This is a good chance for another rant and rave following the last post. Once again Rubber Chicken has a comment that prompted another post. These photos are from a set my crew and I did for a TV show. It is sort of a den / office / lab set. It was built on a soundstage and all the walls were constructed, painted and the set pieces shopped for with only a few things rented. (If you can believe it, they changed the script and this set was never filmed)! Just like in English class when they used to say "compare and contrast" this set with Higgin's den, for example. We have now arrived at our topic: Obsession with detail to the point of distraction or simply, "more is more, not better". Just my opinions...........
Last year I bought one of the seasons I had done of Magnum--not having seen the show in more than a decade (I know, shocking!) Once I got past the short shorts, the most surprising thing was the absence of set decoration. I don't mean empty walls or barren back alleys, but the lack of detail, obsession, and quantity of STUFF. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but it did start me thinking.
In the previous post I talked about set differences between Magnum and "LOST" which was as much a difference between eras as the shows themselves. Going back even further when you watch 50's reruns of shows like "Gunsmoke" or "The Honeymooners", there is practically no set dressing at all. Magnum looks very "modern" compared to that era. So obviously there is a trend towards more detail and more realism.
Almost 100 years ago, a New York stage director / producer dismantled an actual tenement room and had it reconstructed on the stage where it shocked audiences with its realism. Prior to that, sets had been more theatrical or suggestive. This lead to all sorts of "realistic" attempts even including horse racing on a treadmill onstage before audiences were ready for a more balanced look to their theatrical experience--go to a real race track and watch a real horse race. The trend towards realism in television has gone in the same direction. Going from not being able to say "pregnant" 50 years ago to having to have parental controls today. Did you know there are even standards for how much blood you can show at 7:00 p.m. vs. how much blood you can show at 9:00 on network TV? Do you ever see anyone smoke on network TV today? So the look, rules, regulations continue to change but they are still with us today.
In the previous post I discussed the availability of accurate research on the internet. This has also lead to an obsession to recreate this realism on television. Ironically with the MTV style of camera / editing today (with 2 and 3 second shots being normal), you actually see much less of the sets. Murky backgrounds, shadowy lighting, mostly close-ups, and fast shots define many TV shows today at the same time obsession to detail and accuracy is the trend. Next time you watch any of the top 10 shows today on TV, see what I mean. This does not include sitcoms that seldom venture out of their living room or kitchen sets--but you will notice much more clutter in and sometimes over-the-top statements to define their character. For example, "Roseanne" had the picture of the dogs playing poker in their living room and that old afghan on the sofa as a way of saying "lower middle class" even though I never thought it was appropriate for their characters.
While I've always held that the set should say something about the character even before they enter the set, that seems to have gotten a little out of hand. Yes, the set should tell a story, but it isn't The Story, it is an environment that should support it, not dominate it. Wow, chisel that on my tombstone! Last, but not least, my gripe about period sets. In your living room in 1975, was everything in that room FROM 1975? Was everything orange and brown, shag carpeting, swag lamps, chrome frames, and macrame? So often, particularly in features, as a way of "selling the era," they research the period to death and damn well make sure everything is right! So you wind up with star-burst clocks and flower power for 60's and pink flamingos and chrome dinette sets for 50's, etc. Sets are crammed with "iconic" looks from the period, the EXACT period, that they are almost distracting. Didn't you have anything from the 60's in your living room in the 70's or did you throw everything out every decade and buy new? Sometimes it is more interesting to see what is IN the room than what is going ON in the room. Of course, I prefer sets over plot anyway so I have a different experience!
Well, my coffee is out and so is your interest about this time, so I'll close for now. Still waiting for the slides to come back from India. Ok, so "Slumdog" won, send the pictures already!