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Emmy-Nominated Production Designer Dave Blass Shares Industry Experience with ESDD Students

Emmy-Nominated Production Designer Dave Blass Shares Industry Experience with ESDD Students

Production Designer Dave Blass recently joined us as an Entertainment Set Design & Decoration guest speaker for the students in Essentials of Film Production, taught by FIDM Instructor Claire-Dee Lim. Blass was nominated for the 2012 and 2014 Emmy Awards as Production Designer for the Justified television series starring Timothy Olyphant, and the 2015 Emmy Award for Constantine starring Keanu Reeves. The small class size allowed for each student (Alex Olson, Julia Vela, Shirley Guo, Souki Gonzalez, Charlie Coons, Rose Hayes, and Rhea Pereira) to introduce themselves on the call and get their questions answered. 

Instructor Claire-Dee Lim has her M.F.A. in Motion Picture/Television Production from University of California, Los Angeles. She’s co-screenwriter of the family film, Firehouse Dog, and author of the romantic comedy novel Love Match. In addition to teaching at FIDM, Claire is a member of the Writers Guild, where she has served as Chairperson of the Women’s Committee.

The call started off with a discussion about the creative process. Dave said that for a production designer, you usually start with an idea or a script. “A lot of times it’s a photograph that I show the producer. I’ll show images, textures, ideas, but not the actual couch.”

He walked the student through a typical pitch document. “You make a ‘I don’t have the job yet but I want the job’ presentation,” he said. Claire-Dee Lim added that there is a “fine balance between giving away all your ideas and holding something back.” 

David said it’s very important to create emotion and feeling with this type of presentation. He likes to include textures of what the show could be, “evocative images and the textures of life. Textured images that provide nuance such as barbed wire, blood splatter, and rust on the wall to create a gritty textured reality, for example. You want to give the producers images that they’ll have an emotional response to.”

He said that when you are designing, you want to give a “heightened version of reality.” He gave the example that most of us on the Zoom call had white backgrounds due to the general popularity of white and off-white walls in the home, but when designing for film and TV, it’s not generally white walls. “You are creating something that is a version of reality.” 

“The space is a character,” he continued. “The space helps define the other characters.” He said you have to imagine the life of the characters that exist, and then give them depth. “It’s about all the nuances.”

“For a lived-in space, you think about the thermostat on the wall and the aging around the light switches, for example, or a wear mark on the carpet in front of a chair or in a well-used area.”

“Environment makes the character more compelling,” said Claire.

Justified takes place in the Appalachian mountains area of eastern Kentucky where people repurpose things. “So, the old bathtub in the front yard becomes a planter, so gophers won’t eat the vegetables,” he said.

His advice for the students? “Follow production designers on Instagram and ask them questions. ‘I want to learn from you’ is better than ‘I want a job,’” he said.

“When you watch a movie, watch it twice. Once for fun, and once as a learning experience. Study the set and try to figure out how they built it.”

He also recommended that the students read Perspective Magazine, a free bi-monthly publication from the Art Directors Guild where set designers explain their process, including himself. He’s authored articles for them in the past.

“I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded in life, but in every failure there is success,” he said. “Whatever your goal is, it’s achievable.”

Keep up with Dave Blass at daveblass.com and on Instagram @dave_blass_photography.

Categories:  Entertainment Set Design & Decoration Student