I grew up as an Air Force brat and was lucky enough to live in a variety of places as a child. Living overseas gave me a love of travel and exotic and different environments. Moving around also gave me an adaptability in new places that has been useful in moving from show to show as a Decorator. I also grew up in a reading household where we were encouraged to learn more about whatever it was we were curious about and where each child was expected to learn and achieve and be self-reliant. My mother was a great believer in the power of play as a creative learning tool and was so much fun. I decided I wanted to do theatre when I was in high school and that is what I studied in college. My very first job in the industry was a Diet Rite Cola commercial. I was a sponge as the process was all new to me.
Laura is currently the Set Decorator for television show "True Blood" on HBO.
1. What type of education did you receive before going in to the field of set decoration?
I received a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of Idaho that had a small but lively theatre department. The small size of the department gave me a great overall education in theatre history, production and design, which has served me well. After graduation I went to San Francisco and worked for The American Conservatory Theatre. I started as a dresser (of actors, not sets!) and then worked in the Prop Shop building and buying.
2. Which sources would you say are the best tools for research and learning?
Research books, the Internet and your own curiosity. I love to read and I love research books with photographs of real places. It gives you an idea of how people really lived and worked and what the design norms were in that time. There is a lot of inspiration in those photographs.
3. Name three of your favorite projects and why
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was great fun and very creative. We were dealing with lots of different aliens and alien environments, each of whom had their own distinctive design elements. “Married With Children” the pilot because Don Roberts, the wonderful art director, gave me the edict that “these people have no taste.” Who could not have fun with that?
The show I am currently on, “Everybody Hates Chris”
is also a lot of fun because it is a period show (Brooklyn, 1986), and we never leave the lot and shoot not only on our stages but the back lot and all over the studio as well. It has been a challenge to make the same spaces look different.
4. What has been your biggest challenge as a set decorator?
The biggest challenge is balancing the quality I want with the budget and time constraints I am given. It is also a challenge to get the producers to understand exactly what it is I do and getting them to respect my opinion about how it is going to get done.5. Please list any SDSA business members with whom you do business and comment on them.
Alley Cats (www.rcvintage.com
) has great things for garages, vacant lots and assorted street dressing.
Alpha Medical Resources (www.alphamedprops.com
) is invaluable for all things hospital as well as day care centers and lots of other great stuff.
At Crest Office Furniture (www.crestoffice.com
), Nancy can find almost anything for you from lots of different manufacturers, get you the best price and speedy delivery, too.
Debbie’s Book (www.debbiesbook.com
) I use everyday and couldn’t live without it!
EC Prop Rentals (www.ecprops.com
) has all those great things for outside and inside and in quantity.
Green Set (www.greenset.com
) John Kaufman has been so great and understands the many things they ask of us and time and again has delivered for me even with the shortest of notice.
Hollywood Studio Gallery, Ralph Fowler is just the best for framing, and Fausto and Johnny are really knowledgeable and good at helping me find what I am looking for.
) has a great stock of items for all kinds of sets and will do wonderful custom work, too.
Independent Studio Services (ISS) (www.issprops.com
) has such a huge stock of smalls that I have been able to sets like electronic stores with only one stop. Angelina Sanchez at LA Party Rents (www.lapartyrents.com
) really helps me out on those endless restaurant sets.
The entire staff at Lennie Marvin (www.propheaven.com
) knows the enormous stock and helps me root out just the right pieces.
Omega Cinema Props (www.omegacinemaprops.com
) and CP2, CP3 and CP4 have so many things it is hard to describe and I can do a huge variety of sets out of their stock.
Playback Technologies (www.playbacktech.com
) has lots of period televisions that area already rigged for 24 frame.
Prop Art (email@example.com) is a great source for made art from kid art to sculpture to crafts.
I have used so many great things from RC Vintage (www.rcvintage.com
) that have really made sets special and Silvio and Chris are always so helpful.
Corri Levelle and the staff at Sandy Rose Floral (www.sandyrose.com
) do stunning floral work and they have a huge stock of silk florals and holiday decorations.
Square Deal Plumbing (www.squaredealplumbing.com
) has a large variety of plumbing fixtures.
Universal Property Department (www.filmmakersdestination.com/prodserv/
) has a wealth of props in so many styles and periods it can make your head spin.
Warner Brothers Property Department (www.wbsf.com
) also has a huge stock and you can always find treasures.
6. What are the current contents of your car?
My “tagging bag” which consists of hold tags, masking tape, a small scale, reading glasses, sharpie markers, a tiny stapler, tape measure, chapstick and extra reading glasses. Also in the car I have a copy of Debbie’s Book, bottles of water, more reading glasses, moist towelettes, car charger and headset for my cell phone, flashlights, Thomas Guide, other maps, extra sunglasses, umbrella, iPod, Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupons (usually expired unfortunately) chapstick, hand cream and breath mints. My “work bag” contains 2 cell phones, digital camera and charger, pens and pencils, calculator, petty cash, personal cash and ID, more reading glasses, extra pair of regular glasses, sunglasses, ibuprofen, studio ID, hairbrush, tape measure, small notepad, packages of Tempo (folded paper towels) and my spiral notebook with everything I need to do in it.
7. What advice do you have for those interested in the field of set decorating (including those new and already in the profession)?
Be nice, do your homework, stay open to all opportunities but be informed about what is expected of you. Take responsibility for your work, but give credit where credit is due. Knowledge is power and communication is the key to avoiding a lot of problems. Use your brain, keep your eyes open and network as much as you can. Never be afraid to ask questions, better a dumb question now that a total misunderstanding that results in something that is not what they expected.
8. Which three tools of your profession can you not be without?
A good leadperson, a good crew, and Debbie’s Book.
9. Biggest set decorating disaster?
The last episode of “Three’s Company” was a 2- parter with part one shooting a week apart from part two. The last scene of the first half ended at the front door and the first scene of the second part (shot a week later) opened in the same spot at the front door next to the living room windows which were covered with loud orange and white drapes. At that time most sit-coms shared stages with other shows and we shared our stage with 2 other shows. This meant each week we had to completely strike our set, put everything into Prop boxes and store it for a week. We then re-set everything during the infamous “midnight turnarounds”. On Wednesday night we had to wait for the other show to finish and strike out their sets and lights and then we would put in the flooring, lights and set walls for our set. We were ready to dress about midnight and we finished just before the shooting company came in at 8am for a full day of camera blocking. The assistant art director and I did a 36-hour day smack in the middle of the week, which made for a really long week. So now it is in the wee hours of the morning and we are ready to dress the set. The wagon rolls in with the front door and living room windows and the custom living room drapes (which had ridden on the wagon for several seasons without a mishap) are now gone. Missing. Just not there. A full search turns up nothing. It is Thursday morning and we shoot this Friday night. A call to the drapery department at CBS TV City at 6 a.m. got me the information about the pattern name and manufacturer, but of course the fabric had long been discontinued and a search of the manufacturer’s warehouse would take a couple of weeks. So I got a set still close up of the drapes, purchased muslin and took the muslin and the photo to a really great scenic artist. He worked all night but by Friday morning we had a really good replica of the original drapes but of course they were stiff as a board from the paint. If you are looking at those last two episodes you can see they look different, but at the time I was just glad we had something that was so close to the originals.
10. What advice would you give other members of the SDSA on how to get the most benefit from their membership?
Become involved! It’s simple, volunteer for a committee and get to know your fellow members. You will be surprised how much you can learn and how you can put your skills to good use. It doesn’t take as much time as you think to be on a committee and produce an event or help out wherever you are needed. There are lots of really interesting people to meet and it’s fun to use your skills on something different! Networking is so important in this business and you never know what things will lead to until you get out there and try.
*If you were able to design a bedroom any way that you desired, what style or styles would you choose?
A calm space, large but not huge, very cool colors or all white. Large windows and doors that open to lovely views and gentle breezes with lightweight draperies to enhance the feeling of lightness and coolness in the room. Contemporary but not harsh, spare but perfect art on the walls and no froufrou. Each piece lovely and simple and perfect in it’s own way.