-Written by Mike Sullivan
Leadman – it’s one of those “what-the-heck-do-they-do?” film credits, like Best Boy or Key Grip, that rolls by at the end of every movie. Even some of us in the industry can be struck dumb when asked about it. So, for your convenience, here are two quick facts about the Leadman: 1 – The Leadman is responsible for dressing all the sets on a production. 2 – Despite the old-school Hollywood appellation, the Leadman is not necessarily a man.
I recently spent some time with Katrina Parsons, the only female Leadman currently working on union jobs in New England, about the skills, details and particulars that make up a Leadman.
Falling under the umbrella of the Art Department, the Leadman is directly supervised by the Set Decorator and is, in turn, the supervisor of the swing gang (another great title!) and/or set dressers. “It’s really an administrative job. On a typical movie I’m in charge of two trucks (three trucks or more on busy days) with Teamsters and set dressers driving around doing pickups and rental returns and getting all of the furniture/dressing to a given set. If I don’t do my job right there is nothing there to film.” (No pressure there.) In addition to scheduling, managing a crew, and working within a budget, the Leadman also needs a good eye for detail, a firm understanding of the story and characters plus an incredible resourcefulness and aptitude for creative problem solving.
Katrina worked her way up the art department ranks on the sets of ZOOKEEPER, EDGE OF DARKNESS, THE COMPANY MEN, PAUL BLART: MALL COP as well as many low-budget indies, TV movies, and commercials. Since becoming Leadman she has run a crew on the first thirteen episodes of BODY OF PROOF, the hit comedy TED and Sandra Bullock’s new movie THE HEAT, currently in post.
Generally, one doesn’t go to college with the dream of becoming a Leadman. It is one of those positions in the movie business that people find through any number of different avenues. Katrina grew up in North Reading, Massachusetts and attended Endicott College. With some forethought she decided to major in Communications, a degree that could lead to several possible career choices. “I wanted to be an artist, but not a starving artist,” she said, “and I wanted work experience and a resume when I graduated.” To that end Katrina took full advantage of Endicott’s strong internship program. In 2002 she was interning at Scout Productions in Boston when they were producing the pilot for “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”. Preparing the apartment for that program would be Katrina’s first official taste of creative set dressing.
Following college Katrina spent the obligatory amount of time as a PA and toiled in many production offices as a coordinator, bookkeeper and auditor. But, those were all office jobs. “I could get an office job anywhere. Telling the story was the fun part, the creative part. That’s what you can’t get anywhere else.” She knew the art department would help her scratch that creative itch, but she had one requirement – “It had to be here in Boston, because this is my home.” This was at the same time Massachusetts enacted a new tax incentive that would attract the pecuniary eye of Hollywood. In 2006 Katrina joined I.A.T.S.E. Local 481 and began working on various shows as a set dresser and properties assistant.
These days Katrina is in charge of a crew and spends most of her time on the more mundane tasks of getting that crew and their trucks from here to there, but it is the time spent actually dressing the sets that Katrina still finds the most fun and rewarding. When it comes down to the small, fine details of the set, “That’s where I also get to play,” she says. “Let’s say it’s a bar. You put yourself in the position of the bartender. Where is the Direct TV box and remote? There should be a million business cards tacked up over here. It’s too clean. We need more bottles. We don’t have enough empties. That’s the fun part.” Other important considerations include how the set will actually look onscreen once it has been lit and making sure the actor(s) will be comfortable on the set. “You want the actor to walk in and feel that they can be their character in that place.”
Whether it’s filling the closets of a teddy bear with tiny suits on tiny hangers for a tentpole summer comedy or creating a “pig-shrine-of-death” for a low-budget Lifetime horror movie Katrina approaches every project as an artist first. “I do feel a responsibility to the integrity of the creative piece that is being put on the screen. At the end of the day it’s about the creativity and the beauty of the product. You are making art.”
What is next for Katrina Parsons? Winter is usually slow. She has been lucky enough to get about one show a year when Hollywood comes to town. She’s heard rumors that something might be happening in January, but so far they are still rumors. So she waits for the phone to ring.
But, Katrina is also looking past Leadman to the next phase in her career, which looks like it may be producing. Katrina has been working with long-time co-worker and friend Roger Danchik raising funds for a low budget horror movie Roger wrote called APOTHEOSIS. (Look it up.) They have made a trailer designed to give potential investors their idea of the look and feel of the film. “It’s got a total sci-fi/horror/thriller thing going on.”
Making films continues to be fun for Katrina. She still enjoys the challenge and charge of each new project, meeting new people and reuniting with old friends. “That’s the thrill of it that keeps you going. Every six months you’re doing a new job. My sister who is a dental hygienist would hate that. But, I like it.”
-Mike Sullivan studied film at Emerson College. Since then he spends
most of his time in edit rooms and movie theaters. He is currently Senior
Editor at Boston Productions, Inc. in Norwood.