Glass & Sand - The design of 'Crossing Paths'

Two different stories, two very different tones, but united by grief: Crossing Paths (B Squared)

   So, at the end of last Summer, three things happened:

   1) I got to revisit one of the main locations from the Stop/Eject shoot, Belper River gardens.
   2) I discovered that cheap Wilko masking tape is much more adhesive than expected (and not suitable to use when decorating someone's house (apologies to the relevant parties!).
   And 3) I found out that I talk in my sleep - even if I've fallen asleep stood up, on a film set, in the middle of a very important take (apologies again!).

   These things all came about because I was working as Art Director and Costume Designer on the short film, Crossing Paths.

Director Ben Bloore helped paint
the set (and dirty Mark's costume!)
   There were lots of things to like about B Squared Productions' latest project. I was a short that was actually short (not a 20-minute wannabe feature), the script was well written, and it had a wonderful ensemble cast; two women who were always bubbling with warm energy, two men who were absolute gentlemen, and all four of whom were brilliant professional actors. Plus the project gave me the opportunity to work with DOP Neil Oseman again, which is always a joy.

   I've worked in the art department of a lot of short films, but there were some design elements I really enjoyed conceiving and bringing to this project (with inputs from director Ben Bloore and writer Ben Fowkes), so I thought it was definitely worth a blog post to tell you guys about it.

  As well as sporting a lot of spiritual themes, at its core Crossing Paths is a film about relationships, telling the stories of two couples. Two very different couples with very different attitudes to each other (although both stories share elements of grief). And we used the film's                                                               design to support this.

   I'm a firm believer that film design can tell you a lot about characters when there isn't time in the script to describe their back story. In Crossing Paths, we used colour to set the mood of the relationships (even though, in early meetings, we'd discussed the film being made in black & white. I wanted to be prepared either way).  The first couple, Alison (Michelle Darkin Price) and Sean (Mark Tunstall) were in a miserable, bitter and aggressive relationship, so their scenes featured only cold colours like blue, white and grey. 

   In contrast, the second couple, Matthew (Phil Molloy) and Lorraine (Tina Harris) adored each other, and would never leave each other by choice, so their scenes were filled with warm browns and sandy colours with accents of orange. These are obvious semiotics, but very effective, particularly in a short film where you need to get ideas across quickly.

Set dressing details from the two sets (taken from my continuity photos)
   As well as colours, I used textures in the set dressing to enhance these moods. For the miserable couple, who were on the bring of catastrophe, the set was filled with modern lines, hard metals and fragile (the fact that it was a kitchen set helped me greatly). The second couple's scenes, which were set in a bedroom, featured more curbed shapes, old-fashioned pieces and soft textures, including a variety of subtle fabrics and thick, natural wood - things that were designed to be lasting rather than fragile.

   Neil's lighting supported all this design - the kitchen scene featured dark shadows and strips of film noir-style moonline, but the bedroom lighting was all about milky shadows and smoke-hazed sunshine.

One of my costume
sketches for Alison
   The natural colours and wooden furniture in Lorraine's bedroom also established who she was as a person. She loved to travel, particularly in hot countries, and the room was filled with trinkets, styled like they were from all parts of the world, collected during her trips and kept as souvenirs. 

   (Unfortunately, during the shoot, the crew had to position the camera away from the majority of the kitchen set dressing. This is something which happens to all film designers at some point, and you need to learn to adapt and move things into frame. But since the shots were mostly close-up and looked wonderful anyway, and there wasn't any 'dead space', I didn't have to move anything. Losing a few glass items didn't take away from the drama of the scene.)

   Alison's character was established through her clothing rather than the set dressing, as the kitchen wasn't supposed to be a homely environment. I kept the same grey and white tones as in the rest of the design for her scenes, but I layered her clothing in a 'lagan look' style (see right) to make her look like a  gentle and earthy character, in spite of her harrowing circumstances. This look was replicated for the park scenes, but in lighter shades and softer textures to support the heavenly atmosphere.

   The other reason for these loose layers was that I knew Alison would be running in one scene. If you want to enhance the dramatic effect of a person running, always put them in loose layers that dance around them as they move.

   Costume also played a vital part for Sean. Myself and the 'Bens' discussed the best way to make him look completely unapproachable, but in a realistic way. I suggested putting him in a uniform - one that was made from a harsh fabric and filthy - so we put him in overalls. In fact, I went to far with the 'dirty' look that I coated the costume in thick, greasy paints, coffee and anything else suitable I could find in my house, resulting in an overall that smelled strongly of these ingredients - which made it unapproachable in another way! Needless to say I apologised to Mark sincerely, and followed him round on set with a Febreze bottle. And he got his own back by hugging me and coating me in the fragrant, greasy costume-coating! But I do think it added an extra element to the character (even if I do still apologise to Mark every time I see him - which also makes this my third apology of this blog post!).

Me, dressing the set around Tina Harris as she prepares for an emotional scene
   Lorraine and Matthews' costumes' main purpose was to fit in with the softness and the colours of their scene. But Lorraine's nightdress also helped to establish the character's classic elegance (it was a genuine vintage piece from the 1930s). And I sewed little roses - red, to match the warm colour scheme - around the neckline, because I knew she would have a lot of close-ups. As the rest of her was below sheets for the scene, there was no point putting any detail lower down on the costume. I also tea-dipped the nightdress a few times to take the whiteness off, and to help it blend in with the creamy tones of the set.

   The only other notable things about my design work on Crossing Paths was that, for a while, the producers considered releasing it in 4:3. So I had to make sure there was always plenty of detail towards the centre of the frame. Also - as Neil reminded me, early on - I had to pay close attention to shoes I put the actors in, as feet are more likely to be seen in 4:3 than in any other aspect ratio. In the end the film was released in standard scope and still looks great.

   Crossing Paths has just had its cast and crew premiere in Nottingham, and it's on the festival circuit now, so I'm sure there'll be some screening dates announced soon. In the meantime, you can follow the film's progress on its Facebook page, and here's a brief trailer to whet your appetite (and show you a few of the above-mentioned design elements in action!):


p.s. For those of you who haven't seen it already, I worked with Michelle Darkin Price and Mark Tunstall again after Crossing Paths, on a film inspired by the music of James Bay. You can watch it here.

p.p.s. According to Google, this is my 100th blog post! Thankyou to everyone who has read and supported this blog since the beginning. I hope you stick around and enjoy the next 100 posts.


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