Tuesday, May 16, production design alumni mentor, Jeffrey Dennis Simon gave a lecture and Q&A on “Art Direction in Film” in Crites Hall. Simon, who graduated in 2008 with a B.F.A. in production design, currently works as an art director in Los Angeles, California while also completing his M.F.A. in directing at the University of Southern California.
He has worked as the assistant art director on films including “Edge of Tomorrow” and most recently “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Simon also produced, wrote and directed his own web series, “Camp Abercorn,” which premiered in 2014.
Simon said a film’s art department typically works and resides in an office setting, even though art directors often go on set.
“The art department is an office-based thing,” Simon said. “You are supervising the set build, so as an art director, I work closely with the production designer, mostly shadowing him the whole time. So we would do set tours, but we would never be physically building it. You’re not allowed to as an art director, so there’s a construction department to do the building.”
Art directors, according to Simon, are rarely on set once filming begins, but some crews will include a standby art director or an onset dresser responsible for checking the set’s perspective.
“That’s sort of a separate person,” Simon said. “Often a standby art director does it. In our case, it’s always an art director, but in the U.S. it’s often just an onset dresser who’s responsible for actually being there when they’re filming because they might be filming nights and you’re working days. The art department often works days.”
When Simon is not designing or working on an intense schedule, he takes time off to develop his personal projects before landing his next gig.
“That’s what I tend to do, I plan time off,” Simon said. “I have friends that go directly from project to project to project. Once you get in with a group like the set decorator, for example, on ‘Spider-Man,’ he has his team of people that he loves, takes with him everywhere, just like five or six people, but they know he’s not going to take every movie, because he is Oscar-nominated and amazing. He wants to get right into projects because it’s really intense. So they know in between projects, [they] have to fill it out with breaks . . . or do some commercials or go on something that [they] know is more temporary.”
For Simon, taking time between projects is important to his work ethic and creativity. However, he pointed out that the particularly stressful moments in the film and television industry, such as the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America Strike, affect everyone because productions cannot develop without scripts.
“Once you get into the freelance-zone, it’s not difficult,” Simon said. “I mean it can be really terrible at times, like during the writer’s strike. I moved out to L.A. during the writer’s strike in 2008, so there was like a year I didn’t do anything.”
Simon said when he was involved with the production design program, the department mainly focused on theater. Nearly ten years later, that aspect of the department has evolved to include television and film, something students should take advantage of collaborations with the film department, according to Simon.
“Every job I’ve ever had, I’ve gotten through a recommendation,” Simon said. “So, across the board, I think that’s true for most people. I happened to production design a student film that the director went on to be a PA in the office of this movie ‘Foundation.’ That’s the first thing I did as a production designer. That movie never got made, but she recommended me to that job, and he liked me to bring me onto this movie [‘Edge of Tomorrow’].”