By midlandsmovies, Aug 30 2017 05:55PM
Midlands Professional - Set-maker and Prop Designer David Hardcastle
In a brand new series of articles Midlands Movies will be talking to a range of regional experts who are sharing advice and hints and tips from their particular field in film. First up to pass on their knowledge and experience is set-designer and prop-maker David Hardware who currently works at Roasted Studios in Leicester.
David Hardware has been a creative force for many years yet there's none stranger tale than his background in cake decoration where he excelled before hitting the film industry later in his career. After joining the Army Catering Corps at just 17, David explained he “learnt how to pretty much cook everything”. The talented set designer would eventually went on to use the creative skills from that role in film where the elaborate gourmet buffets were displayed on stage or based around specific themes.
Unbelievably some of these food courses were interactive which David says “made them magical” but after redundancy in 1995, David moved on to work for Location Catering and here was his true crossover with the film industry. “Location Catering was owned and run by Phil Hobbs who was married to Stanley Kubrick’s daughter. That company catered for a number of productions including Linda LaPlant’s Trial & Retribution, Nike adverts and A League of Their Own”, explains David.
“Then came along Eyes Wide Shut and I was to be the chef on the craft vehicle, feeding cast and crew including Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman! We moved considerably as well – The Lainsborough Hotel in London and Pinewood of course. And it was there where I stood on the New York street film set in absolute awe! I saw many things behind the scenes and Kubrick being Kubrick extended filming to 18 months. Filming was pretty much always a closed set, so the craft vehicle was sadly axed early”.
He didn’t realise at the time but David had caught a bug, and not a man-flu bug, but “one that suggests you have found a passion” he remarks. So it was then when David opened his own catering company and inadvertently met with celebrities and enjoyed the magic of film sets.
But soon, after a desire to move from behind to in-front of the camera, David learnt many things by simply being on film sets. “I got the Lead role of Black in a very small independent number, zero budget, you know the score. This production had animatronics, many outfits and masks and a full head cast was needed for my character”.
Then after gaining a small role in the Hamill Brothers’ The Wrong Floor (aka Toxic Apocalypse) and subsequently practising face and body casting for masks, David the prop-maker was born. During the production of their following film, David was asked to create a prop of a special book to grab an audience’s attention.
“I also made other props too which created the need for film sets, so I offered, at no cost other than materials and I was of course allowed to play with ideas based on the script. And so the set-builder was born too. As the writer adapted the script he asked for a statue of Jesus, with an arm that moves like a fruit machine and a compartment that opens revealing something. I duly obliged, I just made it 5 foot tall!”
When Roasted studios moved to new premises, David realised what his passion was all along and David says the best prop-maker can make things out of stuff other folk may throw away - certainly advising to check out free-cycle and up-cycle sites.
“Freebie sites are a fabulous way of finding props for sets. Especially on a zero budget one. I am currently coming to the finishing touches to what I call our shopping alley. It will be very Victorian, Harry Potter-ish, if I dare, once it’s complete. It’s allowed me to play and build based on what free materials I could find”.
David also recommends getting the basics right in terms of asking the right questions of filmmakers as well as maintaining the standard of the set-maker’s own skills and ability.
“You must first consider the space that you have, and what is required in that space, followed by how are they going to film in this space? Ask yourself if it can be built, what is the budget, is it enough? Also consider when is it required for and for how long? If you are making a set, and especially if it’s a copy of something, then you will need a fundamental skill set – from basic DIY skills, to painting, decorating and awareness of how it will be lighted”, say David.
His most recent creation is a police station cell. Currently without a door (!) David says that it is sometimes about what the camera can’t see and getting the information from the filmmakers as early as possible even if the story boards have not been completed. David goes on, “I need to know how interactive the set is going to be and how many scenes the set will be used for”.
Durability, the use of moving parts and level of detail are also key to the success of the set-designer’s role so those looking for a future in the arena should get used to asking lots of questions. The build space will obviously dictate what angles are available, although moving walls and interchangeable doors is something David is trying to achieve at Roasted Studios, which will allow for the more discerning director to have more options.
“What we are offering at Roasted has not been readily available before. I aim to build sets that are not generally accessible to the independent film production company. The first one is of course the cell, and we have a fabulous stairwell to accompany it. Hopefully once the writers out there find out about what we’re offering, they can then write it into their stories”.
With future planned sets including a night club with working bar, a boxing gym and maybe an airport check in desk with conveyers and scanners, David encourages budding young filmmakers and creatives to get involved. “We have many opportunities for upcoming prop makers or set builders, where they can see their own handy work in future productions from the studio”.
David finishes, “I am also very keen to get media students aware of where we are and what we do and link with any colleges on a course opportunity level. I have no formal qualifications in set building but with the things I have built I have had an impact on the stories filmed here themselves. I always aim to ‘add the magic’”.
To find out more about the magic at Roasted Studios, or to take a tour round their sets, or to even chat to David and Marc about the opportunities please contact them at https://www.roastedstudios.co.uk
Also check out David's Prop-making Facebook Group page: https://www.facebook.com/FilmPropMakers