Stop/Eject Blog 2: The Living Room Set

Hey everybody,

   If I've published this post then that means that at least £100 has been raised on the Stop/Eject Pre-Production campaign, and that you are all wonderful. So I'm going to make this post as full, fun and interesting as I can, because you've earned it. Keep giving to the campaign and you'll unlock more rewards, including videos and other blog posts from people like Neil Oseman, the film's director.

   Go to the website now for more information on the new campaign, plus a frankly lovely little trailer and new pitch video:

   As frequent readers know, I wasn't just the film's Co-Producer, but also it's Production Designer - in fact I entered the project under that role and later got promoted - and Neil's requested that I go into a little more detail here about the design of the film. In the end the film had about twelve locations, seven of which required dressing in full or in part, so a break-down of all of these would be ridiculously long. Instead I've agreed to do a breakdown of the one set which required the most decorating, and which encompassed all of our themes, colours and inspirations for the film's design - Dan and Kate's living room set.

   Here's how the design began. At the end of Summer 2011, I had a meeting with Neil, costume designer Katie Lake (who I collaborated with heavily so that we could create an overall 'look' for the design of the film) and Executive Producer Tom Wadlow, in a cafe called The Black Cat - which was actually one of the locations for Jar of Angels - and a lot of buzz words were thrown around, such as 'retro' and 'happy' yellow colours contrasting with moodier blues. To back-up Neil's ideas, I was given a load of magazine clippings, and Katie even produced some fabrics that featured the intended colour scheme and suitably 'retro' prints:
Fabric samples in The Black Cat Cafe, Matlock.
   Before the week was out, Neil and Katie had set up an online pinboard full of further inspirations for the set dressing and costumes, and they sent me a link to that. I saved and printed out all the pictures relevant to me then put them with the magazine clippings and created a collage/moodboard on the back of my office door:

The Stop/Eject inspiration wall, which has been up in my office for nearly a year.

    On top of this, Neil (who is often finding inspiration and creativity in unusual places) sent me a photo of a coffee cup he'd found (see right), because it featured a lot of areas of the colour scheme and had a good retro style to it. So I added it to the list of inspirations. 

    The next step - as always with Production Design - was to start doing some concept art. I'd known from day one that the Living Room would need the most set dressing, which is why I only did a design for that room, although I did do some concept art of the 'weir kiss' and a various sketches for the alcove set. The living room had to be the perfect image of two personalities trying to cohabitate - Kate, the costume designer, with her love of colour, fabrics and nature, and Dan, the Sound Recordist/Mixer, with his slightly more grounded love of mechanics, 70s dark wood and retro geekery (I'm aware that I need to find another word for 'retro', but it really was used a lot during pre-production). Working references to sound into the design, such as images of tape cassettes, not only suited Dan's character, but gave a knowing nod to the audience who, by this point, will have seen the magical tape recorder, and know it to be a symbol for time (in Dan's case, a lack of it).

   So this room was my opportunity to get all the design ideas into one space. For that reason I had to pick a perfect wall colour - a lot of the colour scheme seemed reminiscent of the 1970s to me, which was in fashion at the end of Summer 2011, and the main colour which kept cropping up was mustard yellow, so I chose that. I also knew that, being in fashion, it would be easy to find that colour paint around the time of filming (not knowing it would end up being pushed back seven months). I also wanted to work some form of writing onto the living room now. Anyone who knows my work will have noticed that 'words on walls' is a reoccurring motif for me, and it all started with a love of Baz Luhrmann's films (I won't go into too much detail but, seriously, watch his films and try and find one which doesn't feature a massive word with people kissing/singing/dancing in front of it!). For me, the word that summed up the film was 'live' - because Dan loses his life, but also because Kate finds a way to move on and to keep living without him. In a way, also because all the tapes stretched out are a perfect image of life captured. Plus fabric lettering would work in the set, being the type of thing crafty Kate would make in her spare time.

   Neil first green-lit the 'live' wall-word and the mustard colour during our second location recce, when I did this sketch for him whilst we were on a train from Matlock:

The very first concept sketch for the Living Room
   The first 'proper' sketch was done using a basic water-colour painting of a room with mustard walls, which I used as a background-then digitally added items from the inspiration wall as well as photographs of things I had in my possession which I thought might be suitable:

My original concept art for Dan and Kate's Living Room
   Back then we didn't know where the location was going to be, how big it would be or how much furniture would be supplied. If we'd had to buy extra furniture then we would've not only had to budget for it, but also find ways to raise the extra money. It was one of the first major worries I had when we did the project. Of course, back then I wasn't Co-producer, and I didn't have half as much work or concerns!

   When the project got back on track, I started looking for the house location pretty early on so that I would know how much work had to be done. I even looked into local houses which were up for rent (or for sale but doing badly) where we could pay to film in as well as accommodate the cast and crew. This meant talking to estate agents and taking sneaky photographs such as this:

Photographing a potential living room through the window - I don't recommend you try that at home!

   Then, during the third (or was it fourth) location recce, me and Neil had a stroke of luck when we found suitable rooms not only for the living room but for THREE OTHER settings right above Magpie, the location for the film's charity shop. The problem then was not finding a living room, but choosing which room to use!

   We narrowed it down to three, and my preference was this room, not only because it seemed a believable size for a living room in a flat, but because I thought that the wooden panels fit perfectly with the film's style and colour pallet. I also loved the way one of the walls (not pictured) was at an angle - I hate how plain, box-shaped rooms on camera - plus it had a good fireplace:

My personal choice for the Living Room location
   To help get my point across to Neil, I then did a new concept art for the living room - fully using Photoshop this time - setting it in my choice of room and decorated accordingly:

Concept Art for Dan and Kate's living room, mark II.
   Ultimately, after much thought, Neil chose a different room, one which unfortunately didn't have wooden panels but was bigger so provided much more space for the all-important shots. I was disappointed, but I got over it, and the room I would've chosen ended up being the perfect space for hair & make-up, costume changes, and catering. (And the resulting tracking shots in the living room do look great!).

   So, we had our room, and we had our furniture. My own sofa was used (kudos to everyone who had to lug that up and down three lots of stairs) and the rest of the furniture was borrowed from the shop below. This was great because it saved us money, although we were restricting to working with whatever was there.

   Next job was to paint the walls. As I covered in my first Stop/Eject blog post, I had help to do this from a volunteer called Ellie Ragdale. I also had a floor plan from Neil, which was important because it showed me which areas would be in shot, so I knew that we only had to paint three of the four walls. By this point, mustard yellow was out of fashion, so I had to mix the colour as closely as I could using three parts 'Happy Yellow' to one part 'Coffee'.

   I came in the next day, when it was dry, and spent the whole afternoon dressing the set. I won't take up even more space with a breakdown of every item, but the things used were a mixture of some bought especially for the project, some from my own personal collection, and a few more objects borrowed from the shop. 

    And of course, I took the characters personalities into account - amongst the sewing miscellany for Kate, I made sure there were a few hand-made items which she could have done. I personally made the fabric letters for the word 'live', and the sofa blanket & one of the cushions were things my Mum had knitted in the past. I also got a couple of people to make quick origami birds, which I dotted around the place as things Kate might have done when she was bored and fidgety.

   Here's how the room took shape over the space of that first set dressing day. At the start of set dressing (blank painted walls):

Half-way through the afternoon (most items on walls and unsightly pieces like the the sink and fireplace covered by fabric):

And at the end of the day (almost finished, just waiting for the furniture I couldn't carry myself):

   You may notice a few round things in the room. Neil wanted to bring as many circles into the film's visuals as possible, not only to echo the cogs of the magical tape recorder, but also to represent time, or the passing of time (see Neil's blog post about this, because he describes it better!). Putting Vinyl records on the wall worked well to support the circle theme as well as suiting Dan's character and his love of sound as well as all things (dare I say it) retro. I also carried the circle motif further by creating a collage above Kate's sewing area out of paper-covered cardboard circles. The vase of poppies and little things like circular coasters in close-up shots also helped to carry the theme.

   The photos on the walls were almost all provided by Darren Johnston of IDJ Photography, and you can check out his work here.

Update: Tommy Draper caught me in the act, making the finishing touches on shoot day 1.

   There were some things that I couldn't do to the living room until the shoot. For example, Georgie and Ollie didn't meet each other until a day before the shoot, so I had to wait until then to get 'couple photos' of Kate and Dan. Neil also provided a lot of Dan's sound kit - and we tried to work some of Katie's costume work into the set too - so they brought all those bits with them when they travelled down to Derbyshire.

   So, without further ado, here is the living room set as it appears in the film's rushes:

Kate goes through Dan's old stuff. Note the main costume from The Dark Side of the Earth on the mannequin behind her!

Kate uses the tape recorder to go back and visit Dan, working at his desk.

   When I do concept art, it is because I know how I want something to look in my head, but need to show it to other people. Then, as long as the finished set looks my drawing (and as long as the director approves) then I'm happy. If you compare the concept art with how the room appears in the film, I think you'll see why I was satisfied!

   If there's one thing I could've changed it would've been Dan's desk, and not in a bad way. Like I said, working with the furniture there, we were limited with what we could use, and Dan's desk was a little too small to fit on a few of the techno geeky items I had for him. But the desk still looked good and was big enough for Ollie to act with, so I don't really mind at all. 

   One of the things which did make its way onto Dan's side of the set was a retro (oops, said that word again) wooden hoopla game, which you can clearly see in the shot above. I was slightly delirous from flu when I bought some of the set dressing, and a mix of the circular hoops plus my wanting to portray Dan's playful side (even in his working space) pursuaded me to buy it. It was only £2 and, although Neil's eyebrows did go up a little when I first produced it, I think it worked. It's nice to throw in the odd unsual item amongst the usual predictable pieces of dressing, and it's something a viewer might notice the second or third time around. And, of course, anything which promotes multiple viewing of a film is good!

   Right, now you know everything there is to know about my work on Stop/Eject's Living Room set.  I hope that you enjoyed it, and that it inspires you to keep giving to the post-production campaign. There's lots more rewards coming your way, including podcasts from each shoot day, which are definitely worth a look.

  I leave you now with a photo our Gaffer took of the cast and crew on the living room set. By this point in the shoot I was pretty haggered and had hair like a female Tim Burton, so certainly wasn't in the mood for a photo, but I'm still pretty chuffed that the living room was chosen for our group shot:

Photo of our lovely little crew by Colin Smith

  Sophie x


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