Artist Spotlight: Tommy Taylor on Working in Film as a Scenic Painter

“Ya see all them pink and orange tubes inside there?  … Well, they’re explosives”

You couldn’t pay me to get up every day at 5 in the morning and drive 30 miles to a dirty warehouse for a job…or so I thought. But, that is what I have been doing for the better part of the past 6 months. Traffic at this hour is nonexistent, the intersection at Ponce and Moreland/Briarcliff -generally a hideous place to be at any hour of the day – is just a blip in the rear view mirror at 5:30 a.m.

I am beginning my third feature film as a scenic painter. Call time is 6:00 a.m.,either at the studio or location. If either are 20 miles from your driveway you consider yourself lucky. After a brief meeting work starts right away and save for three breaks usually does not stop till the sun is on its way back down, though it can go much later. Unlike working in the studio on my paintings, this is a team effort and there are always serious time constraints. There is generally a sense of camaraderie in the studio with everyone working towards a common goal. The movie set is a great leveler. Sure there are stars and people with higher pay grades than others, but everyone has a role and no one can his job without the others doing theirs. It’s a challenge but there is a sense of being part of something bigger that makes it more than bearable.

Tasks vary greatly, one minute you may be painting breakaway garden gnomes, the next rusting out an old Trans Am. One day I was given the project of painting fiber glass cows to make them look more realistic (“I feel obligated to tell you this..but ya see all them orange and pink tubes inside there?” asked the stunt coordinator. “Well those are explosives. They aint gonna go off” , he continued. “You could set them on fire and they wouldn’t go off….but I wouldn’t”) That is another aspect which differs from working in the studio. Often we are using materials that I have never heard of before. Safety is stressed, especially when you are cutting your paint with Kerosene or adding into it sodium silicate, a sort of glass dust that will do things to your lungs you don’t even want to think about. The funny thing about being a scenic is: if you do your job right, audiences don’t notice what you’ve done, unless its done poorly or not at all. And nothing quite matches the feeling you have watching something you have spent weeks working on, outside, in the cold, get blow up!!….Ah! Movies!

The first film I worked on was a real dud. A great learning experience, but really it was just a bunch of ego’s throwing bags of money into a shredder. Conversely, the 2nd film I worked on was extremely well crafted and I believe will be a great movie. The Director of Photography is the top rated DP in the world, the cast and crew were great, it was a real experience and a joy. Prisoners, look for it in December.

I looked into getting involved with the film industry after knowing several friends who had been doing it for a while. Because of the tax incentives, many projects are moving to Atlanta from places like NYC and LA and many of the industries top professionals are relocating here as well. There is much opportunity for work and advancement due to the high volume of filming happening here. This year there will be 20 features films shot in Atlanta, not to mention the loads of TV shows, including Walking Dead, the most viewed show in the WORLD! I just heard that a British film company is building it’s first studio in North America right here in Atlanta.

Working in film has been a great opportunity for me, one that I believe I’ll continue to pursue. Its proven to be a great way to support my art making, while opening up doors of opportunity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. There is even the possibility that the next project I’m working on may feature some of my paintings (or at least paintings made by me), but we’ll have to wait a year to see it … that is, if it doesn’t wind up on the cutting room floor!!  – Tommy Taylor

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