Emmy-Nominated FIDM Graduates Visit Career Connections 2012

August 2, 2012

Ali-Matilla

Ali Matilla, Entertainment Set Design, Freelance Set Decorator, Academy of TV Arts & Sciences Emmy Nominee for her web series

Last Wednesday, FIDM held our annual Career Connections event out in the park, where FIDM Alumni return to the campus and impart in-depth knowledge about the industry to current students. Since 1992, this event has featured graduates who have had successful post-FIDM Careers, such as Project Runway Star Nick Verreos, Director of Global Sourcing David Dea, and Bebe Stores Senior Designer Gretchen Johnson.

Kaitlyn Wood

Kaitlyn Wood, Entertainment Set Design, Set Decorator Department Buyer, Freelance Set Decoration Buyer

At Career Connections 2012, Academy of TV Arts & Sciences Emmy-Nominated Advanced Entertainment Set Design Graduates Alli Matilla and Kaitlyn Wood came and shared their words of wisdom with the enthusiastic crowd of students.

What is your name, grad year, and major?:
Ali Matilla: My name is Ali Matilla; I graduated in 2008. I went from Visual Communications to Advanced Entertainment Set Design.
Kaitlyn Wood: My name is Kaitlyn Wood, I graduated in 2011, and I did Visual Communications and Entertainment Set Design.

What is your position and the company you work for?:

AM: I'm a decorator. I'm not currently with a particular company because it's freelance, so it depends on whether it's a Sony picture, an independent movie, or Nickelodeon. It sort of hops around from production company to production company, whether you're on there for three months, a week, a weekend, or a year -- it's always different.

KW: I'm a set decorating buyer, and it's mostly freelance. I get hired by a decorator, but right now we're working on a Sony movie; I mostly work on movies.

How did you start freelancing?:

AM: The Advanced program set me up a lot, Intern-wise. You get all the skills from the program, but the biggest thing is your first introduction to it, so it actually sets you up for finally getting your foot in the door. Basically, without the connections at FIDM, I would have had a hard time starting out, but FIDM definitely helps you [with networking].

KW: I started as an Intern at a prop house and I met a decorator there who took me under his wing and let me intern for him and the artist. From there, I found a few other decorators who hired me; I now am a Shopper and I work with a PA. I also joined a union. 

Tell us about what it's like to be in your position.:

AM: A day is always changing. Within weeks, there are a lot of concept meetings and department meetings where you're meeting with the department heads of costume, lighting, and stunts so that you don't run into a [situation where the] wall is blue and costumes are blue. That's no good. You have to be hands-on with everyone. You have to break down the scripts, go to budget meetings, and then a lot of research. You have your set decoration department helping with research and getting together mood boards, and then you have your buyers, which Kaitlyn is. We go to prop houses and take photos, find things and bring them back to the production designer, get approvals, and then go from there with renting, buying, manufacturing, or fabricating, whatever needs to go into the set. It's non-stop, always something to do, and it's always around the same thing: budget, photo approval -- the same thing on every job depending on how much time you have.

KW: Everyday is a little different depending on what part of the process of the movie. You do researching, or paperwork for prepping, trying to find things, learning the characters, or going on meetings with the designers and director about what they're thinking or what they want. I go out looking in the prop houses, shopping, take pictures, then we create boards. From those boards, I give them the option and they choose what they like, and then we go and dress it all together.

What are 3 tools or pieces of knowledge that are essential in your work?:

AM: Organization, budgeting, and having a good eye. There's no way around taste, so you need to know your periods and eras -- If someone asks for a pin leg, you [have to] know what that is. You can't just assume that what you've seen in movies in tv [is always right] or what you think is 1950s is actually 1950s. Having that knowledge is major. You also always have to stay in budget. You have so much money riding on a production that you have to be organized and know what you're doing, or you'll cost the company a lot or won't get hired again. It's pretty scary, you don't want to mess up -- [there are] a lot of people above you.

KW: It's really essential to know the different periods and get that history of furniture or art knowledge. When they say, "I want a mid-century chair," you want to know what that means. Color is really important, knowing what goes together, what doesn't; color is one of the most important things. Work really hard, be willing to go out there and do it. People sometimes don't want to put in the hard work, but takes a lot of hard work to get where you want to go.

Do you feel that FIDM has prepared you?:

AM: Yeah, absolutely. Just from having a lot of commitment to the classes, times, and projects that you have to do, you build up the endurance to know what's out in the real world, because we have 12-16 hour days, you never know how long it's gonna be. Skill-wise, they definitely help you; they know your potential. It might be hard, but they push you there and then you'll be so much better off compared to any other person who's just generally interested in getting into the art department.

KW:  Yes you learn a lot -- the main skills, the history, the colors, the foundation -- you then apply that in your job. You learn everyday, and FIDM gives you a great start to where you want to be -- FIDM helped me.

Do you have any tips for current students?:

AM: Work hard, put in the time, and know the industry. If you're really into it, start researching film; if that's your thing, follow up on it. Don't wait for other people to give you the opportunities. Research prop houses if you've never been to one. Go get into the different interior design places. In LA, you've got a massive amount of vendors at your fingertips, and it's not always just prop houses. You don't find everything you need in something that you rent, so sometimes you can go to smaller places and get deals. Start making connections because you're always gonna have those connections later on. Sometimes it's the same people at shops or prop houses you go to because you know the way they work, or you like their personality, and you start to cultivate a list of people you work with on your films.

KW: Get out and get involved. Find interships, volunteer, get experience. No one wants to hire someone who has never worked before.

Categories: Alumni News, Event, Careers, Entertainment Set Design