Posted on 20th October 2020

Screen New Deal Focus on: Art Department recap and FULL video!

Alongside The British Film Designers Guild, we focused on the Screen New Deal recommendations and their impact on the Art Department

In this second Screen New Deal event which took place on the 15th of October, we turned our focus to the key area of Production Materials and invited all those working in the art department to join us to discuss the report’s findings and recommendations.

The webinar was hosted by our very own Aaron Matthews (Head of Industry Sustainability at BAFTA) with questions from the attendees being handled by Tricia Duffy (albert strategy advisor and independent media consultant)

We were joined by BFDG members Mark Scruton, Production Designer, Warren Lever, Construction Manager (both currently working on Pennyworth Season 2 at Pinewood Studios), and Audeline Duliere, Architect and Researcher.

One such organisation that is already providing the solutions to these problems is CAMA, who have supported the crew of Mission: Impossible Fallout and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.

The images in this article were provided courtesy of Construct Scenery

You can watch the full video recap of the event at the bottom of the article. The previous Screen New Deal event was the launch event summarising the entire report, which can be seen here.

Read on to see what they had to say:

The vision that we need to get to is that nothing enters our industry without a sustainable exit plan. Can you imagine that future?

— Aaron Matthews, Head of Industry Sustainability, BAFTA

How easy could it be to reuse materials?

“It’s a hard question to answer because this whole industry is based around the fact that it’s so nomadic in the way it usually operates. The bigger studios such as Leavesden have the infrastructure to make the changes required, but a huge sector of the film industry is still independent meaning they don’t have the resources to invest long term. A production starts up, does its thing, and then shuts down again. Trying to keep track of it all and trying to make sense of that supply chain, where materials from a production go and are stored, and then to claw it back up and reuse it, is quite a hard thing to get a handle on. 

Theoretically, such a system is possible, set design for example, begins with a basic set of building blocks (flats and frames etc.), as do materials. It used to be the case, 20 or so years ago, that you could go to a warehouse and rent these materials which had previously been used in other productions, but nowadays storage space and warehouses have become expensive and it’s less hassle and cheaper to start from scratch on each production. 

Quite often set reuse is rejected, because creative directors don’t want their piece of scenery showing up in someone else’s show. Unused raw material however, is often taken up by other productions but that is usually by chance rather than part of a system. This issue isn’t as prevalent within a show, as reuse is easier between seasons of a production. That decision is as much to do with money and time as it is with recycling. 

It is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, working out how to reuse parts of a set without having to start from scratch.”

Can you picture a future where materials come from one centralised space?

“This hinges on what is being built. For example if you are building a castle, it’s a different parameter to building a spaceship. The chances of having an ‘off the shelf’ console for a starship is not very likely. That being said, the film industry has always been quite good with this from its inception, with scene docks and the reuse of certain set elements, the same doors, columns, gates etc. coming out of stores since the industry began. And set construction staff have a radar of what these items are and where they come from. They have a constant awareness of where you can locate these items, large and small. 

While this isn’t a concrete system, it has come about from economical factors. If you don’t have the time and money to build what you need and it’s available off the shelf to hire, then great! However as mentioned previously, the storage space around studios, especially around the M25, is at a premium. Add in transport costs, and storage as a whole has a very expensive ticket price. Once the studios left the studio system and became independent, Pinewood studios for example, is now a Disney studio, and for the last 25 years, has been stripped for hire and has become an empty shell of buildings home to several hundred production companies. “

“Perhaps it’s time to go ‘back to the future’ to the age of scene docks and prop houses within easy reach of studios. Now that we’re in a way reverting to the old studio system, where Netflix use Shepperton, Amazon are in Elstree and Disney at Pinewood, they can bring back the scene docks mainly because they have the money to do so.”

What are the ideal materials to use and what should we avoid?

“The ideal material would be reused material in all instances, the worry is more around the single use aspect of materials. Plastic, despite its negative connotations, is a wonderful material and we want to keep it going around, being reused. It’s not about whether a material is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but rather the networks of use and how we can organise as a society to make sure we use every material until their expiry date.” 

What does the industry know about parametric design tools?

“It’s not something that is well known in the art department in general, but it is something that needs to be expanded upon. It’s symptomatic of the transient nature of the industry as a whole, in that there’s not joined up thinking between one production and the next and little time to train people up to explore these things and understand the nature of the issue, furthermore, by the time the next job starts, you’ll have a new set of people who also need to be trained up – it’s a time and money issue. It’s something we need to open our eyes to and invest in. Perhaps there is a skills gap to be addressed. 

As a society we have a bias to think that it’s very noble to create, and that intelligence lies within those pursuits. However, as previously mentioned there is a desire to reuse in the art department, and the process itself requires creativity and intelligence. To the heads of departments, it is always easier to justify spending more on creation and less on disposal. If we can start celebrating the skill of deconstruction and disposal, by championing those who are masters of the aforementioned crafts, we could have a shift of perspective which could also lead to a shift in the budget allocated to these tasks.”

How might a modern material passport system work? 

“Having mentioned the old scene docks and prop houses, of the ones which still exist, the stock is probably 15-20 years old, and suddenly there’s a big void until recently of modern materials being stored. It’s not all going in a skip – a lot of the materials are still out there but it’s not being catalogued, and it’s not being tracked. There are containers all over London full of materials, but no one knows what it is and no one knows exactly where it is nor how to get hold of it or who to talk to, to get hold of it.  

The biggest challenge we have is coordinating this system, which in a way is already in place. Having a database that crosses between studios, and crosses between prop houses in a centraslised way to keep track, has to become more common. So that all materials which are stored at the end of a production, have a form of tracking so that people know where to get it, whether it’s sheets of plywood, raw materials, props, electronics, and so on. 

The key word is ‘asset’, and that’s how we need to start viewing these materials. When a production ends, an asset log is filled out and sent to the studio. The studio has paid for it, they’ve paid tax on it, in other words it’s owned as an asset by a company. It may be that we need a change of mindset to view these as ‘services’ rather than ‘goods’ to be held onto.”