Production Design was one of the topics in a workshop I attended for television production. It didn’t occur to me that I would be doing production design work someday.
In that workshop, one of the lectures focused on the settings and props used in television or film. The various kinds of props include action props like a bench lifted up during a take. Another kind of props are the static decoration or materials which are called dressing props.
The production designer or art director is responsible for setting the general design. He must also see beyond the script for the designing needs of a particular sequence or scene. Most props are actually not even mentioned in the script r screenplay.
For example, the script will just mention about a scene during mealtime. It is the production designer’s task to put on the table the kitchen utensils needed, together with the viands like fish, pork or vegetable, cooking oil and ingredients with extra supplies to be used in case of retakes. He always teams up with the art director to ascertain that the props they are using blend in style and type on the dressing the set.
In production designing, a research must be made according to the period or what era or time the story happened. Sets might be constructed in studios, specially for interior sets but construction must conform to the era of time setting of the story.
Shooting exterior locations may be more complicated as we must search for areas which have retained the looks of the era established by the script.
The film production designer workshop was began in 1976 by Director Peque Gallaga and others who specialized in costumed pictures. The need to construct a palace on a building which looks like a palace that only less improvement was needed to be made was part of the concept of that workshop.
The Art Department is usually composed of a Production Designer, Propsmen, Art Director, Carpenter or Setmen, and Wardrobe (who is assigned to clothes or costumes).
The production design needs of a film depend on whether a picture is a big-budgeted war movie, a costume flick, an epic or classical tale, films which may need the services of a greenman, costume designer, artillery department, vehicles, prosthetics or makeup artist.
The Art Department people have direct communication with the Director so that the needs of the department for a film production can be discussed. The department also teams up with the production manager on the aspects of location hunt, rentals, service vehicles for carrying props such as décor, lamps, costume set and furniture. The Producer usually has prior approval of the PD’s requirements.
My experience simply proved to me that understanding the script and its production design needs is a must. A designer should know what period or time the event or scene happens to prepare the props and costumes to be used. He is first on location to prepare the set even hours before actual shooting.
To understand the script, the PD should scrutinize the screenplay, sequence by sequence. He must coordinate with the cinematographer regarding color and light sources which are indispensable elements the PD must have knowledge of to give a good look to the finished product.
The PD must sometimes peep into the camera to ascertain the texture of a set. He can suggest pointers that might help make the shot more meaningful and relevant to the concept of the movie being shot.
I must repeat that a good coordination or team-up and rapport must be engendered between the Director and the PD. It is a practice that the Director usually ask the PD about available good locations and even get his suggestions about mise-en scenes.
The PD invariably coordinates with other technical staff. The setting assigned to a carpenter or setman should be precise. The makeup and hair style of the cast, especially in costumed scenes, should also be accurate to the agreed concept.
In cases of mistaken ideas such as wrong set design or wrong colors, the Art Director or the Production Designer in charge should be prepared to compromise. And when compromise is not accepted, the expenses incurred in re-shoots should be shouldered by the Production Designer.
Most PDs have the aptitude of color that makes for beauty. In other words, he should be artistic enough to see the symmetry of the foreground with the background.
Brillante Mendoza is the hottest director in Indie films since he had won the Best Director award in the recent Cannes Film Festival in France. His film Kinatay is still to be shown in local theaters.
Brillante is a former Production Designer. He had learned other tasks of movie making by simple observation. Since Production Designers always read the script, Brillante made a self study of writing stories and script.
After learning how to handle the camera, Brillante garnered funding and set out to make his first movie. Masahista, his first direction, won nominations abroad.
As a Production Designer of Ugat Sa Lupa, an indie film directed by Ariel Reyes, I was tasked to handle the difficult work of providing the set. Fortunately for me, the other production staff were kind to help so that our project was somewhat successful.
I may not be another Brillante Mendoza but my experience in Production Design is a treasure because it gave me a deeper insight in movie production.
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