May Davies is an emerging Production Designer working on short films, live performance and art installation. She has recently completed her first two indie feature films as designer and when she’s not designing she assists in the Art Department on a variety of film and TV productions, most recently for two BFI funded features; as Assistant Art Director on THE POWER, and as Standby Art Director on MARTYRS LANE, it was on this production that May was part of a job-share. Here’s May’s story…
“My job share on MARTYRS LANE came about after meeting the Production Designer, Gini Godwin, through mutual friends. I had just finished another feature film as assistant art director in September 2019 and had a few smaller low budget films that I was designing scattered through the rest of the year but was also looking to move on to another feature film in an art department role. I met with Gini and we talked about her upcoming film, the BFI funded feature, MARTYRS LANE.
Due to the nature of the film being set in one main house location, where the production and art department were also based and with all the sets needing to be almost fully dressed before shooting began, Gini had planned for the props and dressing crew to move on to the standby roles once filming commenced. We discussed a possible scenario to job share the standby art directing with me leading on the breakdown and prep and handing over to others on days I wasn’t there.
This was a situation that came about at the right time and place for both my availability and the production budget and schedule requirements and felt like an opportunity to conduct a job share experiment with minimum risk. In this particular production an additional standby person would not have been brought on, and by me coming on part time the other crew, including the Art Director, Props Master, Art Department Assistant and the dressing dailies were able to divide their time between standby roles and the necessary prep work off set, this typically involved finalising dressing or responding to new requests that came up through filming or problem solving those inevitable and unexpected issues that always arise.
The Art Department Assistant transitioned into a full time standby role once prep had finished and filming started. So although they weren’t responsible for managing standby they were on set consistently which they said gave them a sense of empowerment and they were able to gain valuable skills and knowledge of being on set that they can take into their next role. For me, it was so helpful to have somebody who was consistently on set and could fill me in on any necessary info.
I think that lower budget films, where roles are more interchangeable than in a bigger art department team, provide the opportunity to test something that could potentially be taken into the bigger budget films, enabling more people to formally job share.
There were some new ways of working that I developed through this job share role. For example, I found that in order to effectively share the breakdown and prep information for the shooting schedule I needed a new format for my spreadsheet! I adapted and worked on my existing documents ahead of time and created paperwork that provided all the neccessary information easily and quickly. Putting in this bit of extra time meant that everyone that needed to access the information could do so with confidence about their clarity. These new and updated pieces of paperwork benefitted my work too as well as the wider team. I needed a good systme for organising continuity photos taken during filming so any member of the team could redress sets that were revisited on different days and keep track of continuity. For this I developed a file naming system and we used a well known file sharing online platform which meant I could access the files remotely and prepare for the next block of my standby work.
Whilst I recognise that this situation is unusual and if the film was bigger it would have been desirable to have a dedicated standby Art Director working with standby props, I think that lower budget films, where roles are more interchangeable than in a bigger Art Department team, provide the opportunity to test something that could potentially be taken into the bigger budget films, enabling more people to formally job share. I do think that if the film been set over a number of different locations, meaning the Art Department might have been based elsewhere, it would have brought additional challenges to a job share system.
I would definitely work in this way again and would encourage Production Designers to consider organising their teams in different ways.
The job share set-up we created meant that while I was off set I was able to better process information, keep breakdowns updated when revised schedules came out through production, something which in my experience a Standby Art Director always feels like there isn’t enough time to do within the set hours. Also it felt like the whole team was more aware of what was happening on set which led to good discussions of ideas, allowing the Art Department Assistant and dailies to gain experience in standby roles, something that will benefit them if they want to undertake training to develop further. For me personally it meant I was able to use my time efficiently to keep my designing projects going as well as gaining experience in a bigger film team, but it could just as easily work for someone who needed the time for caring responsibilities or for people with additional needs that means a five or six day week working 12+ hours a day isn’t viable.
I would definitely work in this way again and would encourage Production Designers to consider organising their teams in different ways, like Gini did. Her approach allowed for more inclusivity in the roles that are perceived as more difficult to share.
May Davies was awarded the Technical Award for Best Art Direction at the Long Island Film Festival 2019 for MEA CULPA, a short film by Jason Fite. She’s been a BAFTA crew member since 2017 and is a member of the British Society of Theatre Designers and the British Film Designers Guild. Through the British Film Designers Guild she was nominated for the Spotlight on New Talent Award in 2019. May is currently being mentored by Art Director Fleur Whitlock (ADULT MATERIAL, END OF THE F**KING WORLD) through the ScreenSkills mentoring programme.
Photo: May on set, credit: Kristian Fistall