Interview with Set Decorator Don Diers SDSA

July 4th, 2007

Main Photo
Down With Love

Don Diers grew up in the small Northern California town, San Ramon that has since grown rather large.  His parents were both artists and strongly encouraged he and his 3 siblings to be creative.  Discouraged from watching TV, Don became the yearbook photographer in high school and always had a camera.  Eventually Don and his brother Phil, started making super 8 films.  They made crazy parodies of television commercials and clay animations.  This eventually evolved to 16mm, using actors, building sets and doing special effects in the camera (i.e. double exposure, matte box tricks and backwards action).   After getting involved in theater at a Jr. College, Don went on to the UCLA film school based on his wide creative experiences.    There he made experimental docudramas and dance films and still came out with no idea how to get a job in Hollywood…  

Take a virtual 360 degree tour of the movie sets from "The Santa Clause 3" (wow!) decorated by Don Diers. Just follow these links to the North Pole! Turn the volume up for the narration from Santa Claus (aka Tim Allen).

Santa's Living Room
Santa's Bakery
North Pole Village
Santa's Classroom

1. What type of education did you receive before going in to the field of set decoration?

DD: I have a BA from UCLA in Film/TV production. I was involved in local theater in Northern California where I did Stage Managing and some set work.

My first film jobs were low budget Horror films. I was a P.A. on the first “Nightmare on Elm Street”. Anne Ahrens, SDSA was the Set Decorator and she saw this crazy Xerox-Art I was making between running scripts and fetching coffee. With Production Designer, Gregg Fonseca, she recruited me into the Art Department. It was a perfect fit. I worked for Gregg for years after that. He promoted me to Assistant Art Director, and Art Director eventually. I had experience in construction working years for my father. I went on to Art Direct some indie films like “Soul Man”, “Tapeheads”, “Bio- Dome”, and “Red Rock West”.

As much as I loved the creative challenges of art direction, I felt that Set Decorating was much more how my head worked. I see the human details and character.

2. Which sources would you say are the best tools for research and learning?

DD: Who knows! For me right now I love the New York Times and Wallpaper and World of Interiors for news, ideas and inspiration. For research naturally the Internet is great. I like to mix it up visiting strange places; I love out-of-town used bookstores. I love garage sales and thrift stores for inspiration into character. I call these venues “ The Bubbling Well”. This is as real as it gets, be they trash or treasures these are the items real people live with.

3. Name three of your favorite projects and why?

DD: I loved “Down With Love”. We were encouraged to create the fictitious 1960’s universe that the Bed Room Comedies presented. It was not a send up of the period nor a perfect rendition of 1963. It was theatrical and clean and simple.

I really enjoyed doing a small movie called “Cultivating Charlie” that never came out. I was given the freedom to decorate sets for some very over- the- top characters. One was this Hut for Pyromaniac Defrocked Monk in New Mexico. For his set I created these twisted shrines against each organized religion. Maybe I was exercising my own demons.

I also loved decorating “The Santa Clause 3”. Richard Holland the designer was so creative and encouraged me to bring the Magic to the North Pole. We created our own North Pole Nouveau. We had much of the furniture manufactured. Santa’s Workshop was so much fun because we were creating workstations for the toy making elves played by children. Santa’s Kitchen was crazy fun. I have a great crew. With the help of the Special Effects department they created the exploding Cappuccino machine and churning pudding pots and a train track that raced around the giant oven.

4. What has been your biggest challenge as a set decorator?

DD: spelllingg!!

5. Please list any SDSA business members with whom you do business and comment on them.

DD: I am lucky enough to do both feature films as well as high-end interiors. I work with a New York firm Roman and Williams and use many of the same business members. Jefferson West, Eccola and Badia Design have unusual and beautiful furnishings. For film or interiors I can always count on Mark over at Fantasy Lighting. He made the giant pink teardrop pendants for Barbara’s Apartment on Down with Love, as well as most every other lampshade. For the film “Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny”, The Mannequin Gallery created custom rocked- out figures for The Rock and Roll Museum set. The dependable Motion Picture Set Interiors did all our drapery and window dressing in “Along Came Polly”, “Herbie” and “Down with Love”. With George Kiel my draper they created a 40’ long 12’ high pink drape that revealed the New York skyline. Studio Art and Technology the manufacturing arm of ISS built many of the movie’s Art Nouveau furnishings for “The Santa Clause 3” including the schoolroom desks and workshop tables.

6. What are the current contents of your car?

DD: Two or three 1.5 liter bottles of spring water. Prescription sun glasses, Thomas Bros map book, digital camera, several measuring tapes, cell phone, chap stick, mints or gum, extra fast food napkins for spills and sneezes, and MOUND of trash behind the driver’s seat including empty 1.5 liter water bottles for recycling. I feel very strongly that my car is a tool and not an American-Fetishized –Fashion- Accessory. I don’t wash my car because I don’t care to promote the myth. I buy a bare bones car every 10 to 12 years and get my money worth. I put my ego into my home.

7. What advice do you have for those interested in the field of set decorating (including those new and already in the profession)?

DD: Oh goodness, I just completed teaching with SDSA member Julieann Getman (Editors note: See Julieanns' profile archived below) a course on Set Decorating at FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising). I have plenty of advice, an entire syllabus full. Remember you are creating settings for a show. This is not about good taste or your taste but what you need to communicate with in the frame. Set decoration is about observation and implementation. I have learned to tap into a fresh creative inspiration for each project. Challenge yourself always. As they say “Good enough is the enemy of the best possible”. Stay fit physically and creatively.

8. Which three tools of your profession can you not be without?

DD: My camera. I have lived with a camera around my neck for 35 years. I shoot odd stuff I see from the car as well as little photojournalism essays weekly. I could not live with out my measuring tape and my photo tape. The photo tape is from a surveying supply shop here in Silverlake. It’s got over scaled numbers and every foot alternates red or black. For photographs I can place it against a prop and see really good scale to the half inch. I do not think I could be with out the Internet either. Look where we are having this chat now!

9. Biggest set decorating disaster?

DD: I think it would have to be the time the house we were renting for “X-Files” burnt down hours before we were to shoot the scene. Bruce at Fox drapery created several room of custom window dressing for one of those odd X-Files characters. I think I found fabric that was covered in bugs or flies. The location department found another location by 8:00 am and Bruce altered everything in hours and we had the windows dressed moments before they got the establishing shot.
What advice would you give other members of the SDSA on how to get the most benefit from their membership?

10. For fun, if you were able to design a bedroom any way that you desired, what style or styles would you choose?

I think I would choose the style of "Wallace and Gromit". Only not made in clay. I love that bed. I love gadgets and moving parts. Kludge is a passion for me. How much fun it would be putting together the rig and dressing. First it serves you coffee in bed and then dresses you as it slides you past the hinged foot board through a shoot and off to breakfast down stairs. That is no ordinary bed. It looks cozy too.

(Check out Don Diers collection of Paintings and see when the next gallery showing will be Who are these People?)

Photo 3
Down With Love

Photo 4
Down With Love

Photo 5
Herbie: Fully Loaded

Photo 6
"Santa Clause 3", Virtual Tour links to this set in the body of copy to the right!

Photo 7
Santa Clause 3, virtual tour on link to the right!

Photo 8
Santa Clause 3, virtual tour on link to the right!

Photo 9
Santa Clause 3, Before dressing

Photo 10
Santa Clause 3, After dressed and assisted by Emily Ferry Props Maker.

Photo 11
Along Came Polly, Prop designed by Don!

Photo 12
Along Came Polly

Photo 13
Herbie: Fully Loaded

Photo 14
Don Diers shopping for set pieces!