Jamie Bartkowicz Los Angeles, CA Co-Founder of T.E.A.D. Set Decorator & Art Director Years Active: 7
How did you get your start? What was your first job/gig? I was still in college and an alumni was in town producing an independent film. They were hiring some of us students in the film major for smaller roles, and I was assigned as a PA. On my first day on set, I offered help to the Set Decorator as she was loading things in. I mentioned I wanted to pursue Art Direction myself, so she immediately claimed me as an Art PA and put me to work. I was all over the place during that film. One moment I was filling mason jars full of peaches, the next I was painting a set. It was my first real gig in the Art Department and I found it extremely knowledgable- it was as if I got a 4 day crash course in the art department. After that, I was sold on pursuing a career in Art Direction. Did you go to school or have any formal training that helped prepare you for your career? I went to Grand Valley State University in Michigan and received a BA in Film Production with an emphasis on Writing and Art Direction. I used to be a little shy about answering this question because I felt like it didn’t match up to the usual big name film/art schools others went to. And when I moved to LA, my insecurity got a bit worse considering no one had even heard of my school. But over the years, I stopped caring about where I got my education and focused more on what I got out of it. A school name can only carry you so far, but its the skills and knowledge you bring to the table that will carry you through your career.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had in your career? How did you overcome them? Imposter syndrome and self doubt are my biggest demons. It’s hard to not fall into that from time to time. Sometimes I see people who went to “fancier” schools and had more “prestigious” internships & jobs, and I think that I’m a “failure.” DON’T EVER THINK THAT! *I shout this at you knowing fully well that I will need this shouted at me again sometime in the future. When I’m feeling down on myself, I list off all the accomplishments I am proud of: Moving across the country by myself, landing a job at Universal, starting my own business, etc... Comparing yourself to others is a slippery slop and not worth your energy. Focus on you and your own path. I also sometimes struggle with sexism in this industry. While not everyone has the same experiences with sexism, it is important to acknowledge that it does exists and many endure these problems within their careers. I have been victim to disproportionate pay. I have been ignored in meetings. I have been called terrible names on set. It can be exhausting to be a woman in production and to simply be taken seriously by some. In my early years, it would affect me mentally a lot, but as time has gone on, I have found confidence in myself and the strength to call out people when they are doing something (intentional or not) that is sexist. I remind myself, and others, that I have every right to be here and work with the same respect as everyone else.
What has been the highlight of your career/favorite project you've done? There’s so many to choose from! Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood obviously holds such a special place in my heart. I was never a horror/haunt fan before, but I quickly became a fan after my first year on the project. I get very attached to that event each year and turn into a proud mom on opening night. Another project I hold dear is actually one of my own. I was a huge Game of Thrones fan and always celebrated season premieres with friends every year. So I had this crazy idea to self-produce a premiere party for the final season. I rented a venue in the Arts District of LA and invested a lot of my time and own money into creating it (with some help of course). It was a ticketed event with 70 guests, themed foods, an open bar, a screening of the episode, prizes/gifts, costumes, and even a custom made Iron Throne for a photo op. It was a wild learning experience, but so rewarding! I’m very proud of that event, no matter how small it was, because it was a passion project I produced and made a reality.
What is your advice for those starting out in the Art Department? Get experience in any way you can. Take a PA job on a short film. Build something at home. Attend networking events and professional panels. Take a design class. Read books and watch videos. Visit museums, immersive events, theatre shows, art galleries, theme parks, and movie theaters! Experience isn’t just jobs in the industry. Experience is all around you if you take the initiative to look for it! And don’t get down on yourself! When I am in a rut, I try to remind myself that all the “greats” and people I admire, all started somewhere. They were once PAs on a short film too. Timelines and paths are different for everyone. Stop comparing yourself to others and chase your own path.
Photo in Interview Above: Halloween Horror Nights 2018- Universal Studios Hollywood Feast of Thrones Season Premiere Party- 2019
Halloween Horror Nights 2018- Universal Studios Hollywood
Killer Whales film, 2019
Lunar New Year 2018- Universal Studios Hollywood