Production Design Details Matter: A Story from the Frontline

Have you ever noticed the production design details on a film or television set that moved you in some way or allowed you to tap into a memory? One military consultant did and it moved him to tears.

Last night, I was sorting through some old emails I had filed away when I stumbled upon this email my former boss, production designer, Rocco Matteo had sent a while back about some production design details I had long forgotten. He sent it to all the creative departments involved with one of the biggest sets we had just finished in our studio parking lot of all places and I was quite moved. See email below, published with permission.

The Production Design Details Email

“So a funny thing happened on our last night of shooting, up at the military base set:

As people were shaking hands before wrap one of the U.S military advisors came over to me and started asking me about my role on the show and making the set… I was bracing myself for the worst– did they notice something wrong? Well instead he shook my hand and started reciting a solemn sounding speech.

He had served with a soldier named Leroy Petry in Iraq. This soldier was one of only three soldiers to have received the Congressional Medal of Honour for Valor [the highest military award] since the Vietnam war. Our military consultant, a major by rank, had been commissioned by Mr Petry to commend any persons who represent the Iraq veterans in a true and honourable fashion. So he presented a medallion to me on behalf of the efforts of my crew. He said he was moved to tears by details that he saw in our set that brought him back to the base in Iraq– signage, murals, details, materials. How often have we been told that those little details don’t matter– that nobody sees them?

He wanted me to know that all the vets will notice. I thought all of you should know. GOOD JOB GANG!”

Rocco Matteo

A photo during prep of one of the murals | Photo credit: Rocco Matteo

Have you ever noticed the details on a film or television set that moved you in some way or allowed you to tap into a memory? For those who work in film and television, have you ever had the production design details in one of your sets recognized in a similar way? As always, I’d love to read about your experiences in the comments below.

Posted by Rose Lagacé

Rose Lagacé is a production designer for film & television by day and an emerging filmmaker by night. Rose is also the creator and editor of Art Departmental where she celebrates the art and craft of production design.

  1. Great story! It’s great to hear stories that prove that all of thr crazy work we do to get those details in, really matters and is worth it.

    I have a much simpler version of this that happened just last week. We were in day 2 of principal photography for my senior thesis film that I was the production designer for. One of my instructors took some time to make his way through our set and I noticed him looking at all of the set decoration details on the boys desk that we had set up. He came upto me later and complimented on the details and said that he was brought back to his childhood simply because there was a microscope there that looked excatly like one he had growing up. He even offered to buy it from me! Unfortunately it was rented from a prop house.

    Not quite as inspiring as your tale, but more proof that the details count!


  2. This is a very small thing, but in the novel The Hours there is a passing reference to a hot dog cart, and how the diamond pattern on its surface looks like quilting. I was really struck by this observation, because it was something I’d felt, without having actually articulated it and it stayed with me, something I always thought about when thinking about the book. Later, watching movie, I was so happy to see the exact cart make its brief appearance. I felt like it was a secret handshake to all the book’s readers.


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