Imagine being transported back to the 1950s, where life was much simpler and social media didn’t exist. Only, this is present-day 2016, you can login to Facebook with the tap of a button and you’re on the set of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” which was created to emulate the time period of when famous psychologists Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson were researching human sexuality. This is all thanks to Emmy Award-winning Set Decorator Halina Siwolop, who time warps the cast and crew each episode by replicating the mid-century modern style of the 1950s and 1960s. From “Masters of Sex,” she achieved an Emmy nomination this year within the “Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period Program” category. She also won an Emmy Award in 2009 for “Outstanding Art Direction for a Single Camera Series” on the show “Pushing Daisies.” Prior to set designing, Siwolop was a student at FIDM, who graduated from the Merchandise Marketing program at the FIDM LA Campus.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Siwolop on her life as a TV set decorator. Grab a pencil and take notes because her interview is one worth a study!
[FIDM Digital Arts] What inspired you to get into set decoration?
[Siwolop] “I had always loved interior design, but it was only after a few careers in the clothing industry and product marketing that I finally decided to pursue a creative path. While attending the Interior and Environmental Design program at UCLA, I was given the opportunity to work as a production assistant on a commercial. Mind you, my job was only to unwrap and clean about fifty different tabletop picture frames. There was absolutely nothing fancy or thrilling about that job, but at that moment I knew I wanted to be part of the creative team of the art department.”
Describe a brief day-in-the-life at your career?
“I can say without hesitation that every day brings new challenges and is different. I constantly bounce between research, budgeting and designing sets. Initially, after reading and breaking down the sets, I work with my team to figure out how to delegate tasks and how to accomplish the job in a very small amount of time. Once we have shopped a set, my crew and I dress in the furniture and details, getting it ready to be shot the next day or so. While I’m working on the current episode, I also have meetings and budgets to prepare for the next episode.”
How would you describe your overall career?
“Looking back at the last 19 years, I’m amazed at the different opportunities that have come my way. I see each job has taught me something that I needed to learn. Additionally, I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of talented and truly wonderful people. And lastly, as a history buff, I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to relive history through decorating period shows, such as ‘Masters of Sex.'”
What is the greatest reward of your career?
“The greatest reward is being able to say that I truly love my job. I love designing, the highly collaborative environment of film and the challenge of putting together the pieces to create the perfect set. I know that I’ve done my job well when an actor walks onto a set that feels real to them.”
How has FIDM contributed to your success?
“My time at FIDM was spent in Merchandise Marketing but many of the tools I learned from that program have stayed with me throughout my career. I originally worked in Wholesale Operations in Menswear and had an administrative job. But the business and organizational tools that I learned were invaluable and I still use them to this day. Purchase orders, budgets, delegating duties and working as part of a team are elements that I deal with on a daily basis in set decoration.”
What piece of advice would you give to a FIDM student interested in pursuing a career in set decoration?
“I would tell that person to be persistent and to build a solid foundation for a successful career. Meet people in the business, volunteer your time, get out there and learn as much as you can. Study art history or spend the day at a museum. Shadow a set decorator for a day, and always ask questions. Join the Set Decorator’s Society of America and get involved in their activities. Being out in the field and watching how others work is invaluable. And no matter what your first job, do that job as best as you can. Even if it’s only cleaning picture frames. You never know whom you might meet or who will think you did a terrific job. And then your efforts will definitely pay off.”