DIY Set Building: Getting My Hands Dirty (Again)

Working for a small production company outside of a major city is extremely different from my past film experiences in Los Angeles. For instance, if I had tried to help a set builder create a set, s/he would have slapped me in the face or at least yelled at me saying, “get your clean, little, non-union hands off of my crescent wrench.” I love crescent wrenches. Like, a lot. So that would have hurt my feelings and I would have slunk back to my director’s chair, weeping into my open, not-dirty palms.

Getting dirty on set in LA.
Getting dirty on set in LA.

Let me be perfectly clear: I support unions and I loved my time in LA, but I missed getting my hands dirty.

Since I moved back East, I have found my love for the small details to be a huge asset here at Anchor Line. In Los Angeles (or NYC), I would have been a pain in the ass for set builders, productions designers, wardrobe artists, etc. But in New Hampshire, our crews tend to be much leaner and we’re often expected to wear multiple hats. To clarify, once again, I am not suggesting that this is a better way to work, but it is certainly a different approach, birthed by necessity. As a result of the small crews and limited budgets, I often find myself doing jobs I haven’t since high school. Sometimes it’s a chore and other times it’s an absolute joy. “How could work be a joy, Ken?” Well, I’m glad you asked, faithful reader, because I have an example I’d like to share with you:

For the second year in a row we’ve had the honor of working with Cannon Mountain and Drive Brand Studio to create broadcast spots for the ski mountain. This year we came up with an idea that would take place in a basement belonging to two ski bums, but the budget didn’t allow us to rent a location, a studio, or hire a set builder. This left us with two options:

1. Ask our friends and family if any of them had a workable basement, then ask them if we could use it, then impose for multiple days and nights.

2. Use my big, open, concrete-jungle-of-a-basement.

We chose option 2, and thus a great adventure began. And, as we all know, adventure equals joy. That is math fact. Was this adventure difficult? You bet, as I’m a weak carpenter on my best day, but it was also a ton of fun and a great team building exercise.

Did we create a series of commercials we are proud of on a tight budget? Absolutely, although we ended up burning hours during the process. Would we do it again? That isn’t such an obvious answer. My first instinct is to say “YES!” but my brain is tapping my instinct on the shoulder and reminding him that we spent hours and hours (and hours) working on this set. “We could have been more efficient,” says my brain. “But it wouldn’t have been such an adventure,” responds my instinct. The correct answer lies with the success of the commercials and the happiness of our client. If we are able to help them save money while maintaining the integrity of the project, why would we ever say no?

I’ll leave you with a thought and a video: If you can learn how to do something, enjoy your work, and make your client happy, you should.

Enjoy our silliness: