Set Decorator Rusty Lipscomb

March 3rd, 2011

Main Photo
SIX FEET UNDER gallery set featuring Claire’s painting and an experiential pyramid art installation. Photo ©HBO. All rights reserved.

Set Decorator Rusty Lipscomb’s award-winning career spans a quarter century, during which she has received an Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction, six Emmy nominations, an ADG award nomination and, now, the 2011 SDSA Lifetime Achievement Award!   A founding member of the SDSA, Rusty Lipscomb embodies the merge of creative spirit and professional standards required to be among the top in the field of set decoration, particularly evident in the unique hit series TRUE BLOOD and SIX FEET UNDER. The Los Angeles native, also known for her photography and other artistic skills, generously answers the Spotlight questionnaire.  
[For more on the SDSA Awards, or the Emmys, click here.] 

The beginning…what was your first job in the business? 

My first job in THE BIZ was a really low budget film. I did wardrobe and props out of the backseat of my little Toyota. More low budget work followed…props, set dressing and some art direction…until I got a union call 21 months later.

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

B. A. Fine Arts, UCLA Interior Design – Extension, UCL A 
My informal education was working as a prop person and lead person for 12 years before I became a set decorator. I was also fortunate enough to work with decorators who included me in scouts and meetings.

Which sources would you say are the best tools for research and learning? 
There was no internet when I began decorating in 1989. Debbie’s Book was always my favorite for finding things in the Los Angeles area at that time. 

When possible, we would do locale “field trips” for research; there is nothing like reality for learning. I was lucky enough to do research for two TV pilots by taking a weekend trip to each of the actual locations, Martha’s Vineyard and Portland, Oregon. People we met were great about giving us things to use in sets…area-specific nuances which brought in the reality that I always desired. They would also refer us to others, whether local artists or just individuals who would get us interesting local items. 

As for the Internet, there is not much that you can’t find or buy on eBay.

Name three of your favorite projects and why. 

GEORGE AND LEO, mid-1990s sit-com: 
The locale was Martha’s Vineyard. The main sets included George’s quaint two-story bookstore, his home and his son’s restaurant. The reds, slate blues and weathered cedar colors of the Vineyard were yummy. The star was Bob Newhart…what more could you ask for… other than that Season 2 pickup! 

SIX FEET UNDER, 2000-2005 television series: 
Dead people. Quirky, well written, live people. Sex, drugs, profanity, nudity, homosexuality, humor. This interesting story of the dysfunctional Fisher family, allowed me to help develop the characters visually through the various sets that they lived and worked in. On this show I met Suzuki Ingerslev, the production designer I would work with until I retired. 
[For more photos and SET DECOR article on SIX FEET UNDER, click here.]

TRUE BLOOD, 2007 1st season, television series: 
Northern, rural Louisiana, rednecks, vampires, shape-shifters, taxidermy, Wonder Bread, crawfish boil, Gran’s house, nudity, sex, blood, more dead people. Nice writers, on-lot parking space and another opportunity to visually develop well-written characters, this time Southerners! 
[For more photos and tv decor article on TRUE BLOOD, click here.]

What has been your biggest challenge as a set decorator?  

Time and money, and the insufficient amount of both. 
Enormous egos, and the abundance of those….other departments thinking that what they do is far more important than set dressing. Production schedules accommodating talent and locations, never considering the “dress, shoot, strike” needs of set dressing, i.e. meetings and scouts scheduled when we are needed to dress sets. If only we could just decorate!

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

HOLLYWOOD STUDIO GALLERY is always going at 110%. How could we live without Ralph Fowler, who I consider to be an artist, great photographer, helpful framer, willing resource and friend? The entire staff is ready and willing…and I looked forward to seeing Fausto’s red car collection! 

UNIVERSAL PROPERTY and DRAPERY: Beverly Hadley has done an amazing job managing this prop house. She is always there for the set decorator and understands what we need to do to get the job done successfully. She has a great staff, talented drapery people and a well-balanced inventory. We called Beverly one day at 4:30pm, in a panic when we realized that half of our set dressing for the next morning’s shoots had not yet been picked up. It was no problem; she would stay open for us. That is pretty special to me. 

ARTPIC: I feel that Marina is an asset to every set decorator. Her inventory is inspired, and she is constantly adding and changing. 

PLAYBACK TECHNOLOGIES: Not being the most savvy electronics person, I found the staff at Playback extremely helpful, creative and patient with my needs. Everything looked good, and their stock was nicely varied. 

SANDY ROSE FLORAL: I could not possibly say enough great things about Corri Levelle. Everything she and her people do is extremely creative, and she is always there with new ideas!

What are the current contents of your car? 

Being a retired set decorator, I think that this question does not really apply but while I was working it ranged from weapons, to oil paintings, to vegetables, fire wood and antiques, but I think that my favorite was getting a child’s wading pool into the trunk of my Mercedes.

What advice do you have for those interested in the field of set decorating?
For those trying to get in, you must persevere. 
For new decorators, learn new things every day.

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

Creativity, patience, humor! 

Biggest set decorating disaster? 

I was a new set decorator, given the opportunity to decorate this Top Ten rated sit-com. It was the first episode of the new season and I decided that the sofa, the central piece of the set, should be reupholstered. Considering the wardrobe of the 4 women stars and their varied colors, I tormented myself over what sofa fabric I would choose. I picked a light green, a pale leaf color, thinking what flower ever clashes with its leaves?! My very conscientious crew person kept the sofa neatly covered all during rehearsal and camera blocking. Just hours before show time, the newly-upholstered sofa was revealed to the SHOCK of the director, who happened to be the executive producer as well…and who wanted to know WHERE WAS THE OTHER SOFA?!!
I had to reply that THIS was the other sofa, only with a new, and apparently not so good, look. We found a substitute in storage (creamy white color) and exchanged it. The show went on and I worked successfully on the series for the last 4 seasons. 
LESSON LEARNED: Definitely NO surprises! 

What advice would you give other members of the SDSA on how to get the most benefit from their membership? 

Join a committee, volunteer your time…or if you have something you feel passionately about, become the spearhead and make it happen. In this way you will meet, interact with and get to know your fellow decorators. Not everyone will become your best friend, but it is an amazing support group to be a part of! 

If you were able to design a bedroom any way that you desired, what style or styles would you choose? 

It would be contemporary, not too large—15’x15’ is cozy—with a granite-faced fireplace and a sea grass carpet. Taupe-gray walls, white bedding, espresso stained woods. Cobalt blue accents, art collected over the years, along with other eclectic pieces, photos of my husband and me from the past 30 years. A west-facing view of the oak trees, the mountains and the sunset. 
And imagine that…it is the bedroom that I have! 
Ah, retirement…..

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SIX FEET UNDER: Claire [Lauren Ambrose] in the Fisher’s kitchen, a cornerstone set. Photo Lorenzo DeStefano ©HBO All rights reserved.Not for sale or duplication.

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SIX FEET UNDER: Claire’scoach house studio. ©HBO. All rights reserved.

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SIX FEET UNDER: Matriarch Ruth Fisher [Frances Conroy] in her kitchen with Professor George Sibley [James Cameron], who eventually becomes her husband. Photo Lorenzo DeStefano ©HBO. All rights reserved.Not for sale or duplication.

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SIX FEET UNDER: The Fisher House set reflects changes after George [James Cameron] moves in. Photo ©HBO. All rights reserved.

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SIX FEET UNDER: Fisher extended family in the Fisher dining room. [The mortuary is downstairs.] Claire [Lauren Ambrose], Billy [Jeremy Sisto], Brenda [Rachel Griffiths], David [Michael C. Hall], Keith [Matthew St. Patrick] Photo Lorenzo DeStefano ©HBO. All rights reserved.Not for sale or duplication.

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TRUE BLOOD: Bon Temps Cemetery detail. Photo ©2009 HBO. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

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TRUE BLOOD: Bon Temps Cemetery instantly gives a sense of place and of the timelessness inherent throughout the storyline, Photo ©2009 HBO. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

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TRUE BLOOD: Gran’s Living Room Photo©2009 HBO. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

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TRUE BLOOD: Detail of Gran’s mantel Photo ©2009 HBO. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

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TRUE BLOOD:Gran’s Sewing Room Photo ©2009 HBO. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

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TRUE BLOOD: Fangtasia, the vampires’ hang out. Photo ©2009 HBO. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

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TRUE BLOOD: Lafayette House Photo ©2009 HBO. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.