Dressing A Movie
One of my favorite things to do as a film director is to dress a movie before production begins. So many people from all over the world ask me how this is done and how I do it. While there are many aspects of filmmaking that are fun, this happens to be one of my favorites.
It’s hard to put things you enjoy in an order you can explain. As for me, filmmaking from the beginning to the end is still and will always be exhilarating to me. Casting, locations, set dressing, rehearsing, and then principal photography. Once you get underway, nothing will stop the progress. After principal photography ends, more fun begins in the editing room where you reconstruct the movie again from the ground up. You get to move things around. Like a big puzzle, you can use the “little shots” you created and see if they work. Soon you become thoroughly immersed in the task of completing the director's final cut. This may not be the final-final cut as you might test it with an audience or the studio or distributor may, and most likely will, ask for changes. When it’s all done, you sit in the back of a theatre and watch and listen to the audience. There is nothing more rewarding than to hear them giggle in the right places, scream or cry in others that you planned and designed from the ground up.
When the action begins.
You acquire or write a brilliant script. You are the director and team with a group of people who say they are producers. They raise production funds and prove their worth by getting you a green light for production and distribution.
You start pre-production, and that means you have a whole lot of work to do. It’s like an architect planning a building. He needs a blueprint, and the filmmaker must create the look of the film. Some significant casting may already be in place, but the roles still open will lay the groundwork for how the outcome of the film will look. As casting begins and interviews are lined up, you go back to the production look you want on the film.
You go on a tech scout, that’s where you check locations, find the perfect place to shoot and lay out each shot so they can be effortlessly edited into the final cut of the film. Sometimes you have a storyboard drawn up for each major shot, and sometimes you just make lots of notes.
While you examine each area of each interior location, you also think about how they should look when fully dressed. What might be in the background and what products, if any, would be used by each of your characters. This also helps with how your characters look and what they wear and more importantly how YOU want them dressed.
On a desk in a location office, for example, would they have a computer? If so would it be a desktop or laptop? With each decision comes more choices such as, should you use a wide screen iMac, or smaller Windows component? Maybe the characters use a tablet like an iPad, Google or Samsung product, and that creates more choices. If the character has a Mac computer, he most likely would also use an iPad and have an iPhone on the desk and one in hand. If the character uses a Windows or Android product, a multitude of choices open. With all these choices and the time needed to watch over each one, you realize you needed help from a product placement company. A real pro who can and will shorten the process. Without help, this chore could take months instead of days.
There are lots of product placement companies, and some require you use their client’s products exclusively while other companies just want their clients goodies to be seen on the big screen. Some large companies manage their own product placement, which requires a phone call from the producer or director.
For example, if two of your characters wear tennis shoes and you as the filmmaker want them to be unique. Your first thought is Nike or Reebok but then you start looking around at K-Swiss, Rockport, Jordan, Adidas, Puma, New-Balance and get dizzy. You end up discussing this with your wardrobe people and they eventually bring you various shoes and styles to choose from.
Does the script call for a car in the garage or a motor home in the driveway? Are the characters well off and live in a spacious house luxury condo or is your cast regular blue-collar workers? It’s essential to know your characters and their backgrounds. Even in the make believe world, much depends on the end look. If you over dress them, and have them drive a Mercedes or BMW when they are written in the screenplay as a hard working middle income family, they would look utterly ridiculous driving an expensive car they couldn’t afford. General Motors, Ford, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota all have product placement offices along with several other companies and they all want screen time. As for motor homes, that’s a different story.
A few years ago I called Winnabego, and they said yes. It looked fantastic on screen, and the company was frightfully happy. They even gave me a loaner when we finished the picture to spend a couple of weeks and enjoy the road. Over the years, we’ve used Lazy Daze, Fleetwood and Newmar products and found them all extremely accommodating and were thrilled with the end results.
You end up with lots of choices from furniture, bedding, televisions and kitchen products. You have clothes to deal with, along with shoes and other personal items. Your characters might wear Levi’s or Wrangler at home and fancy suits at the office. The look changes much of the final look, and this too can easily be overdone with the use of too much.
As you move around each location and understand each one has a different look, and then you might face the need for multiple diverse ways to decorate each set. You have, of course, the professionals of your crew to depend on, but most directors have certain things they want to allow their vision the satisfaction and nature of the director’s identity. A look that’s only in their head and at times the needs pops up, and you must reach out for help in unlikely places.
Your Set Dresser and Art Director help with most items seen on the set unless you have a plan and then you must talk to them and share the vision you have in your head so they can help to clarify that look. Thankfully most professionals know the shortcuts needed to prepare a kitchen with current products from food, to soft drinks, beer and spirits. What’s on the counter or in the fridge? If they have s bar, what kind of alcohol would be stocked on the shelves?
Your Costume personnel know ways to dress your characters with jeans, shoes, shirts, jackets and most of the time you put things in their competent hands. Once again, the director may demand that look. A fabric or color or one that doesn’t exist and in comes the Wardrobe pro to help out or arrange to have what you want created and produced.
We talked about a storyboard and sometimes they genuinely help define the look and vision of the director. Of course, you always have to have permission and release forms to use most products even though it’s advertising and in some cases a boost to the industry as it might create a new fad. You still need the right to use and to avoid a liability lawsuit.
Before you begin principal photography, hopefully you get most if not all of these movie dressing needs out of the way because once you get started it’s most likely too late to change or add something new. Time becomes treasured, and you quickly realize you have none to waste. The cost of production, when broken down by the hour, can swiftly wake you up. The pace you specify will make or break the result of your film.
When you make a studio film, much of this is done in-house, but when you are independent and raise the production funds on your own, all of the above falls into your lap. If you slow down and take a few deep breaths, the fun of it all is unexplainable.
The whole idea of dressing a movie is to make sure the look and inspiration you started out with are completed when it’s all over. It’s a whole lot of work, but boy is it fun. To prep is the beginning of your creation, to shoot becomes pure excitement, and then comes the editing and music score during post-production, and when you put it all together … that’s what filmmaking is all about. There is certainly nothing else in the world that consumes you with the adrenaline rush that comes from starting with nothing and ending with a motion picture you created from the ground up.