Work Shadowing Day 1
The first day work shadowing was on an altered set location. It was dressed to represent a medium security hospital for the ITV crime drama Chasing Shadows. I was sent a call sheet/schedule the day before for the exact times and address.
Matt and I met for a brief meeting at the catering van before I was shown around the vast location that used both inside and outside settings. It was a good opportunity to see how an existing building could be altered and to observe all the processes and people who were involved. It would be usual for Matt to visit the set to check if anything needed doing then move on to overseeing other set dressing jobs or locations ready for the next block of filming, but today he was at this location all day due to meetings and my shadowing.
The location used to be an old training venue for HSBC and was set in grounds and gardens. It provided a perfect setting for dressing due to the types of buildings on offer, the space to set up vehicles, catering and network of roads that connected areas within the grounds. Alterations were subtle to the untrained eye. Outside there were signs that had been changed to look more like hospital signs and extra security cameras. The gardens had been tended to regularly to keep on top of grass growth to provide continuity for outside shots. There had also been a segment of security fencing erected to allow a camera to shoot through.
I was told that this segment build cost £2500 so only a small section was built. It provided just enough area to allow shots of the hospital through the fencing so adding to the illusion of the medium security facility. The camera was on a crane so that a few different height shots could be filmed through and over the fence.
It’s important to note that set dressings are often only small segments of builds or alterations. Why build an entire fence when you don’t have to? On a smaller budget TV drama these decisions and compromises have to be made. The budget for each episode of this particular drama was £35,0000, each episode taking approximately 2 weeks to film. Matt described his job as being 25% budget/organising and 75% design. He also added that smaller budget productions can be creatively challenging and that you have to think laterally. Every production has its differences due to budget and the director involved. A drama series such as Chasing Shadows has different directors for each episode so every episode might have slightly different approach. Episodes can overlap and often the production designer can be prepping a later episode while overseeing a set alteration, so there’s a lot of juggling and multitasking involved in the role. Research is ongoing for each episode as is location scouting.
I was able to observe some of the external shoots that day. They filmed various shots through the fencing, with cars and people approaching then switched to a camera on the other side of the fence that filmed similar sequences to provide a variety of shots for the edit. During this time the Art Director observed the camera screens, keeping an eye of what was in view and if any of the dressings needed adjusting.
After I’d watched some of the filming I was shown some more of the set dressings inside one of the buildings, these included the security gates, reception, a small cell/bedroom and an atrium/stair area. The photos below are of the reception area which were just open corridors before dressing.
This was one of the alterations from a corridor to reception desk. The front was built-in but in such a way as it could be removed easily. The entire area at the back was dressed with furniture, papers, posters, phones and all manner of office props. The blue signs continued the hospital details along with the security cameras.
An opening covered with lockers that are used when the hospital visitors arrive and are instructed to leave their possessions before entering he facility. On the day I visited they were making a few last-minute alterations.
This was another corridor that was dressed to incorporate the security area which was similar to an airport where the visitors would be scanned.
Lastly I was shown where they had added a set of security doors. These were operated by a rope from either side depending on which direction they were filming from.
This part of the day gave me great insight into TV drama. It’s very much about location, practicalities and being able to think on your feet. What I’ve learnt so far is that the Production Designer in TV has a hand in so many aspects of the production:- set design, dressing, location choice, budgets, props etc.
I was also shown the set for ITV’s Lewis which was filming in the same building. We discussed the importance of location choice on lower budget productions. Matt said that it was all about how they could save money by making the right design choices, location being one of the most important. You save them money, they employ you again. You don’t want to be spending too much money on things that can’t be seen, for example, the lighting cranes for the windows that are positioned outside. To make this more affordable it’s all about the practical aspects, so if the location dress is at ground level, the lights can be rigged at ground level avoiding any need for platforms or cranes. This means there is more money to spend on what can be seen, such as important design features for set dressing or prop hire.
Locations are chosen for how little they need to be altered and how they fit to the script.