Despite stereotypes, no artist wants to starve; they want to create. So a segment of Mobile’s creative community has turned to secondary options for sustenance.
“It’s really funny, in that all the people I met when I moved back to Mobile and worked with within art projects are all in different areas of the film industry now. That’s why we still do things like art parties and film scrambles,” Lillian McKinney said.
An artist in varied media, McKinney has worked a variety of jobs to pay bills in Mobile while she chases artistic pursuits. Not that film work is more lucrative than her turns as a sushi chef and bartender, but it allows her to utilize innate skills.
“One of the biggest things about working in the film industry is the ability to on-the-fly exercise innovative problem solving creative people have. People will tell you ‘Oh we need this thing but don’t have it, can you make something?’” McKinney said.
When a creative friend of McKinney’s parents bowed out of a costuming slot on a 2013 production, she told the young artist she would likely be good at it and offered her the position. From there she has graduated to more jobs both in front of and behind the camera, though she sees limits on latitude.
“The farther up the line you go, the more creative it gets. Like when I was the costume designer for ‘Here Comes Rusty,’ that’s where you have an added level of creativity,” McKinney said.
She also sees a trade-off. Work monopolizes time otherwise spent on freer self-expression, though the pay is good and 15-hour workdays plus crew meals mean you don’t spend much income.
“It also depends what end of production you’re working on because with props, you can get very creative. I worked with Zach DePolo for a couple of days on the last film that came to town. That was awesome,” McKinney said.
DePolo was previously known in Mobile for pottery, art education and wide-ranging efforts like the Downtown Creative and Wellness Foundation and PortAl Studios. When a friend in film work suggested DePolo try his hand at set dressing, dominoes fell.
“There’s kind of a gray area between set dressing, costume and props so you all end up working together,” DePolo said. “I ended up working a kit cart for props.”
That was three years ago, and DePolo’s IMDB page is growing rapidly.
“I think my resume is up to like 19 movies now, with a few commercials and TV shows, but mainly features. It’s been going well,” DePolo said.
He was lucky to fall under the tutelage of an older prop master during the filming of the Robert De Niro flick “Heist” — Stan Gilbert, who was the progenitor of Milton’s red stapler in “Office Space” — and it opened doors. DePolo followed Gilbert to New Orleans for several shows and it’s led to prop-master slots of his own which in turn help other Mobile artists.
“My longtime girlfriend, April Hopkins, is a mold-maker and she got into it by making hero molds right off the bat. Ched Holder, a sculpture teacher at South, is a longtime friend of mine and he’s my secret weapon,” DePolo said. “Jillian Crochet, I hired her to make some apparel for ‘Kickboxer’ that’s on the poster for the film. Ched made the swords for that movie and he just got through making some stuff for this Steven Seagal movie I prop-mastered.”
When asked what utilizes his creativity most, DePolo didn’t hesitate.
“The sci-fi ones are fun because it’s things that don’t exist. Futuristic sci-fi is interesting, but then there was this steampunk movie ‘Aether’ I did with Drew Hall,” DePolo said.
He also employed Mobile Makerspace to 3-D print items for a futuristic film.
DePolo said preproduction meetings are vital to discover each character and their particular accouterments — wallets, pens, what have you. Even with dining scenes, he has to gather word from director and actors as to what foods will work best.
“The hardest thing is getting into the director’s mind’s eye. You don’t want to surprise him too much,” DePolo said.
He has an upcoming shoot with “NCIS: New Orleans.” DePolo also hinted at a trio of films on their way to Mobile.
“I can’t say enough about the tight-knit local crew. We all started out as assistants and lower, and they would fly in the key positions for every department. Now, as of the last two movies we have a key in every department,” DePolo said.
What about his pottery? Does he still get a chance to get his hands wet?
“The last pot I threw was for Jean-Claude Van Damme to kick through. I just painted it so it would look like it was glazed,” DePolo said.
And other than the increased income, there’s another positive. He has salvaged a portion of his reputation.
“I was already a collector of things, so I’m not a hoarder anymore,” DePolo laughed. “I’m just a guy who has a lot of cool stuff.”