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Rising Stars: Behind the Scenes on the Hollywood Set

By Emma Beavers

Lindsey's love of film and undeniable artistic talent convinced her to become an art director. After spending summers interning on movie sets and obtaining a B.A. in History of Art and Architecture, she's now starting on her path by working freelance in L.A.

Name: Lindsey Gary
School: Harvard
Major: History of Art and Architecture
Years Out of College: 0-2
Title: Art Department Assistant and Researcher
Company: Freelance
First Steps

Growing up in the entertainment industry as the daughter of a performer and a studio teacher, Lindsey had every intention of distancing herself from it in her career. But she had always loved movies, and during high school she became more and more focused on drawing and painting, devoting hours to honing her skills. When a family friend saw her artwork, she was impressed and suggested that Lindsey visit a movie art department. An offer to have her shadow the set for a few days turned into a part-time job, and suddenly she found herself truly in her element. "I could see myself spending the rest of my life in an art department."

From Then to Now

Lindsey continued to intern steadily on movie sets during summers throughout high school and college. And although she believes that design school is optimal for professional preparation, she decided to go to Harvard in order to experience the mix of education and practical application that a liberal arts degree provides. "I think that I grew more as a person going to a liberal arts school, and now I can provide a good perspective and communicate ideas well."

After graduating, she moved back to L.A. and has found work in the art department of a major studio. This has also entailed taking the necessary path of working freelance by relying on contacts to learn about opportunities on upcoming projects, which is why she says that networking is vital to her profession. And since art-department employees such as set designers and illustrators are hired for a specific amount of time that varies widely with any given movie--2 weeks on one project, 4 months on the next--uncertainty is a necessary evil that Lindsey has learned to embrace. "It's exciting and scary at the same time: I don't know what's coming next."

My Experience

Although the projects Lindsey has worked on, from Jurassic Park 3 to Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, cover a wide range of styles and genres, the day-to-day tasks of the job remain relatively constant. "When I come in in the morning I may check on the construction crew and the set to make sure that construction is progressing on track, then take photos to show to the designer and art director. I'll do research for designs, check on the shooting set, and print out illustrations or set designs to distribute." One of her favorite things about her job is seeing the journey a movie takes from screenplay to set. "Seeing the transition from words to screen is really exciting."

Next Steps

Lindsey is invested in the calling she loves and is now seeking the necessary tools to stay up-to-date in an industry in transition. "Things are going from paper to digital in the art department. Most set designers are still hand drafters--the industry is slower to change than traditional architecture firms--but digital methods such as CAD drafting and 3-D modeling are increasingly embraced as valuable tools." She's in the process of learning MAYA, one of the most powerful of the digital conceptualization and design programs, and is currently taking a one-on-one master class to deepen her knowledge of digital processes.

Advice for Others

Although networking is crucial and an art school background or art degree is valuable, Lindsey has found that there is no strict path to follow in order to find success as an art director or set designer. Most importantly, industry hopefuls should be sure they really want to work in entertainment in the first place: "It has to be a labor of love."

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