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  • Writer's pictureedwardjamescoco

The best-laid plans. . .

Ever have one of those days where things just don't seem to turn out the way you expected? Or the way you planned? (Or perhaps the way you prayed they would?) Well, as in many artistic endeavors, scenic design doesn't always go the way you'd like. You can kick and scream, beg someone to listen to reason, break down, fall apart. . . eventually you have to keep moving forward. Not every project is going to turn out the way you'd like. We like to believe that our process is a collaborative effort, so there are times when you have to concede your "singular vision" and accept another.

Original design for the iHeart Country Festival backstage broadcast area.

So what am I getting at? I think you can sense that I'm beating-around-the-bush on this one. Yes, it's true. I don't want to be misunderstood, I suppose, so I'm tiptoeing. Why don't I just dive in, and apologize later. I've recently had a design where I thought the original direction was excellent. We were limited by time and money, had some difficult load-in issues to navigate, and we were restricted by the venue and the resources. Yet a good approach was kicked around and I started on some sketches which addressed the issues. The client loved the direction, and loved the sketches. . . then we started into that painful process of kicking the sketches around to sponsors, and "internals", etc. etc. The sketches started "making the rounds". . .

And that's where we hit the wall. I won't go into details. Parts of the design were salvaged, so it wasn't a complete loss. But, needless to say, a lot of the subtle art in the design was scrapped in order to squeeze more logos into the set. Yes, it's a cruel part of the corporate design process. I certainly didn't feel it was necessary because most of the added logos would never end up on-camera. Some changes seemed arbitrary and lacked explanation.

Actual set for the iHeart Country Festival backstage broadcast area.

It happens a lot. And, as a designer, you have to get very used to it. You have to push through and move things forward. There are times when you step up, assert yourself, and try to lead. And other times where you have to step back and allow yourself to be led. There are many forces at work in these projects. Back in my "theatre days" there were times when I wasn't completely in lockstep with a Director. The road to achieving a collaborative goal is paved with challenges. Obstinate, inflexible designers might eventually get what they want but they make many enemies along the way. Designers that yield to every opinion never achieve anything unique, and are frequently dissatisfied with their own work.

Eventually you move past these experiences, and try to learn from them. Maybe you learn to avoid it next time, maybe you don't. Ultimately, if you want to have a long career, you find a way to reconcile. After all, your collaborators aren't horrible people. As a designer I love throwing a huge tantrum just as much as the next guy. It can be a good release as long as you aim it in the right direction and move on. I usually rant and rave to myself, alone in my office. I might sound insane, and my dogs might stare at me like I'm a lunatic. But it keeps me from putting my foot in my mouth too often. Plus I'm great at letting go afterwards.

So that's why I was tiptoeing earlier. Does the loss of the design bother me? Sure. I want everything I work on to be the greatest thing ever designed. I want to believe that my design skills can overcome any concerns that a client might have. I think it's important to have confidence in yourself and to stand behind what you do. Am I angry at anyone for not going with all of my decisions? No. Do I hate the clients? The sponsors? My Producer? No. No. No. They were all happy with the results; so they are probably oblivious to any of my dissatisfaction. (Unless they read this; which is extremely doubtful.)

I suppose I'd just like people to see some of the stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor. Young people look up that phrase. They used to record things on "film". . . anyway. . . So I'm subjecting my audience here to those things. Its a form a catharsis. Enjoy! And thanks for reading.

Sketch for the iHeart Country Festival Social Stop. The "iHeart Country Stakes" game.

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