Mar 5, 2011

Design U: Set Design & Decoration @FIDM

Having minimal knowledge and no experience in the field of set design and photo styling is causing me a lot of anxiety. I like knowing stuff, which is why I surf the web a minimum of 6 hours daily, just to hone my skill of being a know-it-all lmao. I also pride myself on a being a very helpful person but am growing weary of pals & fam members contacting me just because I have the rep of being a wealth of random useful info. My advice to them: Make Google your BFF as I have and paaaaleze shooo shooo fly away.

Anyhoo, when I am somewhat ignorant about a subject matter, especially something of extreeeeeeme interest--it causes me tremendous insecurity. In this day, getting an internship is often harder than obtaining an actual permanent job, especially since I am already a college graduate. I figured I should register for some courses in set design and styling, just to ease my anxieties and build a much needed portfolio. So, when I discovered that FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in Southern California offers an Associate of Arts Degree in Entertainment Set Design and Decoration, I started tap dancing like a gotdang fool!

Here’s the program description:

“Set the stage for action, adventure, romance, and comedy. From the classroom of an Upper East Side private school in New York to a pool house in Southern California, the sets created for movies, plays, and television spark the imagination. Set Designers and Decorators bring life to the characters and plot by coordinating everything on a film or television set or stage: furniture, draperies, accessories, kitchenware, and beyond.”

Here’s when I fainted:

The Associate of Arts Advanced Study Programs develops specialized expertise in the student's unique area of study. Admission is limited to candidates who possess a prior FIDM degree in a related discipline.

Booooofuckinboooooo! This is some real bulldoodie! So having a degree from somewhere else makes me ineligible to enroll in this specific program. SMDH. I’m bummed and don’t want to discuss this anymore!

You, may, however enjoy the interview I borrowed from FIDM's Fashion Club Daily with Set Decorator & FIDM Alumni Ali Matilla after the break. Me – I’ll be hangin from the nearest shower rod. -Deuces

Name: Ali Matilla

Major: Entertainment Set Design & Decoration

FIDM Grad Year: 2008

Job: Set Decorator, Disney's TV show "Zeke and Luther"

What's a typical day like? Very busy. My team and I are usually the first ones on set at our stages at 5:30 A.M. We make sure to have everything finalized to "open set" for the day's shooting. Company call time is normally 7:00 A.M. and shooting follows based on a 12-hour day. After the company gets up and running, my guys and truck head to the prop houses to pick up the props and furniture I tagged for the sets and episodes coming up in the days and week ahead. I meet with my shopper for final touches and then she heads out and to get final layers such as florals or small character hand props. My assistant works on designing and generating graphics and artwork from skate magazines to hang paintings on the wall. There is an Art Department/Set Decorating concept meeting with the new director, A.D, producers and creators of "Zeke and Luther" to go over the look and feel of the episodes that will shoot the next week.

How often do you shoot? We film two episodes every nine days. So normally while the company is shooting an episode I am already prepping for the next one. After our concept meeting, I'll meet one-on-one with the production designer and make sure we are on the same page design-wise and take some notes from her to bring back to the Set Decorating Department. I do lots of research and conceptualizing. Because of the fast pace, you really need to know what you want and are looking for when you are shopping.

Where do you shop for the set? I head to prop houses, fabric stores, antique shops, and thrift stores to pull and photograph ideas for the sets. My assistant will print out a sort of show and tell selection of props I have found, as well as fabric swatches and art so I can get approval from the designer. There will also be a production meeting with all the department heads and Disney representatives to go over the two episodes and responsibilities of each department, making sure prop specifics are covered, sets are designed and decorated properly, and stunts and wardrobe meet the expectations of the writers and creators.

What next? Then of course it's back to my office so I can put together a budget and submit it to our producers for approval. All the while, my team of set dressers is split up wrapping out the sets that have finished being shot, returning to prop houses, installing future sets, and managing sets that are being shot. A good lead man to help manage your team and operations is so incredibly important! I love my whole team!

What was your first job after graduating? Luckily my first job after graduating was working on a thriller Indie feature film as a decorator, which flipped and went union, which is how I got all my hours and days needed to join Local44.

What projects are you working on? Currently this summer I am the set decorator on a feature film called "Not that Funny," then back this fall to working as the decorator on Disney TV show "Zeke & Luther."

What are you most proud of so far in your career? I have been faced with a lot of challenges being thrown into the business so fast at a young age. I'm learning on my feet—baptism by fire. So I am proud to have been able to keep up with some extremely talented people out there and hold my own. I won't even pretend to think I know it all yet, so I am just happy to keep learning and earn the respect of my peers and elders who have been so generous in helping me grow as a person and a decorator.

What are your short term/long term career goals? Short term goals are learning and managing the fast paced episodic television mayhem even more efficiently than I have this last year. It's crazy but I love it! Long term, I would love to work on larger projects, pushing myself and getting more experience as a decorator—expanding my talents and working on the parts of my skill set that need some focus and nurturing.

How has FIDM helped prepare you for your career? FIDM was like a light bulb moment for me. Wonderful mentors took me under their wings to help push my mind and skills and truly find out what I wanted to do for a career. To name a few: Perlman, Lopresti, Diers, Tittle, and Patrinos.

What did you enjoy most about attending FIDM and/or what was a favorite class? My favorite class was production design, we chose scripts and met with the writers many times to conceptualize the look and feel of the film. Being able to take our ideas from concept to renderings to model making was great experience and helped me figure out the type of designer I am and the way I prefer to create and collaborate. All my professors were currently working in the industry so having their input and guidance as to what was relevant and practiced out in the field was extremely beneficial.

What went into your decision to pursue the Advanced Program in Entertainment Set Design & Decoration after your degree in Visual Communications? I was still looking for more from my undergraduate work in Visual Communications. I wasn't satisfied designing for retail spaces. Once I thought it through and realized how much I love to design for characters, it was a no-brainer. I had always been a visual thinker when reading books and very imaginative, so once I actually tapped into the film world, I really found out what I loved to do. It was to find those pieces of a character in their environments—an extension of them from their quirks and nuances to impeccable style or taste. It really is a blast and as a decorator you get to get out in the world and away from drawing and actually find those pieces for them!

When was the actual moment you decided? I took a gamble, skipped my lunch while I was a Professional Designation Visual Communications student for a meeting about the advanced program in set design. I literally sat there with a grin on my face, knowing that this was what I was supposed to do.

Ali Matilla graduated with a Professional Designation Visual Communications degree from FIDM in 2007, then went on to take the Advanced Study Program in Entertainment Set Design & Decoration.

Photos Courtesy of

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