Art Direction

Art Direction and Film Set Dressing for Drug Den

drug paraphenalia props

drug den set NYC

Drug den set in all its glory. Art Direction by Lee Milby.

Prop cocaine bricks

Recently, I was hired by Director Ryan Halazs for an upcoming music video with Carl Man.

Based on the script and treatment, I immediately had a strong vision of what the bad guy’s drug den should look like. I started sketching out ideas for lighting positioning and composition, and luckily the location we chose (Art Factory in Patterson, NJ) had plenty of resources for building the set.

fake cocaine lines for film
Fake cocaine lines for our music video. Mirror courtesy one of the kind ladies at Art Factory.
drug paraphenalia props
A broken mirror in the prop house just happened to have this lipstick heart already drawn on it. I pulled out the broken piece, made adjustments with a paper towel, and arranged the lines. It was perfect for the romance-tragedy premise of the music video.

The shoot was a one day, 12-hour affair. The lovely ladies at Art Factory were my assistants for the day, and did an awesome job at creating these prop cocaine bricks on the fly. Within hours, we had created enough bricks from scratch to really make this scene over-the-top!

prop master for drug dealer scene
Wrapped with love.
prop cocaine bricks
Large fake cocaine bricks on a scale.
fake cocaine bricks for a film set
Pile of fake cocaine bricks. It took a while to get them to look like they had enough weight to sit like bricks and not the light prop material they were made of.

After reading the script and speaking with the director, I wanted the scene to be a bit over-the-top, and I believe that we achieved that.

kingpin den set design nyc
The poster in the background is of a real mobster. I threw him in the back so that there wouldn’t be a face in the set that would conflict with the actors’.

I had brought clamp lights to the set along with a $100 bill for detail’s sake. It may not be apparent in the video, but the lead bad guy snorts a line of fake cocaine with the bill. Even if the details are not obvious, they are my favorite part of set design.

prop weed
Prop weed, made from a plant that died in my apartment after I never watered it.
prop marijuana nyc
This fake marijuana was a lot easier to put together than the cocaine.
prop heroine bags
Little prop heroine baggies. The name of the song is “Criminal Love,” so the director wanted that printed on them. A lovely lady at Art Factory spent the afternoon drawing the labels and treating the ink to make it look more like a stamp.

Before we put in the set, the corner of this room was blank except for a refrigerator. We moved that, and I toured the entire facility in search of appropriate props. I had had a vision of filling the corner with cardboard boxes in order to make the (actually very large) space seem more cramped and add texture to the background, as well as add a history to the set.

In my mind, this space used to be someone’s office. Either the office was abandoned, or these drug dealers took it over and set it up as their headquarters. They threw any additional boxes and supplies out of the way, piling them into this corner. to clear off the table. You’ll see some office supplies also sitting on surfaces or on the floor- those were all brought in from the facility’s prop house.

drug dealer set

The foreground chair is actually too broken to sit on, but I loved how dingy it looked. I wanted it to look a little lived in, like a messy guy’s room, so I threw a sweatshirt over one chair on the right.

drug dealer movies
Chains, to make the bad guys look bad-ass.

From the get-go I imagined there to be backlighting of some sort to separate the actors from the background. Lighting the boxes using a clamplight from below worked perfectly.

set dressing nyc
A dictionary. Because none of these thugs would ever read it.

I had objects sticking out of the boxes for additional texture. The clock was symbolic, although I didn’t get into symbolism too much until we got to dressing the table.

breaking bad style set

I should add that right before this shoot, I’d been on a “Breaking Bad” binge, watching 4 seasons in two weeks. I admired the atmosphere of that series so much, I hoped to channel some of that in this set.
kingpin den set

There is a romance in the music video, so I placed one king of hearts and one queen of hearts facing up. Aside from these, only an ace is visible, and is rolled into a straw (seen above).

detailed set design for film
Making things look trivial takes a special kind of finesse.
fake cocaine brick for film nyc
Testing the product.
drug dealer props nyc
Because the props had no real weight to them, we tipped the scale.

It was important to me to make all of the elements have an appearance of being thrown together. Even though some props took a long time to place in a “random” way, I was happy with the results, and look forward to the next video.

Special thanks again to the staff at Art Factory!

Art Direction New York