The Filmmaker's Guide To Tidying Up (inspired by Marie Kondo)

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(Bri Castellini) #1

Watching Marie Kondo politely telling strangers to throw away their crap may be incredibly relaxing, but as a filmmaker I’ve struggled with how to implement “the art of tidying up” in my own life. The seven broken cell phones I keep in a drawer don’t spark joy, but they’re incredibly useful when we’re filming a scene and an actor, fairly, doesn’t want to throw their own working phone at a wall. So in an attempt to meet Marie in the middle, I’ve compiled The Filmmaker’s Guide To Tidying Up, broken down into example lists of what’s worth hoarding and what just isn’t.

Rules

Sparking joy is such a simple and lovely way to decide whether or not to trash treasured belongings, but for filmmakers it’s a bit more complicated, so I’m redefining the “spark joy” concept for us as “spark sense.” How does an item “spark sense”? Check out the questions I ask myself:

  • How much space in my home does the item take up?

  • How easy to acquire is this item if I didn’t already own it?

  • How expensive is a new or used version of this item?

  • Is this item useful for multiple projects?

  • Do I have a use for this item outside of filmmaking?

You don’t need to justify every single one of these questions when determining if an item sparks sense, but keep them all in mind when evaluating an item’s continued place in your home.

Worth Discarding

  • Most set dressing. Production design ought to be perfectly catered for the particular project you’re working on, so it doesn’t spark much sense to hold onto posters and decor that you wouldn’t use in your own home, let alone another project. Posters and decor are too specific and also too cheap (in the grand scheme of things) to be worth the space they take up in the meantime.

  • Costumes. This is an item you can make a decision on largely with Marie Kondo’s own rules. If a costume isn’t going to be added to your own regular wardrobe, give it away.

  • Set pieces. In my web series, Brains, we have two episodes set in makeshift jail cells (makeshift because the show takes place on a college campus post-apocalypse) that we built using six person-height metal poles. I moved those to two apartments for literally no reason. What did I need long metal poles for? I live in New York City! If you have major set pieces, like furniture or five-foot-long metal poles, get rid of them for reasons that should be obvious but often aren’t.

  • Knick-knacks. One of my guiltiest pleasures is knick-knack hoarding. Toys, cool origami, snow globes, you name it, I have twelve. Once I got into filmmaking, it got worse, because I could use them as texture in the background of a character’s living room. Knick-knacks needed for set dressing can be borrowed from friends and absolutely do not spark sense (or joy) in most cases.

  • Fake plants/flowers. If you can’t afford new fake plants or flowers in the unlikely event you’ll need them for a future shoot, something else is wrong with your budget.

  • Delicate props. My show featured several episodes in a “lab,” meaning that we ended the series with quite a few glass beakers. Given how show-specific they are and how hard they are to pack and move with (or store away safely), it sparks sense not to keep them around.

  • Hard copies of printable props. Many shoots have digital designs for things like menus, small posters, fake paperwork, and signs, and many producers keep the printed versions in a folder or box for… some reason. If it’s a design that can be reprinted at any office printer, at the library, or for 50 cents at a pharmacy, just keep the digital design!

  • Literal trash. I’ve been on several shows where trash was required, ranging from crumpled paper to old beer bottles. Some sets just had beer bottles scattered around the scene, some were actually drunk from by actors (with the beer replaced with water or apple juice). I’ve also known producers who keep a bag or box of these materials, and I have to ask… why? It’s literal trash. You will make more of it naturally.

Worth Hoarding

  • Broken cell phones. Like I mentioned in the intro of this post, I have a small collection of broken cell phones (including an old flip phone! Vintage!). These spark sense for me because they aren’t in the way, I need cell phone props in basically every project, and I’ve been known to make projects with stunts. Having disposable, pre-broken cell phones makes actors feel secure in knowing their own tech isn’t in danger of shattering, plus allows us to keep the character’s phone consistent in case an actor upgrades or changes cases.

  • Old/broken laptop. Any sort of technology used on camera is at risk for being broken or injured- it’s the nature of set to be chaotic. If a character needs a computer, especially if there’s movement in the scene, having an old/broken computer might be the safest bet. Laptops aren’t massive and they’re definitely expensive [even broken- think of the parts!] so it sparks sense to keep at least one around.

  • Fake weapons. My first project was a zombie apocalypse web series, so naturally I’ve accrued quite the collection of prop guns and prop machetes. High-quality fake weapons aren’t super cheap, so giving them away and replacing them later is an unnecessary expense because I do plan on doing more action/apocalypse content in the future. Plus, again, they aren’t huge and can easily be stored in a closet or underneath my bed.

  • Some set dressing. My actual apartment is covered with decor from previous projects, but not all of it. If a poster or holiday decoration will actually see the light of day outside of filming, it sparks sense to keep around and incorporate. But if it’s been over a year and a piece of set dressing hasn’t been put up in my actual home and isn’t earmarked for a future project, it doesn’t spark sense to keep.

  • DIY materials. I built a lot of props and pieces for my sci-fi web series myself (with my team). While the individual homemade props often get tossed as soon as they’re done with, because they aren’t really built to last, the hot glue guns, colored wire, construction paper, and other materials can be used for a variety of different purposes.

Conclusions

This is, as always, far from an exhaustive list, but it should give you a starting point. In general, especially for props and set dressing, you’ll be able to borrow or make a lot more than you think, so you aren’t forced to buy and then personally store a bunch of one-use nonsense. To save yourself money and closet space, be really honest with yourself at every stage of the filmmaking process. When planning… how vital is this item to the story or character? Can you get it for free and also not have to be responsible for it after the shoot? Because the best way to tidy up your life is to not overly clutter it in the first place.


(Herman Wang) #2

The black velvet cloak we originally got for Professor Caltain in The Spell Tutor has also doubled for:

  • wardrobe pieces for 2 other characters
  • backdrop for a funeral placard
  • a black handbag
  • table covering for the conventions we do

If something is that versatile, it’s definitely worth hanging onto.


(Ghetto Nerd Girl) #3

I am so clueless when it comes to keeping or trashing film stuff. Also I’m lucky if I can find any of my props and/or set dressing when I need them. I tend to stay on the side of keeping things because I have the space, but it’s never organized.

I started to go through wardrobe pieces, set dressing and props. It all has a place now but the second round is trashing what’s not needed. I also tend to collect a lot of crafty stuff because of my cosplaying but the two can overlap at times which is good. A lot of my wigs were used in Season 2. Multiple uses for anything are a win!


(Amen J.) #4

Just here to write that this is a very clever topic for discussion; I like how you used trending Marie Kondo as a kick-off post!


(Laura Pepper) #5

Soooo relatable!

I have set dressing from my first feature I KNOW I need to get rid of! I’ve managed to jettison some of the costumes. I’m still holding onto a couple dozen santa hats ‘just in case’…

Borrowing props is a great resource - and there are thrift stores brimming with super random odds & ends as as backup.

I have a character from (as-yet-unfinished) webseries #2 with a very distinctive style. If I actually dressed up outside this character, I have a plethora of cute dresses. I actually had to stop myself from buying one the other day because I’m not sure if/when we’ll pick up filming again.

I was able to give away some ‘ugly sweaters’ we used for a character, and felt good about giving them an appreciative home. Sometimes that makes it easier to let go of clutter.

I try to keep only meaningful knickknacks - a prop signed by my cast, items that reflect my nature. It’s hard, and sometimes necessary to talk myself into donating silly stuff.

My only question - could your ‘jail’ poles double as dolly tracks? Maybe an unrelated second life of items is possible?

Timely & relatable post, Bri!


(Bri Castellini) #6

You know, I’m not sure! We don’t have access to a dolly (we usually use either a skateboard roller my DP bought or a rolling chair the very rare times we need a rolling shot) so I wouldn’t have been able to check, plus they were so long transporting them from home to set on either public transit OR in a Lyft was always a challenge. I’ve since thrown them away, two moves ago, but this is creative thinking for sure!


(Deb Ethier) #7

You guys need to switch to stop motion - everything in miniature! Complete baroque outfit, with powdered wig and everything, fits in a ziplock snack bag, lol. AND, even then, I still have way too much stuff stored in bins just “in case” I might need it…


(Deb Ethier) #8

*The rat is 4 inches tall!


(Bri Castellini) #9

ADORABLE! And clearly sparks joy


(Deb Ethier) #10

It was for a short I did where three rats sing about their love for coffee in a spoof on Bach’s Coffee Cantata. It was SOOOO much fun to make!