Art Direction adds the professional touch

Lynne Carty

By Lynne Carty

Class of 2010

  Hidden behind the unassuming doors of the English wings’ janitorial closet lies this year’s secret weapon for the 7th annual WHS Film Festival: the Art Direction office. Though their storage room and workspace is confined to a cramped 10 by 8 closet overflowing with boxes and props, the Art Direction team has used their office extremely  effectively to help out the 2009 films. The festival’s newest crew, spearheaded by both first-year English teacher Ms. Laura Padis & Film-Fest veteran Ms. Jen Gillis, has been working non-stop to create inventive sets and costume designs for all of the movies. To continue taking the festival’s films to a higher and more professional level, the Art Direction team seems to be just what was needed.

  “We start by helping the crews brainstorm ways that their films can be enhanced through art direction,” said Ms. Padis. In early November, each crew met with the art direction team to go over scripts and make plans as to how each scene and costume would be executed.  The next step (and what art direction spends most of their time doing) was to either shop for or make props and costumes for the films so as to bring the crews’ innovative ideas to life. The team has made all sorts of props and costumes for the movies – everything from prom countdown signs to be displayed in “Prom Date” to over the top, four-foot fairy wings for “Love, No Magic”. 

  Though overall the main goal is to make each scene look appealing and realistic, the art direction crew realizes the importance of attending to details as well. Take, for example, the fabricated window view from the office of Sam Diamond (played by Mark Nelson) in “Maltese Falker”, which was painted by junior Meredith Doty to look like a city landscape. “It is something that the audience probably would not notice,” explained Padis, “but she did such an amazing job that they are convinced that it is the real view and that Plimpton [where the scene was actually shot] is located on a city street.”

  Over the course of the year, the art direction crew has learned how to work well with their medium of film and think on their feet when things go awry. As a former supervisor of costumes for her college’s drama program, Ms. Gillis has proved to be a great help in dealing with wardrobe errors on set. On one of the first days of shooting “Love, No Magic”, for example, Puck’s shoes were nowhere to be found. The crew was able to solve this dilemma by avoiding angles at which Puck’s feet could be seen. “Missing shoes would never fly on the opening night of a play,” said Gillis, but “you can cheat some things in film that you can’t in plays.” 

  The art direction crew used their knowledge of the camera’s limits in “Maltese Falker” as well when they were asked to create a vintage and realistic 1920s microphone: Combining metal backing for a button, duct tape, wire and tin foil, the art direction team was able to construct a microphone that was passable for the movie. “It looked a little shabby up close,” says Padis, “but luckily [because it was not shot up close in the scene] it came out okay on film.”

  Because each of the crews have put at least some thought into the visual aspects of their movies, the products of art direction’s labor are present in many scenes of this year’s films. For instance, in the movie “Prom Date”, members of art direction worked to revamp the teacher’s lounge into a romantic date setting for the film’s blind-date montage. Also, the crew helped out “Love, No Magic” by taking on the task of transforming Principal Ed Connor’s room from a drab office into a forresty, decked out fairy laire.

  Probably one of the most challenging films set-wise, “Maltese Falker” needed “to revamp every set to make it look like it [was filmed] in the 1920s”, says Padis, “so no location [was] automatically dressed for them.” “Maltese” is going all out with the visual aspects of their film, even taking on the challenge of making it the Film Fest’s first film noir. Since the movie is shot using a low key, black and white style, both the crew and art direction had to work extra hard so as to make the film’s sets pleasing to the eye. Although it was difficult to create a visually interesting film without the use of colors, the time and effort put in by both the “Maltese” crew and art direction towards scenery and costumes has successfully given the film a classic and realistic look.

  Each year students at Walpole High look forward to the next WHS Film Festival and each year the movies seem to get better and better. This year is no exception. As expectations for the festival are heightened, having an art direction team that is dedicated to creativity and aesthetic appeal helps to make the films that much more professional.