• Sum of All Fears, Cindy Carr Set Decorator, Jon Danniells, Assistant Set Decorator, inside of the Bedouin Camp
  • Biker Boyz, Jon Danniells, Set Decorator
  • The Hot Chick, Mambuza's Store front, Jon Danniells, Set Decorator
  • The Hot Chick, Jon Danniells, Set Decorator
  • Related, WB 1 hour episodic, Set Decorator, Jon Danniells, Photo by on set dresser-Dave Bell
  • Dracula, Garrett Lewis, Set Decorator is in background.
  • "Magnificent Desolation, Walking on the Moon 3D", Apollo Lunar module on moon's surface. Jon Danniells, Set Decorator
  • "The Legend of Zorro", San Francisco circa 1849. Jon Danniells, Set Decorator
  • "Magnificent Desolation, Walking on the Moon 3D" Apollo Lunar module interior. Jon Danniells, Set Decorator
  • Reign Over Me, Psychiatrist Office, Jon Danniells, Set Decorator
  • Jon and Cindy on the set!

Jon Danniells and Cindy Carr are not only accomplished Set Decorators (Cindy has two Academy Award Nominations) they also happen to be married to each other! While many couples have found their significant others through working on the same film crews, it is a unique story to feature two individuals that have both succeeded in the same key position job on films, the position of Set Decorator. Jon has been in the art departments of film production his whole adult life. Besides set decorating, he has been a Set Dresser, a Buyer and even Props. In his own words, Jon shares his story of being a Set Decorator and what it means to him personally.

Jon is the Vice President of the SDSA in charge of events, home schools their lovely daughter, AND work in this crazy business we get the privilege to call a career...

When the website first invited me to be in the SDSA’s Spotlight, it was put forth as a shared spotlight for myself and my wife, also an SDSA set
decorator, Cindy Carr.  This didn’t strike me as odd or offensive, as I have
grown quite used to sharing the spotlight with her for many years now and it
made perfect sense journalistically.  That being said Beth and I both realized that the “Ten and ½ Questions" (see archive) format that had been used in the
past for the spotlight would probably have to be altered, but that it would
be a good starting point.  After the “overview biography” and question number
1. (What type of education did you receive?), I realized that my story would be as much my experiences that I have had with set decorating when I wasn’t the set decorator as when I was...

The Beginning:

I was on my first set as a set dresser when I was seventeen, the summer
before going off to college, working with my high school buddy Tyler Patton
on some non-union show, that I don’t even remember.  It was fun. It was hard
work!  It was relatively inconsequential, except that a couple years later
Tyler’s mother, Mary Patton, would steal me away from "Starving Students
moving company" where I was working to do “...pretty much the same thing but on a movie-set”.  At the time, I thought that would have been inconsequential as
well.  I told myself I would do this movie thing for a couple of years and
then go back to college and continue my pursuit of writing the next great
American novel or something equally as grandiose.  That was over twenty years
ago. I’ve been in the set decorating department exclusively ever since...

There and Back Again:

In a funny way the only life I know is that of set decorating, although it
was neither my intent nor inspiration.  Tyler is still one of my best friends
and we have worked regularly together through the years.  The first decorator
I worked with when Mary conscripted me, Robert Kensinger, has continued to
be a mentor and friend to this day.  One of my favorite projects (question 3)
was “Twin Peaks”.  I was on the swing gang the first season.  The decorator
was Brian Kasch, who after many years I worked with again several months ago
as his shopper.  I was the lead man the second season and some of my closest
friends to this day were people I met on that show.  By the time I had met my
now wife, Cindy Carr, I had been fortunate and lucky enough to have worked
as a set dresser and lead on an enormously varied range of projects.  My
first lead job was on a commercial that Jake Scott designed for his father
and director of that commercial, Ridley Scott.  I had worked on the set
dressing crews of set decorators Garret Lewis and Nancy Haigh on films such
as "Hook", "Dracula", and "Bugsy" among several others.  It might seem like a
goodly amount of name dropping and it is, but the point of it is that prior
to my meeting Cindy and becoming her lead and later husband and all the rest
of the history we’ve shared, I already had a rich and varied career in the
set decorating department, and I was just twenty four years old.

Cindy Carr:

When we met I was young and brash, known to have quite an attitude and a
temper to match. But I was good at my job and “...could move a refrigerator by
myself without a dolly”.  That apparently was one of the selling points to
get me hired on her crew.  Cindy at the time was an up and coming decorator
who seemed to be on the fast track to elite status.  Half-way through
shooting, the Academy award nominations were announced. She was nominated
for “Fisher King”, along with Nancy Haigh, for both “Bugsy” and “Barton
Fink” as well as Garret Lewis for “Hook”.   It was a cool Oscar year for me
having worked with three of the four decorators nominated, on two of the
five films.  By the end of the mini-series, I had moved in with Cindy and we
were soon working together on a big budget action movie, “Last Action Hero”,
I as the lead and Cindy as the decorator.  We worked together in that way for
the next several years.  It was incredibly rewarding, difficult, frustrating
and fulfilling.  It was certainly a way to get to know one another. When we
decided to take a break from working together, I made a tongue-in-cheek
prediction that whatever film she got next would be in a great location and
that she would probably get nominated for another Academy Award and I would
be on some nightmare show stuck in LA taking care of the house.  And that is
exactly what happened.  She ended up working with a dear friend of ours and
true genius and inspiration, Eugenio Zannetti, in San Francisco on “What
Dreams May Come”.  I, in the mean time, was having a difficult time
adjusting to working for people other than my wife.  I had plenty of
difficult times working with her as well but she loved me enough to take the
good with the bad.

Becoming a Set Decorator:

What I quickly realized was how intertwined and intimate our working
relation had become.  For better and for worse I was doing much more than a
lead typically would.  At this point, I could change the way I worked as a
lead or I could become a decorator, and obviously also change the way I
work.  I opted for the second.  Now this major career change happened to
coincide with the arrival of our daughter.  As Cindy’s career was at this
point peaking and mine was just beginning (after ten plus years), it was
obvious, at least to us, who should be the primary bread winner and who
should look after our daughter.  That was Cindy as the breadwinner and me as
the househusband.  It was not the best way to kickoff a new career.  I got my
first decorating job on a five million dollar straight to video feature with
a friend, Marc Fisichella  who I had worked with on my second project when I
was not quite twenty yet; he as the on-set dresser and I on the swing gang.
Our paths crossed again inadvertently on Twin Peaks where he was the art
director. The movie was small, we had no money, and it was a great
experience. Kiefer Sutherland, pre-“24” and post professional rodeo bull
rider, was the star. He came up to me and thanked me for somehow turning a
Catholic girl’s school into a resort hotel in Mexico (for around $5,000).
That acknowledgement and awareness of what we do and under what
circumstances we do it was cool (and unfortunately rare) and has stuck with me
for both reasons to this day and in part, is one of the reasons I remain
committed to SDSA.

By the time I became a set decorator, I had been working in the department
in various capacities for well over a decade.  Those experiences, working on
the crew, working as a lead, seeing how different decorators work, have been
invaluable for me as a set decorator.  I believe that one of the important
skills to have as a decorator is flexibility and the ability to learn and
relearn and relearn again.  While having a background in design, or theater,
or film making will certainly be helpful, I find it more important to have
open eyes, open ears and an open mind.  We as decorators might need to have a
grasp of on what is “in” and current in the design world on one day and on
that same day have the ability to dress a motorcycle mechanics shop.  We
might need to be able to know what is historically accurate for a Don’s
villa in the 1840’s in California or the wiring harnesses in the interiors
of the lunar modules used in the Apollo mission.  We certainly can’t know
what each and every one of these should look like without having the
openness and flexibility to be “students” over and over again.  The internet
has become an amazing research tool.  But of course, it has its limitations
and problems as well.  When I was doing research for “Magnificent Desolation:
Walking on the Moon 3D”, one would assume that given the small size of the
interior and how much information would be available it would be fairly
straight forward to duplicate the interior.  What I found was there was too
much information.  There were so many diagrams, blue prints, photos of the
“real” module that turned out to be a training module or something from a
museum that you come to realize was someone else’s recreation of the “real”
module.  We were fortunate to have Dave Scott, Commander of Apollo15, as our
technical advisor, to help with the authenticity of our replication.  This
segues into another great research tool, that being the “experts” in
whatever scenario you’re trying to create or recreate.  And this is one of
the things I love about being a set decorator, meeting and talking to these
“experts”.  For example, when I was working on the ‘The Legend of Zorro”, in
Mexico, with my assistant set decorator/translator/friend, Daniela Rojas, we
found this old man in this little village who was the only person for
hundreds of miles who still used wool on a traditional loom to weave
blankets.  Everyone else had switched to synthetic fibers. We ended up
renting his massive loom and many of his supplies and blankets and learning
much about the weaving process and what that set up would look like.  It was
a really wonderful discovery and experience.  So we need to be able to find
these “experts” and then interview them and then figure out how to use that
information to dress our sets.  Sometimes, like with this weaver and his
loom, you might also be able to utilize their physical resources as well. By
the way, I never would have found this guy with the internet.  He was “maybe
in his garage which was two blocks south of the village center across the
house with the big green door”.  These resources are all around, it’s a
matter of asking and keeping one’s eyes and ears open.

Being a member of SDSA provides a great network for so many of these
resources.  Question 5 asks me to list SDSA business members with whom I do
business and comment on them.  If I were to do that question justice, this
Spotlight would become a floodlight and a book, since I have worked with so
many of them on so many projects, but I will note a few and please to all
those I don’t mention, I sincerely apologize.  Steve and while he was still
with us Earl at EC Props have been immensely helpful and supportive for many
years. On more than one occasion, it’s been a simple phone call to them to
make an impossible situation possible.  Pam Elyea at History for Hire and her
staff have been a wealth of information and of course their facility which
is practically a museum speaks volumes.  When The Hand Prop Room packed up
and shipped to me down in Mexico several fake sides of beef, legs of lamb,
and all sorts of other meat goods it gave our gold rush town of San
Francisco a wonderful looking market place without the flies or odors that
the “real” thing would have.  Deb Jones at Fox Studios Drapery had a big
hand in helping me recreate the lunar module interior, keeping in mind my
budget and time constraints.  She’s helped me out on many other things,
before and since.   I could go on and on with one story after another of the
amazing resources provided by the SDSA business members.  So many of them
have become like family after all the years.  In the past few years due to
family and personal obligations I have worked a lot less than in my early
years.  SDSA has allowed me to stay in touch with so many people who have
instrumental in my life as well giving me an opportunity keep involved and
give back to an profession and community that has been such a huge part of
my life.

For a list of credits for Jon, go to IMDB-click here, and for Cindy-click here.