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The Art of Moviemaking

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A local art director talks about his craft

Motion picture film crews are made up of numerous specialized departments. The art department encompasses several sub-departments: art, set design, construction, props, scenic and greens. And the art director—who oversees the artists, craftsmen, aesthetic and textural details—is responsible for creating a cohesive visual scheme that supports the story. Local art director Scott Plauche has worked in the industry for the past 21 years on films such as Runaway Jury, Déjà Vu, the Oscar-winning

scott
Photo by David Tompkins

Ray, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which recently netted three Oscars including one for Best Art Direction.

Tell me a little about your background in art.

I got my degree in art history from Emory University, which was good preparation for the research aspect of my job. I came from a family where someone was always building or making something, which pretty much describes what I do on a movie.

What drew you to the industry?
Regular corporate jobs just sounded so boring, and when I moved to Los Angeles immediately after college, I was surrounded by people working on movies so I naturally jumped in with them.

What are your responsibilities on a movie?
[Art directors] are the managers for the art department, so we work with set designers that draw the sets and graphic designers that design signs and products. We also hire the construction and paint departments and work with them to budget the movie. Then ultimately we are responsible for implementing the designs and making sure that the sets are designed and budgeted.

What are some of the ways the art department contributes creatively to the overall look of a film?

We help decide what locations should be shot and how they should be modified to best serve the story. We might create an overall look for the movie and try to use certain designs or paint colors that support that. We basically have some input in just about everything you see in a movie that’s not an actor. Sometimes your job is just to serve the script, in other words just make everything look believable and help sell the story. Runaway Jury is an example of this type [of film where] the scenery helps with the story. Other times you create a unique world that is part of the story, like [in] the movie Moulin Rouge where the sets were as much a part of the story as the actors.

Which project was most satisfying for you?
Miller’s Crossing was my first movie in New Orleans [in 1990] and probably my most satisfying. The directors Joel and Ethan Coen were not only nice guys but really organized and prepared. This is usually what makes for a satisfying film experience.

Scott Plauche is working on a new project that’s hush-hush at present. Stay tuned until next month for more news on moviemaking in the Big Easy.