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Meet the Art Department- Kate Zarvis

Kate Zarvis

Los Angeles, CA

"A Jane of All Trades" (Set Dresser, Props, Upholstery Seamstress, Scenic Painter, and Production Designer)

Years Active: 20

How did you get your start? What was your first job/gig? I talked my way into a tour of a set shop in Portland in 1999, brought my portfolio, and the paint lead hired me. They were carving an enormous Statue of Liberty head out of foam with chainsaws and it turned out to be for the MTV video awards. They also had a couple of opera sets in the works. I learned how to use a spray gun, how to paint backdrops on the floor with a paintbrush attached to a stick of bamboo, how to use a projector to enlarge concept art for wall flats. I had really just worked in nightclubs before this and I was astounded. A few years later, I had moved to L.A. and was working in a nightclub again. A barback at work told me about a music video he was art directing: they needed a wall mural to look like a logo on an airplane, and I said “I know how to do that!” Did you go to school or have any formal training that helped prepare you for your career? I’m an art school dropout! So no, but having a portfolio of paintings helped me get my foot in the door of that set shop, and the experience from that shop helped me get my first industry job in L.A. What’s amazing about the film industry is nobody cares where you learned how to do your job, as long as you’re good at it. I’ve gone to a few of the annual Oscar nominee production design panels at the Egyptian, and they ask every production designer / set decorator team how they got into it, and every story is different.

What are some of the challenges you’ve had in your career? How did you overcome them? The 2 biggest challenges for me personally are: 1. networking, which doesn’t come naturally to me at all; and 2. burnout. I’ve also bounced around and done quite a few different jobs, which is great in terms of versatility and flexibility (and great for my ADD!), but nailing one specific thing is probably better for establishing yourself in your field. My way of dealing with all this is to take a breath and remind myself that there’s a place for me in this crazy industry, even if I do things a little differently. If I’m not getting calls for one thing, I do another thing. If I need a week off between shows, I just take it. Finding a good work/life balance is essential. What has been the highlight of your career/favorite project you've done? I once had to sweep dust off a mylar floor around Prince’s feet, so it’s not always the end result that makes a job worth it, is it? It doesn’t get better than that.

What are the top skill sets you think someone with you job/position needs? Have a good set of tools and know how to use them (ask everyone what’s in their kit). Be courteous of people in other departments and do what you can to make things easier for them. Good set etiquette is important: keep a relatively low profile, but always be available when you’re needed. Think quickly to solve problems that come up. Definitely helps to have a good eye for decorating and detail and feel confident making last minute decisions when necessary. Website: LinkedIn: Instagram: @kingdomk8

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