When designing marketing materials for small theatre companies, one element can usually be expected: Little to No budget. Small companies just don't have the funds to generate eye-catching marketing materials. But that doesn't mean you can't craft eye-catching images all the same! Instead, the designer must approach the projected with an elevated sense of creativity. There are endless ways in which designers can solve the problem of designing without a budget and here is my process generating the marketing material for The Renegade Company's production of Glass: Shattered.
Designing the Look
The design begins in conversation with the director regarding the tone, influences, and themes of the play. The script of Glass: Shattered focuses mainly on Tom and his inner turmoil, so I knew I wanted to feature the actor playing Tom in the design (mad props to Eric Scotolati). I also knew I wanted to incorporate the visual of shattered glass somehow. Other themes I wanted to capture included:
- The conflicted nature Tom embodies throughout the play.
- The essence of the famous lines from Tennessee Williams' original script, "Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion. "
- The visual stylings of a David Lynch film. The director pulled inspiration from his experiences watching David Lynch's films to inform the play and wanted to see that influence carry through into the marketing imagery.
- Elements of surrealism to match the quality of the script.
The character of Tom spends much of his life viewing the world through the lens of a camera his father past down to him; The last gift given to him before his father passes away. Through the lens of the camera, Tom distorts his view of the world, causing him to skew the memory of his life's experiences. 'Why not view the image of Tom through broken glass?' I thought. If I could find the right kind of glass, I could give the the image of Tom a slightly distorted quality and achieve the distancing effect felt by the audience from Tom's direct, misanthropic address. I knew the David Lynch influence would come across best in the lighting of the photograph. Lynch's body of work is partially characterized by his use of saturated colors to light scenes of heightened emotion. With these thoughts in mind, and a week of incubated review, I was ready to begin the building phase.
Putting That $0 Budget To Work
Thrift stores can house as many treasures as they do tat. Camera in hand, I scoured Philadelphia's Philly Aids Thrift, shooting photos through various glass objects. Eventually I found three glass plates which produced the desired level of distortion and exaggeration. I also found a document organizer made with a metal mesh grid- perfect for suspending the pieces of broken glass in a series of depths, widths, and heights.. Total cost- $3.98. Did I need all three plates for the shoot? Probably not. Did I want an excuse to smash a bunch of glass? ...maybe.
With a flat-head screwdriver and a hammer, I was able to break the plates into a variety of sizes and shapes. Black thread works best for suspending the glass because it reflects the least amount of light and blends into the dark background. To attach the thread to the glass, I used a hot glue gun and carefully feathered the thread to the edge of each shard with a dab of glue.
Setting The Mood
Creating the desired lighting took the longest amount of time. First, I used two CFL photography bulbs- one for the key light on Eric's face and the other for a fill light to give some depth to the knit of his sweater. I then introduced a diffused incandescent hair light to separate Eric from the dark background. By setting the camera's white balance for the CFL bulbs, the incandescent registered a golden yellow hue. Next, we experimented with various gelled units to light the glass. Since conceiving the design, I continued to visit the color combination Green and Purple. Color theory tells us that green, blue, and purple make up the set of cool colors (as opposed to warm). The combination of just green and purple can be a little unpleasant, so we added a dark blue cardigan to Eric's costume to serve as the go-between in the color composition. Speaking of costuming, we also chose a striped black & white t-shirt. The whites of the shirt would reflect the gel colors but the black stripes would absorb the colors, break up the reflection, and keep the shirt from pulling focus with a large wash of color. I set the angle of the gelled units to shine through the pieces of glass and focused them on Eric's shirt/cardigan to give the shadows additional depth and complexity.
A raw video screen test of the shards of glass. Filmed with a Canon 5D MII with a detached 50mm f/1.8 lens to produce a light leak effect.