Samberg. Lori also has worked on many horror films, including Lords of Salem, Halloween I and II, and Insidious: Chapter 2 and 3. It was an honor interviewer her. Enjoy!

mindy_project

Matthew Toffolo: How is “The Mindy Project” experience? What is your typical work week setting up an episode?

Lori Mazuer: The Mindy Project has been an incredible experience. We are headed into Season 5 soon which will be my 3rd season with the Mindy team. Our main goal is to make Mindy’s world come to life, every week with a very ambitious schedule. We shoot our half hour episode every 5 days. This means we are prepping, shooting and wrapping all at once. We often crossboard which means we shoot multiple episodes at once.

My typical work week involves Concept meetings with the creatives, midweek art dept. meetings, which involve detailed discussions with the producers and directors about how the sets should look. Weekly production and tech scouts. While all of this is happening I am shopping and dressing multiple sets at the same time. I have 2 amazing shoppers who help me find the best pieces for our sets and a team of set dressers who are constantly picking up furniture from vendors, dressing sets and returning furniture that has been shot.

We typically have anywhere from 4 to 10 swing sets.Depending on the length of the scene the built sets on stage are 2,3 or 4 wall sets. Once a week we usually dress the Universal back lot to look like a typical NY street. This could be one block, with multiple store fronts, or several blocks. Its a really challenging show but we all manage to rise to the occasion thanks to a great team. The entire crew is smart, kind and helpful. When you have these key qualities in any situation you can succeed in anything.

MT: What is the fundamental difference between working on a television production in comparison to a feature film? I’m assuming the hours are less hectic when working on a TV show?

LM: I think it comes down to the prep time and the amount of details you put into a set. I learned very fast that in TV.

Its head and shoulders. Layering the set with smaller personal items for the characters is my favorite thing to do but we often do not have the time to do this in TV . I have found in film that you are given more days to dress a set so there is time for everyone to see it, discuss it and make changes if needed. We are moving too fast in TV to do this.

I think the hours you work really depends on the TV show. I’ve worked on a few TV shows where we only have one or 2 small swing sets. So there is plenty of time to layer and even adjust if you want too. By comparison the Mindy Project has several more per week.

MT: You’ve worked on many horror feature films. What do you like about the genre?

LM: I fell into working on horror movies by chance. Its kind of funny because I am actually a huge scaredy cat! I am always the one with their hands over their eyes and screaming. I don’t see very many horror movies..they stress me out.

From a creative perspective I do enjoy working on them because of the often unrealistic charm they have. Some of my favorite sets were on the Lords of Salem. The Production Designer, Jen Spence and I have done a few horror movies together and we work very well together. We created a surreal apartment for Sheri Moon Zombies apt which was meant to give the audience the idea that she could actually be losing her mind. We found some images we liked and printed them 10′ x 10′ . Then stretched them on huge canvases.The end result was pretty fantastic. It added to the make believe, surreal world that Rob strived for. We also painted eerie trees on her living room walls. The entire apartment was done in grey, black and white with touches of red. This was something that evolved once Jen, Rob and I delved further into her character. You often don’t have the time for this creative process in great detail in TV. Its something I really love doing in features.

PHOTOS of the Set Decoration from the film “Lords of Salem”:

MT: Describe the working and collaboration relationship between the Production Designer and Set Decorator?

LM: The set decorator helps to fulfill the designers vision both creatively and logistically. We will meet and discuss how we see the character and the environment that the scene takes place in. He or she will give me a few visual references which can be anything from furniture pictures or wallpaper samples that might set the tone or mood for the set. I like to show the designer a few pictures before we begin locking everything in to make sure that we are on the same page and then I just run with it. Its a great feeling to create something with someone else. If a piece of art or furniture inspires me I love telling the story or reasoning to the designer or director on why I think it is right for them. Its an incredible creative process. Sometimes one piece of furniture that we both love can turn into a big back story just between the 2 of us,

MT: How soon before production begins does the Set Decorator begin working? What is your initial task?

LM: I usually start about the same time the production designer does whether doing a film, TV or commercial.

My first task is to break down the script and note any hard to find items. If I am doing a period piece I will immediately start researching that era and start sourcing the right pieces.

I start with broad strokes, the main pieces in the room and build around that. However, I have been known to be inspired by the smallest thing .I once decorated a set because I was inspired by a blanket I found in a thrift store. It was the perfect color and had beautiful stitching. Sometimes something will catch my eye and that item to me can tell a whole story for the character.

MT: What are the key qualities to being a Set Decorator?

LM: Observe how everyone lives. You never know what kind of apartment or house you will need to create. In a sense you have to be able to empathasize with every kind of character there is in the world..from a serial killer to a nun, to a single mom living off of welfare checks.

Organization and communication are very important. You need to be able to be clear in your instructions and what you want to achieve to your crew .I think the tiny details you put in are what make the actors feel that the set you created for them is right for their character. It can inspire them and if that happens you have done your job.

MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

LM: I’m a girl from Pittsburgh who grew up one mile from a multi plex and 2 miles from the art house cinema. My taste in film is very eclectic. My inspirations run the gamut.

Female Troubles / John Waters
Dreams/Akira Kurasawa
Barton Fink /Cohen Brothers

I am, a huge fan of Dante Ferretti. I have watched the Adventures of Baron Munchausen too many times to count because I love the production design in that movie

MT: Do you have any advice for high school and university students who want to work in the Art Department in the film industry?

LM: Work hard. Draw as much as you can, it often helps in communicating your vision. Its important to understand design in film and to know your designers as they are often brought up as reference.

Pay attention to how people live. Not just in what type of furniture they would have but other contents, personal items, photographs, artwork that can tell a story. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. You will be working with very creative people and new ideas are often found to be refreshing.

Watch movies and observe how they are designed. There’s a lot to be learned from other Production designers, Art Directors and Set Decorators.

PHOTOS of the Set Decoration from “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping:


_____

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Advertisements

Interview with Set Decorator Ute Bergk (The Dark Knight, Enemy at the Gates)

Ute Bergk answered the set of questions I emailed her on the airplane on her way to Budapest, Hungary to complete the television mini-series “Emerald City”. Based on the “Wizard of Oz” universe, Ute promises that the series is “going to be something else” and that director Tarsem Singh is a delight. Two months in Hungary and they are wrapped.

She was happy to answer these questions on the plane and send them my way. In fact, I might have this interview posted before she lands.

ute_bergkMatthew Toffolo: You were the Set Decorator on the action/comedy “Grimsby”, which is currently at a cinema near you. How was your working experience on that film?

Ute Bergk: Yes ‘Grimsby’ came out a few weeks ago. I have been working with Sasha BC before- we build the stage for ‘FunkyZeit’ in Berlin for him /for the movie ‘Bruno’. It’s was just an introduction to the madness of a comedy. Sasha is very mesmerising – it’s more like a life event working with him , really. ‘Grimsby’ was scripted like a feature film, but that didn’t mean anything. The writers were on set all the time and creatively made changes continuously. Now- in hindsight- I can say, that one needs to have quite a team in the background to serve the needs. There is a lot of running around! My experience- interesting but very stressful and full on speed!

MT: Is there a difference when doing set decoration on a comedy film in comparison to a straight up action or drama film?

Ute: Yes- I guess there is. Every comedy I have worked on is always reassuring the moment (of laughter) and rightfully so. But on film all has to be managed the same way like a drama / action pic. The Set Dec. Challenge with Sasha was to decorate cool as always but at the same time having in mind, that certain furniture or dressing actually have a ‘role’ too. A sofa needs to be big enough to walk on or a curtain strong enough to swing from..

PHOTO: Sasha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong in GRIMSBY:

grimsby.jpg

MT: How was the Batman Begins and The Dark Knight experience? You helped create a more grounded and unique comic book world that set the tone for this genre. When working on #2 specifically, did you know that you were going to be a part of such an iconic film?

Ute: Well, well – I am very thankful to have had the opportunity!

When we first arrived at the ‘stage’ where we build ‘Gotham City’ on “Batman Begins”, it took 15 minutes for the door to slide open. I was aware that this is going to be …big. But the process is the same ..you take your piece of chalk and start outlying the sets onto the stage floor. ..Here is we’re the monorail will cross, here it’s ‘leg’ , a little further down ( a few mins walk..) the entrance to the opera.. We walked a lot!

On #2 we mainly did all stunts and action sequences there – the ‘stage’ was big enough to allow that. Not to forget the iMax cameras zooming by on wires every now and than.

PHOTO: Gotham City in BATMAN BEGINS:

gotham_city

MT: “Enemy of the Gates” is such an underrated film as the production design felt so real, almost like we were in 1940s WWII Russia fighting off the Nazis. What are your memories working on that film? Was the entire Art Department shocked that you didn’t receive an Oscar nomination?

Ute: I am really glad you are asking me this! It’s a long way down on memory lane but this was the greatest experience so far. I was very early into my career and it just happened that I was asked to join the team. We shot it in Berlin and the former East Germany. The set was enormous! Well… I thought so being a youngster. But truly it was. It was the biggest movie in Germany at the time. The logistics required to make it happen were just ..thrilling ..I would say now. The whole art department worked together and I can not recall any ‘counterproductive activities’ amongst us. I developed a close bond to the Russian community and still maintain friendships from those days. The Designer Wolf Kroeger came up with these amazing designs all drawn on paper – sometime a drawing would be up to 4/5 meters long ..on a paper roll. We had to create Stalingrad , destroyed by the war and did a lot of research on bricks and rubble. Wolf insisted to have bricks from a special factory in Russia and so we had lorryloads after lorryloads coming in. Container full of rubble! I earned my nickname ‘rubble-queen’ there- and if I may go to question 10 from here- if you find it thrilling to find yourself in freezing conditions somewhere far from home trying to explain to a Russian speaking lorry-driver on overtime to dump his bricks carefully – I guess you would make a reasonable good member of the art department!

PHOTO: The grand set design in ENEMY AT THE GATES:
enemy_at_the_gates

MT: Describe the working relationship between the Production Designer and Set Decorator?

Ute: The Designer works very close with the Director. The Decorator works very close with the Designer, but the roles are quite different, I’d say. The Designer has a passion to create using his vision. The Decorator depends more on actual facts than fiction. Is a decor ..available. Do we need to make? Fabricate? What are the practical lighting requirements ? In what I am doing now this has become quite a concept..as ‘Emerald City’ is lit by the ‘Two Moons..’ But generally the Decorator has to be quite ‘realistic’ at some point and the Designer occasionally has to compromise , which they normally don’t like doing.

MT: How soon before production begins does the Set Decorator begin working? What is your initial task?

Ute: At least 3 months prior to the shoot and not long after the Designer is on board.

Initial task? Doing the job with full passion and ability.

MT: What does the Art Department look for in their Production Designer?

Ute: Not always does the Art Department choose with whom to work. An Art Department sometimes can consist of a lot of people and I cannot answer on behalf of all those involved. For me the person I work closely with has to be artistic, visionary, funny, entertaining, always switched on and human. At the end of the day it’s just a movie.

MT: What does the Production Designer look for when working with their Set Decorator?

Ute: You have to ask a Production Designer this .

MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

Ute: Movie seen the most- u mean more than once? Probably “Mulholland Drive” cause I tried to figure out the architecture (there is none..!)

After having worked on “13 hours” – I thought the movie “Timbuktu” is just wonderful, but I have only seen it once- the soundtrack in on my Spotify playlist!

MT: Do you have any advice for high school and university students who want to work in the Art Department in the film industry?

Ute: If you enjoy all things weird and wonderful you have found your space. But only experience can tell if you succeed. It’s competitive and not easy to break into – if there is no other place in the world for you than go for it. Just like the Giant in ‘BigFish’ – see if you like it.

____
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

The ART of ART DIRECTION and PRODUCTION DESIGN in the movies.

ART DIRECTING
FILMMAKING NOTES

Production Design – the domain of the art director – is the visual art and craft of cinematic storytelling. The most important job that no one outside teh industry knows about

The art director renders the screenplay in visual metaphors, a color palette, architectural and period specifics, location designs and sets. It also coordinates the costumes, makeup and hairstyles. They create a cohesive pictorial scheme that directly informs and supports the story and its point of view

SETTINGS ARE NOT MERELY BACKDROPS FOR THE ACTION, BUT SYMBOLIC EXTENSIONS OF THE THEME AND CHARACTERIZATIONS

REAL ISN’T ALWAYS BEST FOR THE FILM; CREATING A WORLD WITH ITS OWN INNER LOGIC AND TRUTH IS.

FINDING THE LOOK OF THE FILM
-The looks of a film comes out of the content and the director’s conception of the story.
-A working metaphor, a specific psychological, atmospheric and emotional image of what you want to visually project
-What emotional impact does the story have?
-How does the environment of the narrative reflect the character?

-What is the psychological nature of the story?
-How can the atmosphere of the architecture and physicality of the settings contribute to telling the story visually?
-What is the art director’s attitude toward the story?
-What is the art director’s point of view?
THE PRODUCTION DESIGNER’S VISUALIZATION TEAM

THE ART DEPARTMENT
-Nucleus of the Art Department staff consists of the art director, set designer, set decorator and property master followed by a support staff.
-Support staff includes the buyer, construction coordinator, construction crew, production illustrator, scenic artist, set dresser, greensman, draftsman, location manager, painters, carpenter and location scout.

Art Director
-Runs the show during production
-Responsible for dealing with vendors and the logistics of getting materials to and from the set
Set Designer
-Responsible for designing and supervising the construction of sets
-Drafts blueprints based on concepts, descriptions or drawings and then oversees construction of the set

Set Decoration
-Begins after the set has been built or after a real location has been selected
-The set consists of the walls, floor, ceiling, windows, doorways and doors
-The decoration includes rugs, furniture, wall hangings and window treatments
-Make a list of what decor elements are necessary for each location in the script
-They include paint, wallpaper, floor coverings, furniture, paintings, photographs, books, magazines, newpapers, appliances and audio-visual equipment.

Props
-Items handled by the Actors are designated as props
-They are gathered, designed or purchased by the PROPERTY MASTER who is responsible for their placement and care during the shooting phase of a film

Hair and Makeup
-The hair crew researches, creates and administers the proper hairstyles for the characters, story, place and time period to serve the director’s point of view
-The on-set hairdresser is invaluable to cut, style, color, set and maintain the hairstyles
-Wigs, hairpieces and hair extensions can transform an actor into a character
-Make sure the actors are willing to change their hair before hiring them
-The makeup artist on a movie must understand how the tools of foundation, rouge, lipstick and eyeliner will read on film
-Makeup and hair impact the look and personality of the character and help establish period, mood and atmosphere.-The script will indicate specific props necessary for the story and representation of the characters
-Every visual element should complement, support and develop the cinematic narrative and fit into the overall design plan
-The Property Master includes items that will give the film distinction

Special Effects
-Digital technology has made a tremendous impact on production desinging.
-CGI is employed for budgetary and logistical reasons. To created impossible shots and to augment, change and enhance

Constuction Coordinator
-Responsible for the building of sets, follows the working drawings drafting of the art department and supervises the construction crew
-The set is built around the idea that cameras will be shot around it so therefore wild walls can be moved around for a specific shot

Construction Crew
-The construction crew is made up of many artisans
-Carpenters and painters are the key to a great set

Location Scout/Manager
-Searches for the places indicated in the script
-Takes still photos and shoots video to aid in the search process
-Once location is selected, a deal is struck with the owner or managers of the property

Costume Designer
-Creates or selects the clothing to be worn by the actors
-Color and texture concept will be established and agreed with the Production Designer and Director
-Most Art Directors will let the Costume Designers work from their own inspiration based on their interpretation of the story and characters
-Different Actors will look good in certain costumes

Scenic Artist
-Art department specialist who creates all painted backgrounds, prop paintings, signage, any illustrative material, magazine covers, book jackets and murals indicated by the story

Production Illustrators
-Artists who pain or draw a conception of the Production Designers ideas for a set
-A full color description of sets and character’s look can sell a film

Draftsman
-Makes technical drawings that detail a plan to build a set
-LIke drafting for architecture

Set Dresser
-Works under the supervision of the set decorator and is responsible for laying the decor on set
-Have a great sense of style

The Production Designer supervises the entire design team. Art and commerce go hand in hand in moviemaking; A Production Designer must carefully plan and budget so the film gets the look it deserves
-The blueprint for the production process included detailed information concerning use of the camera, the physical action and dialog
-The Production Designer breaks down the script into individual components determining the days in the shooting schedule each scene and each shot is to be photographed

The Pschological Nature of Production Design
-Environments can have a metaphysical impact on how the audience perceives the story and the characters
-How do you want the viewer to feel?
-The atmospheric qualities of the sets, location and environments are essential in establishing a mood and projecting an emotional feeling about the world surrounding the film
-Takes an idea and translates it visually to communicate or comment upon the themes of the story
-A visual metaphor may act on the subconscious level, presenting subtle layers of poetic imagery that can impart ideas, concepts and significance in the narrative

RESEARCHING
The art director must be specific and precise in a number of areas:
-Authenticity
-Emotional truth of the story and the characters, through the environment
-Interpreting the director’s intent
-Details and details within details
-Ask what is needed for each scene
RESEARCHING IS A TIME FOR DISCOVERY

An art director should have a romance with color

One should never seek to recreate a period – One should attempt to reinvent it.
-Christopher Hobbs (Production Designer Gothic, Visual Effects Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)