About two years ago, when I first met Production Designer Jen Dunlap I immediately knew that this was someone I had to be friends with. The amount of positivity and creativeness incased in this one person was extremely inspiring and I knew others would feel the same. Lucky for us, Jen took some time out of her very busy schedule to chat with me about what exactly her job entails, where it’s led her, and her favorite spots to search for props and decorations she needs for projects.
Hi Jen! Thanks for doing this. First off, how would you describe your job?
I am an Artist and Production Designer. While many times it feels like I’m struggling between two different career paths, there’s a lot of crossover between the two roles. As a painter I’m constantly absorbing visual information and exploring big relationships between color, line, shape, space and form. Working as a Production Designer keeps me in constant contact with these ideals on a very tactile level. Typical Production Design work involves creating sets and props for film, theater, and commercials.
What has your career path been like?
I started out at square one, very much in the DIY mindset. I moved to NYC with a suitcase, no job or apartment, and enough savings to last me 3 months in case things didn’t work out. My first gig was as an event curator with LVHRD, one of the first flash-mob social networking scenes in NYC. From there I worked as an office manager at a broadcast design agency, Goodlookin.tv, where I was graciously introduced to the fun and face paced world of video production. I then worked as a Producer at CollegeHumor when they first started their original video department. After working with them for almost two years I realized that my favorite part of making videos was building sets and props, so I decided to quit in order to freelance as a Production Designer full time. Freelancing over the last 7 years has enabled me to explore many different genres of design via commercials, films, music videos, and theater.
What’s your day-to-day like?
Every day is completely different. When I’m not working, I like to get into the art studio and paint—finishing old(er) paintings and starting new ones. When I’m on a job I am bouncing around to various stores and vendors trying to track down props, scenery, and decorations.
Where do you go to find props and decorations?
Oh boy, EVERYWHERE. I typically work on lower budget projects, so to keep costs down I start my search in thrift stores, then peruse Craigslist, then Ebay/Etsy, then Amazon (prime!), and then all of the retail chain stores. I recently learned about Krrb—which is awesome!!! It’s feels like a classy and well curated mix of Craigslist, Etsy, and OneKingsLane.
Do you have a favorite spot in NYC?
Hmmm. In Brooklyn: Green Village Thrift in Bushwick usually has an awesome selection of cheap household furniture and goods. Junk in Williamsburg is okay, a bit overpriced, but they can have great items; Sanford and Sven’s Second Hand on North 3rd & Berry is solid. In Manhattan I love going to Housing Works, Angel Street, and Pippin Vintage on 17th between 6th/7th aves.
Do you have a favorite spot in LA?
I’ve had really good luck at the flea markets and garage sales on the weekends! During the week I’ve found several amazing furniture items at Hernandez Furniture on Santa Monica Blvd.
What about online?
Craigslist, Ebay, Etsy, Krrb, Amazon Prime, Overstock, Wayfair, and OneKingsLane are usually my go-to’s.
What’s the most insane prop or decoration you’ve had to obtain?
For Death of A Salesman, I had to find an antique two-burner cast iron stove with very specific dimension constraints. After an exhausting and extensive search, I found one online in Florida, so I paid a friend living in Miami to drive two hours to some rural Florida garage, then pack and crate it to me in NYC.
What your favorite project you’ve done?
Supervising Props on the recent run of Death of a Salesman, directed by Mike Nichols, was a huge highlight of my career, mostly because I was collaborating with a team of such fantastic talent. We all brought our A+++ game to the table, and really felt like we were working on something uniquely special.
What different parts of the world has your job taken you to?
I’ve been very fortunate to travel through strange and remote places in America for my work. Arkansas, Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, DC, California, Arizona are among some of the places I’ve been filming recently. I most recently designed my friend Celia Rowlson-Hall’s film, Ma. We barely survived a 114* day filming in the Dumont Dunes in the Mojave National Forest.
If you could redesign a set for any tv show or movie, what would it be and how would you do it?
I am a huge sucker for fantasy genres—would LOVE to redesign The NeverEnding Story or something fun like that.
What’s the most intricate contraption you’ve ever built?
Rube Goldberg machines take the cake for complexity, but for some reason I’ve had to build like 5 sets with walls that either roll away or fall down, and those take a huge amount of coordination and help from the entire production staff. Very fun though!
You can find out all about what Jen is currently working on at her website, JenDunlap.com.