Sets & Props
Build it and they will come...
Jamie Whitlock and Mehri Davis
Artists in Residence
back to performing arts...
This year, in the "make room", Mehri and Jaime gave the students a first hand look into the art of production design for independent film. They were presented with the exciting goal of designing sets, props, and costumes for four music videos--a task which even the most talented and experienced group of artists would find challenging. In the end, each student took ownership of designing his or her part of the sets and costumes, with very impressive results. As with any independent film, the kids were given scripts which consist of descriptions of the action and setting, and sometimes dialogue. Going from black and white words on a page to a complete vision of all of the objects that are needed in each scene, and then making them from scratch on a budget, is not easy to do. It starts with a thorough exploration of the script, and then a step by step process of inventing and creating these objects.
Students first learned to "break down" a script by analyzing each scene and making a list of needed props, as well as to read between the lines and anticipate the needs of the production that might not be listed explicitly in the script. In order to "see" the vision, the students created drawings based on what was interpreted from the scripts. This two-dimensional exploration was the first step for the kids in translating the vision of the writers and directors into concrete ideas for objects and scenery that they could build themselves. It also led to many discussions about how to collaborate with other departments in order achieve this vision, including the use of a green screen, lighting effects, camera angles and special effects. There were also discussions about possible building materials that could be acquired for very little money. Students were encouraged to look at the world around them and see every day objects not just as objects, but rather what the objects could be transformed into. They also learned the art of adapting to changes in the script as the other departments worked on the project and made adjustments.
Mehri and Jaime set the children free in the props or "make room" during the second week of the program with strict instructions to have fun. In fact, no one was to leave the "make room" with clean hands. Moving to a three-dimensional representation of their props and scenery, the kids created small miniature sets before we moved on to the real thing. This process allowed them to explore their vision for their particular contribution by seeing it take shape three-dimensionally--and also giving them the opportunity to make adjustments and brainstorm improvements to their original ideas. The miniature sets would later be used to create stop motion short films to begin to explore movement in film. Some of the miniatures even made appearances in our music videos. But the primary purpose was to allow them the time to really engage in the creative process and crystallize their great ideas, and perhaps scrap a few ideas that didn't work as well as they initially imagined. The kids were incredibly creative in their use of everyday objects to make little worlds complete with aliens with movable appendages, zombies, and alien spacecrafts that emanated light.
The fourth and fifth week of the program were our build and shoot weeks. This also included scheduling and scouting locations for the shoot, and organizing the logistics of the production. With a list of what seemed like a thousand props, set pieces, and costumes, the children marched into the project undaunted. Each child took ownership of a particular piece and finished with plenty of time to spare. In fact, they were able to rework a few ideas that didn't pan out as well as they had initially hoped and made a few last minute additions to our eclectic mix of props. Some things that were created in the "make room" included a miniature Ferris wheel, giant fruit costumes, alien masks, a giant cell phone, an entire cardboard bedroom suit and a wooden coffee pot that actually poured coffee, to list a few. Some students even continued to "make" well into the shoot--adding props and costumes over the course of the shoot to meet the needs of the new ideas that were pouring out of the minds of the many directors. Even though they were presented with the option, most of the children preferred to make a replica of an object as opposed to bringing a prop from home. This really added to the look and feel of the music videos, giving them a signature stamp that was distinctively made in the spirit of creativity, and which gave everyone a look into the brilliant imaginations of children.