Monday, August 26, 2013

Getting the classrooms right

It's not easy creating a period piece. I wrote earlier about the research that went into the Command Performance scene in the Summit Mall.

Classrooms are tough to draw. There's a lot of furniture, crap on the walls, and more crap piled up on every flat surface. Typically, students' desk are moved around to different angles and kids are contorted into their seats in all sorts of weird positions. As I've written, I like to work with photo reference. I don't copy or trace photos, as some do, but I find it a lot easier to draw when I have a photo I can pull details from.

Google Images is the world's greatest photo morgue. Type in "classroom" and you'll get 5,000,000 images. Problem is, I'm looking for a very specific classroom, one from the mid to late Seventies, and I need multiple shots of the same classroom.

Happily, I came up with an unusual solution, one I'm fairly proud of. Square Pegs was a sitcom that lasted but one season. It was created by original SNL writer and former National Lampoon editor, Anne Beatts and features a stellar cast, including a very young Sarah Jessica Parker, Ms. Sex & the City herself,  in her first leading role. Despite the pedigree, it's not a very good show. But... it was filmed in early 1982 and is set almost entirely inside a school (an abandoned public school in LA, in fact). It's a couple years after my time in high school, but it's damn close. The Class of 82 would have been freshmen when I was a senior. And the setmaker did a bang-up job, filling the sets with the battered mishmash of furniture that a real school had. I found the entire series on Hulu (it's since been taken off the menu) and watched a good ten episodes on my computer. When I saw something I thought would be useful, I paused the stream and took a screen shot. Pretty soon I had 50 photos I could use as reference. It was a great solution and one that enabled me to create very detailed, period-authentic classroom scenes.

Square Pegs had a few highlights. Bill Murray appeared in one episode, as a substitute teacher. This was right at his Stripes peak when he was the funniest guy on the planet. And Devo appeared in another, as a band at one of the main character's bat mitzvah! Great stuff.

Seven Degrees From Jeffrey Dahmer note: the theme song of the show was performed by The Waitresses, another band, like Devo, from Akron, Ohio. The song was written by guitarist Chris Butler, who, in 2006, would buy Dahmer's boyhood home!

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