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Entertainment design panel series spotlights professional experiences in industry

(Illustration by Catherine Xie/Daily Bruin and Courtesy of Apple TV+)

"Design Showcase West Salons"

June 27-28


By Alyson Kong

June 26, 2020 1:46 pm

UCLA’s inaugural design panel series is bringing industry insights straight to one’s computer.


As a new extension of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s annual national entertainment design showcase, the first of the three-part panel series, UCLA Design Showcase West Salons, was released last Saturday. Each panel features highly accredited costume and production designers from prominent Apple TV+ and Netflix shows such as “The Morning Show” and “#blackAF.” The interim dean of TFT, Brian Kite, said discussions with faculty on how to move the annual in-person design showcase online resulted in this experimental series, which aims to continue facilitating connections between students and the entertainment industry.

“These big panels are for the public to kind of make UCLA the center of this conversation about design,” Kite said. “It’s great, … not just for the hundreds who usually come to the Design Showcase West, but (for the) thousands or tens of thousands of people who are also interested in what’s going on in the world of design.”

To ensure the quality of such widely distributed videos, Kite said the department hired a director specifically for the event and shipped out audio and lighting equipment to the panelists’ and moderators’ homes. Kite said the prerecorded sessions use a Zoom-like digital platform to display the speakers’ faces as well as clips of the shows in real time as they converse. He said the video is edited and cleaned up in postproduction.

Michelle Cole, one of Saturday’s panelists and costume designer for “#blackAF,” said what she misses from her previous in-person panels was the ability to field questions from the audience and look to their body language to gauge understanding of her discussions. Nonetheless, Cole said it was still very enjoyable to be able to see the other designers on screen and have one-on-one conversations, even though for audiences, it won’t be live.

Meanwhile, Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko, one of TFT’s professors of costume design and Saturday’s panel moderator, said it was also slightly difficult to sync her conversation to the images and clips since the widespread distribution of the panels requires the visuals to be generated by the networks rather than curated by herself. But despite the inconvenience of not controlling the visuals, she said the taping itself went smoothly.

As for the panel’s content, Karvonides-Dushenko said she structured the conversation similarly to her previous moderating experiences – subtly but methodically outlining the process of costume design. She said in order to emphasize the educational value in such panels, she had to conduct extensive research into all the panelists’ shows to draw out notable insights.

“It’s a master class in a nutshell,” Karvonides-Dushenko said. “It’s always about trying to get the designers to talk about how they discovered their characters … and (how the) costumes are integral to the entire surrounding, everything that is in the frame.”

In contrast, Denise Hudson, Sunday’s moderator and TFT lecturer, said her panel was more free-form. Instead of investing too much time on one-on-one discussions of specific scenes, Hudson said she and the other designers preferred a more organic approach where everyone participated in the conversation. One of the panelists and production designer for “The Morning Show,” John Paino, said he enjoyed hearing his colleagues share similar problems – such as making sure postproduction effects do not erase the designer’s original vision of the set.

But, Paino said aside from finding camaraderie in common issues, he also wanted to provide useful advice he learned through his years in the industry. Production design is not merely presentation, he said, as it also requires effective articulation of why the set should look a certain way and the ability to persuade the crew and showrunner to get behind the designer’s vision. Hudson said the practicality of the insights provided by Paino and other designers is underemphasized in academic settings, where the focus is more on fundamentals of the craft rather than its real-world applications.

“If you’re just starting, … it’s really helpful to hear people talk about how they handled something (because) it will probably come in handy for your own situations,” Hudson said. “It makes it real, and it opens up your mind to the possibilities.”

Similarly, Cole, the costume designer for “#blackAF,” said she also aims to describe her work from a pragmatic standpoint. She doesn’t want to dissuade anyone interested in becoming a designer, but at the same time, she said it’s important to honestly portray the ups and downs of heading an aging design department or dealing with budget limits.

Beyond the benefits for aspiring designers or curious viewers, Cole said the panel also provided her with the opportunity to actively listen and learn from her colleagues in the field.

From a viewership perspective, Kite said the thousands of social media engagements on the June 20 panel indicate that these candid conversations about design resonated with the audience. The last two panels of the three-part series are set to premiere this weekend via streaming on Apple TV+ and Facebook – with the latter accompanied by live moderators in the comment section.

Given the welcoming response, it is highly likely that the panels will become a regular fixture at the annual Design Showcase West, Kite said. The series may transition to an in-person format in the future, but the current setup also benefits from the casual atmosphere generated by designers presenting from home.

“So far, it seems to be really successful and we want to build on this conversation,” Kite said. “The absolute goal is to keep expanding these salons to designs (of all types).”

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Alyson Kong | Assistant Arts editor
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