Here in Santa Fe the filming business is booming… at least for the moment. With this western, gothic Sci-Fi trend in the movies that calls for great (seemingly period-looking) expanses, New Mexico has it in spades. The Lone Ranger was filmed here, and many of us were involved specifically and indirectly. For off beat, dusty, edge-of-the-grid series like Breaking Bad and many others in the genre we’ve become the go-to location, especially since its proximity to LA is such a quick commute. With our landscape come the quirky props and the leather faced extras that no casting agent could find anywhere else.
Naturally, I have friends who work in the movies here and even I, from time to time, do some consulting since (as some of you many know) I actually have more experience as a set designer for media than I do as an interior designer for home. I’ve always been candid that I’m not a member of A.S.I.D. but rather S.A.G. (Screen Actors Guild), a distinction I don’t mind correcting people on because anyone who has ever worked as a set designer for legitimate stage, TV and film wears the badge of honor and can easily make the transition to residential interior design if they so choose. And many have — going all the way back to the early MGM years. It’s a cake walk compared to the very volatile, time-compressed, high pressure, very exacting and rigorous world of media design — one that few interior designers are ever prepared for.
In their world they’re often the sole boss, and a nice lunch is included. In the media world it’s the script, director and a whole slew of executives you’re trying to please that complicate the process while you try to serve the story. Everything the camera sees is (or should be) a visual extension of the character that informs the audience in a way words simply can’t. Those whom I hired to work on my show were all seasoned set designers, not interior designers.
My consulting here, however, has been more about the politics of media design and helping stressed out set dressers navigate their often impossible world. Since for years I operated as both designer and executive producer, too, it’s given me a rather unique perspective in the art of impossible compromise. Which is a nice way of saying that no matter what you do in media design, you’ll never get even close to what you creatively really wanted or originally envisioned. Which is another way of saying if you don’t stay fluid, you’re screwed.
I get calls on a weekly basis from shoppers or designers in their cars who are balancing clipboards, Starbucks and cell phones, who need to vent or are hyperventilating because they have one week to create ten location sets, fully dressed and on the money, while sifting through the often abrupt, uninformed incoming text messages from the ‘office.’
They remind me daily of that world where you can’t help but take things personally but know you can’t. It’s a world where artistic integrity seems always to clash with, well, just about everything else. In my on-the-run therapy sessions, I’m continually telling people to breathe, put their egos in their back pockets, do the best they can while I’m helping them prioritize what are the absolute key elements required to ‘sell’ the authenticity of the (often sober and gritty) spaces they need to create.
I do this production therapy because it’s good for me, too. It reminds me of the razor edge that sensitive creative people straddle every day. How one’s forced to be intuitive but not let the (often abusive) experience of continual compromise harden that very gift one was hired for in the first place.
Show business is littered with hard core cynics who have compromised way too much and way too long. I’m always reminding their ‘victims’ of this cautionary tale to exercise empathy but not get caught up in the drama of it. If it sounds like a huge life metaphor, well it is. Often, the very people who oppress us simply don’t realize they do it. They’ve turned the corner that we never should. People who abuse us are often abused themselves or have been too abused by others in the past; meaning that they got their feelings hurt traumatically too early in life to have gained the experience with which to process the situation. As a result they pass on the still-not-dealt-with to those around them. It’s simply a sign of a broken heart that was never protected.
You can’t change them in a business setting, though Lord knows I’ve made the mistake of trying. So what do you do? You work hard to develop a richer inner life that keeps this crazy world and the people who live and die by its rules out ‘there’, but don’t let their agenda-laden reality crowd or shut down your soul. However you have to feed the kitty. You have to make time to arm the heart you’re protecting with the fuel it needs to combat the outside world. Read things that inspire you, versus finding people to bitch to. Start working on a personal dream of yours so your soul can go there in your head while someone is pummeling you. Get to that grateful place each day if only for a moment to give thanks that you know the difference between inner spirit and faith and the often cruel man-made forces that encircle you.
And above all never chastise yourself when your feelings get hurt, like it’s some kind of weakness, when it’s actually a good sign that you’ve not hardened. While you in fact might be given a momentary dose of disillusionment remember that it’s not a personal betrayal of your soul, but simply the outward way of the world that’s been like that since the beginning of time.
You can do it!
PS: While the Lone Ranger never became the empowerment movie Johnny Depp had hoped for, his makeup is a great visual of the fractured outside world we wear on the surface with the human soul peeking through…which, by the way, is why he chose it.