Coffee Klatsch: Feature Film Set Decorators Vol. 1

May 1st, 2020

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On May 1st, 2020, the Set Decorators Society of America hosted “Day with the Set Decorator” for the first time using the ZOOM online platform. Joining us were SDSA member Set Decorators Ellen Brill, David Smith and Gene Serdena. What a great treat it was to have an online live conversation with such amazing talent! Over 40 students and industry peers were able to ask a variety of questions to the panel. Answers given by each panelist gave us candid, insider tips on what it takes to be a Set Decorator.

Click here to view the entire Zoom Panel discussion on the SDSA Vimeo page.

A little back story of our panel:

Ellen Brill SDSA comes from the world of fashion, then later transitioned into interior design which eventually led her to Set Decoration for film and television. Having a background in design suited her for the demands of developing character thru texture, color, scale and depth. Ellen has been an active member of the SDSA, she currently sits on the Board of Directors and is in her first term as Vice President. She is also a member of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Ellen has a long history in Ryan Murphy Television with four seasons on AMERICAN HORROR STORY and six seasons of NIP/TUCK. She has earned 8 Emmy nominations. She is known for her work in such feature films as A VIEW FROM THE TOP, SIMPATICO, THE HOUSE WITH THE CLOCK IN ITS WALLS and most recently, BOMBSHELL. 

David Smith SDSA comes to the SDSA via New York where he had a well rounded career from Broadway and Opera to Museum installations to television with such legendary dramas as LA LAW and NYPD BLUE. David is a 7 time Emmy nomination recipient. He is known for such films as MASTERMINDS, CIRQUE DU FREAK, SHOPGIRL, THE HOLIDAY, LITTLE FOCKERS, CRAZY STUPID LOVE and LOVELACE. David has served as President and Chairman of the Board for the Set Decorators Society of America and currently sits on the Executive Board.  

Gene Serdena SDSA became a Set Decorator following the old fashioned way, he earned it through working up through the ranks of set dresser before becoming a Leadman which lead him to becoming one of the most sought after Set Decorators.  He is known for his eclectic and detailed sets winning him an Emmy Award for the quirky TV series NORTHERN EXPOSURE. As Set Decorator, Gene has taken on such varied sets such as the OK Corral in TOMBSTONE, going into the headspace of BEING JOHN MALCOVICH, played with vampires and werewolves in the first of the TWILIGHT series and jumped in the ring with THE FIGHTER. Gene received an Academy Award nomination for both HER and PASSENGERS and has done his Super Hero due diligence with SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. Recently Gene and his crew reached into the 1980 archives of Stanley Kubricks THE SHINNING for the sequel DOCTOR SLEEP. The hotel was beautifully remasted as if it didn't skip a beat.

Each Set Decorator was asked questions such as “What attracts you to a certain project?”, “What skills do you think are vital to the job?”, “What’s the most challenging aspect of being a Set Decorator?”, “How do you go about research when starting a new project?” and “What’s the secret to a sustaining career in this ever changing industry?”. Probably my favorite question to each of our panel guest was “What’s the biggest piece of advice people ask for for both students and current crews alike?” 

What an honor to sit with them and talk for an hour and a half. If you’d like to sit in our the panel discussion, they will be made available thru the Set Decorators Society of America’s website for a nominal fee of $15 per session. I hope you do join us to learn more about what it takes to be a Set Decorator for both film and television. Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned for more sessions of our “Day with the Set Decorator”. 

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