Set Decorating with Beauchamp Fontaine By Connor Judson Ga r re t t
L os Angeles-based feature film and television set decorator Beauchamp Fontaine has earned a reputation as one of the most versatile and research-intensive decorators in the industry. Fontaine’s extensive body of work includes The Revenant , Nebraska , Suicide Squad , Mud , Grace & Frankie , Skeleton Key , Nacho Libre , The Runaways , and a number of other films and television shows. “I was teaching French and cultural anthropology in Memphis, Tennessee when The Client came to town. A friend recommended me for the position of assistant set decorator and I never looked back. It’s been about 25 years,” says Fontaine. Her father was a painter with a studio in every home the family lived in throughout her upbringing. Fontaine’s approach combines her artistic pedigree with her art history and cultural anthropology education. She prides herself on academic precision as she collaborates with writers and directors to match the settings to the psyches of the characters. “My French background has come in handy when I’ve worked with French directors—more for bonding and cultural perspective than as a communication aid. I do feel strongly that living and studying abroad is invaluable and my art history major prepared me well for a job in the visual arts,” says Fontaine. “Cultural anthropology is not just about studying other cultures. One looks at different paradigms within subcultures. I use the complementary emic and etic approaches to inform the sets I create. Behavior and personality, as well as human nature and social systems, all play a part in what our environments look like. As a set decorator, one often has to delve beyond what is written on a script page.” Fontaine works closely with the directors and production designers to learn the characters’ backstories, thus informing the portrayal of their everyday lives on the screen. She has garnered a reputation for period work, which is born from her insatiable desire to learn and the accuracy that results from that curiosity. “ The Revenant was one of my favorite projects as I drew heavily upon my education in anthropology. I was tasked with recreating a Pawnee Indian village in 1812 and did all of my research and prep through museum curators and anthropologists. Plus, my team became quite adept with rawhide—as we were authentic in material use and application for everything from bison drying racks to travois. I recreated a medicine bundle and sourced a bison bladder to use as a water vessel. Reenactors were helpful and I was able to employ them
to make brooms and corn husk dolls, to skin hides, etc.” says Fontaine. Some of her most recent work includes set decoration in The Tomorrow War starring Chris Pratt, Where’d You Go, Bernadette starring Cate Blanchett and Kristen Wiig, and Instant Family starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne. “Each project is different, so you have to be prepared to expand your knowledge base. Recently, I had to learn about liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and I also went on my own time to the Center for Invasive Species Research for a project centered around an alien lifeforce coming to earth. “For Nebraska, since it was shot in black and white, I had to pay attention to greyscale and utilize patterns effectively as both take on even more importance,” says Fontaine. “Professionally we as set decorators are struggling to be recognized for the work we contribute. We are often called set designers, who are the draftsmen— valuable members of the art department, but not set decorators. A set decorator is a department head who makes myriad autonomous creative and managerial decisions. We are responsible for our own budgets and
Photo by Lisha Hocking
She has garnered a reputation for period work, which is born from her insatiable desire to learn and the accuracy that results from that curiosity.
Set Decorator Beauchamp Fontaine
a large team of other creative people who work right alongside us, but under our supervision. There are many films where the challenge to transform the look of a set rests squarely on the set decorating department. The money simply does not exist to build a set, or sometimes to even modify a location. Ergo, when a character’s home, for instance, has to be developed, it is the set decorating team who will perform that magic.” This is Fontaine’s third project in Atlanta.
“Two recent developments have made me feel like Georgia is really embracing the film industry and set decorators. While working on the film Instant Family, a group of us were welcomed to the AmericasMart. We were given a tour of the vast facility and were able to meet with vendors who greeted us warmly and are willing to work hard to help meet our tight deadlines and deal with legal clearance issues. SCAD, too, has become a great resource for student and alumni art.”
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