Three weeks before spring break I found out two really great guys at my school – Austin Puckett and Nolan Anderson – were making a short film for Nolan’s senior thesis.
Three days and two weeks before spring break Nolan asked if I would do Art Department for this film called Cadence (notice he asked for Art Department, no position specified). So, I became the Production Designer for Cadence, and, oh yeah, we were shooting over spring break.
I had about 2 weeks to do all of Art Department pre-production for a 10 minute senior thesis short film.
Cadence is about a six-person family of folk musicians on tour in their RV. They stop at a gas station, and their whole family pretty much falls apart. There were 7 characters – a 6-year-old girl, 10-year-old boy, 12-year-old-girl, 18-year-old male lead, late 40’s woman, mid-late 40’s man, and a gas station attendant with no physical description.
We had an RV we rented, and we had a defunct diner location 3 1/2 hours northeast of nowhere, and I had a couple notes from the previous Production Designer who had stepped down. We had cast locked, and we had a budget of about $1,500 for Art. I had one friend, Melissa Velazquez, who helped me with a few things and could be on set for two of the three days.
I found out in my first meeting with him (2 weeks before the shoot) that Nolan wanted the opening shot to be like that of the film Sahara, where the camera tracks around the RV and establish the family’s whole journey. He also wanted their costumes to tell the history of American Folk Music, but still look like they all belonged together. We also needed to build a aisle of shelves to turn the diner into a convenience store (and fill them) and cover up a window of unknown size 5 feet off the ground in the bathroom. Also, he wanted avoid the colors blue and green for storytelling purposes.
So, I started with research. The biggest eras for American Folk music were the 1930’s, 40’s, 60’s, early 70’s, and the 2000’s. Nolan told me that the oldest daughter (Olivia) is the actual “mom”, so I chose to dress her like the era where American folk music really began – 1930’s. The 10-year-old boy (Cliff) whose desires to not be in the band is dressed like the war-torn 1940’s, the Mom (Donna) is dressed like the era people usually associate with folk – the 1960’s, and the Dad (Greg) follows her lead with ear 1970s. The 6-year-old (Amy) is new to the family so she’s dressed like 2005. The 18-year-old lead (Jake) is the fresh new creative force behind the band’s success and is dressed like a modern folk musician.
Thanks to Jenny Oetzell for the fantastic behind-the-scenes photos!
For the interior of the RV I decided to give each person their own space. Jake creates music in the back next to his little brother, Cliff. Olivia is dead center of the RV – the heart. Amy sits at the dining area table with her, and the parents are driving up front as far away from the actual creativity as possible. So, the back has all the new creative stuff, there’s broken childhood in between, and old successes is driving in the front. To tell the viewer that Olivia is the real heart of the operation, I put more pictures in her space than anywhere else, and went around the RV with clothesline-twine hanging pictures – Olivia is tying the family together.
We got the RV at 9:00pm the day before we shot and I pulled an all-nighter getting it all set up. Some of the set decoration came from Justin Sinclair (the composer) and Melissa. I slept in the front seat of the RV as we drove it was out to location in Amboy, CA.
We shot at Roy’s Cafe, and here’s what it looked like when we got there:
Melissa was able to come and help me out on the second and third days of principle photography, and together we built shelves and made it look like this:
We got the shelves off a Craigslist add, and the guy at 88 Store Fixture let us rent them for much less than we would have paid anywhere else. Yay for sketchy ads on Craigslist!
I bought a mirror to cover the window in the bathroom because it was the fastest easiest option (my original plan was to put a piece of sheetrock over it and make it look like a repair job, but the wall was tiled and that would have drawn more attention to the spot). Melissa and I put a ton of Command strips up and they held overnight (bolstered with tape because we were not taking any chances). Sticky tack and Command strips literally held our production together.
Honestly, as crazy as it was, I’m really glad I took on this project. Not only will it beef up my reel, but it was also one of the most affirming sets I’ve ever been on. Every person on set came up to me at some point and told me how amazing everything looked, and Nolan Anderson (the Director) and Nolan Scott (the DP) were fantastic guys to work with. Both were really respectful and thoughtfully intentional with what the visuals should communicate in the story.
Also, special shout out to Brynn Mitchell, our Script Supervisor who stepped up to be an honorary Artie, and Jessica Tonti, Rebecca Jane Purdy, & Laura Semin who helped us out with both set-up and tear-down of the convenience store.
And having to do almost everything myself taught me something – it taught me that I can do it. It made me remember why I love Production Design so much – I get to create worlds, and that’s amazing.