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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

By midlandsmovies, Feb 16 2016 10:37AM

Midlands Movies headed down to a secret studio in Leicester to see the shooting of new horror Acid Daemons, the latest feature from Rhys Davies and his Hive Films production company. With the shoot well underway and the set buzzing with the clamour of a busy cast and crew, Midlands Movies editor Mike Sales was invited to experience a day on set with this ambitious local project.

Well, with free reign to interview its cast, crew and stars I was very happy to make the most of the opportunity to hear further details about Acid Daemons. Welcoming me onto the set, the crew had a small but impressive living room and kitchen location they had created which enabled them to control all aspects of today’s production. As a shot came was about to start and the call of “quiet please” echoing in the building, I got my first experience of local filmmaking on the ground. A hushed set watched as the two leads put in a remarkable and stirring performance in a film that focuses on a new drug that could be unlocking vivid and often sensual visions from another world.

With a call of “cut” the scene ended and rather than interrupting the flow of director Rhys Davies and the cast, I spoke with the lovely Rachel Robertson who is the film’s production manager about the lead-up to today’s studio filming.

MM: Hi Rachel. How did you come to hear about this new Leicester project?

RR: Hiya. Well, I got involved 8 months ago and have now worked with Rhys on 3 projects. He was looking for someone to help with the day-to-day things and my background in corporate and short films has helped me a lot. We’ve been working really hard on Acid Daemons since July last year now.

MM: How did the script and cast come about?

RR: Rhys has worked on the script for 4 years with writer Rod Duncan and eventually we went to the Nottingham TV Workshop before Christmas which is where we got most of our leads including Ella, Jack and Terry. Then we’ve done more casting back here in Leicester. I’ve also helped with location scouting, as well as working to get funding together but that has been very difficult.

MM: And once the film is finished are there plans after?

RR: Once post-production is complete Rhys is looking for distribution then going down the festival route but we’ve got to get there first.

MM: And the shoot has gone well so far?

RR: Yes. The shoot is going really well and my job is to help out with creative ‘problem-solving’. Because of its small budget people cannot commit to the times we would like them to sometimes but my role is to shift things around to resolve that. (As if on cue camera operator Mbili Munthali enters the room to search for a missing battery charger).

MM: Like that?

RR: Ha ha. Exactly. They can be major stumbling blocks but everyone has tried their hardest when they’ve been here and we’re exactly on schedule and shot everything we’ve needed so far. Rhys is happy and we’ve planned for an 11 day shoot which is due to finish at the end of February. We’ve even just received some amazing art work right now (Valentines Day) from local designer Ross Underwood.

MM: Thank you Rachel.

With a great introduction to the project I then wander across the set to speak to one of two assistant directors (and old friend of Midlands Movies) Doug Cubin.

MM: Hi Doug. How has the day gone on set so far?

DC: This morning went really well and we’re halfway through the day and on time which is great. The filming as a whole has been split into two and this is part of the first tranche of a two-part shoot. Everybody is so busy on lots of different projects as you know, so putting it into bite-sized chunks means we can keep it all on course. This is my first day on set and then I’ll be assisting for another two days next weekend.

MM: Cheers Doug.

It appeared today was a relatively incident free day on set allowing the actors to focus on their performances and the crew to pay attention to setting up and get shooting efficiently. However, a more difficult set-up was planned for the afternoon involving the lead actress (Ella Roebuck-Swain) being dragged away by people unknown. On set for this sequence was up and coming stuntman-in-training Paul Ginns who has recently assisted with stunt work on big name films such as Age of Ultron and The Man from UNCLE.

MM: Afternoon Paul. Can you tell me a little about how you came to be involved in this project?

PG: Well, I met Patrick Waggett (one of the other assistant directors) on the set of The Man from UNCLE in London and he said he needed some help with some stunt work he was doing on a smaller production in the Midlands region.

MM: Are you from the area?

PG: Yes, I’m born and bred in Leicester so it worked really well that the both of us are local.

MM: And what about the sequence you are to be involved with later?

PG: I’m due on set this afternoon as there is a small scene where a character gets dragged into the corner of a room. The walls of the set come apart so there’s plenty to sort out and we’ll use plenty of padding for the actress. We have to ensure the health and safety of the actors and that is the most important thing.

MM: Has there been any times where that’s been pushed to the limits?

PG: Not particularly but in the past I have been in a few hairy situations. On the set of one blockbuster film that came out in 2015, I was 20ft up on a dangerous zip-line and the only thing preventing me from having an accident was a 60-year old man holding onto my trouser leg. Not the most comforting! There was also a moment on a certain huge sci-fi franchise about to be released that I cannot talk about (MM Editor Mike – hmmmm what could that be?) where there was an explosion and a piece of shrapnel ended up between my legs. This big piece of metal fell just a foot away from my groin!

MM: Wow. Finally, have you enjoyed your experience on this production so far?

PG: Absolutely. Although this is one of the first jobs I have had in Leicester it’s great to do something local. Another bonus is that it is nice to not have to travel 2 hours to get to Pinewood but seriously, it’s been really nice to see such a determined crew do a production such as this in my hometown of Leicester.

A fantastic story from one of the fantastic cast and crew. In the longer break of a much needed lunch I had the honour to speak to one of the other actors on set today - Jon Campling. Jon is playing an eccentric character in Acid Daemons but has great experience in unconventional roles having being cast as one of the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter franchise.

Click here to read my interview with Jon Campling in part two….

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