Oral Histories

Interview of Thomas A. Walsh

Production designer and art director. Art Directors Guild (ADG) past president and founding co-chair of the ADG Research Library/Archive, the ADG Designer Apprenticeship, Portfolio Review Programs, and the ADG Film Society.
The Crafts in Hollywood: Production Design
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Production designer and art director. Art Directors Guild (ADG) past president and founding co-chair of the ADG Research Library/Archive, the ADG Designer Apprenticeship, Portfolio Review Programs, and the ADG Film Society.
Collings, Jane
Walsh, Thomas A.
Persons Present:
Walsh and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Walsh's home in Burbank, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, principal editor and interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., Critical Studies in Film and Television, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Walsh was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
9.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series of interviews was undertaken in collaboration with the Art Directors Guild. Its aim is to document the lives and work of Guild members and staff who have made a significant contribution to film and television history. Interviews capture the work of title artists, set designers, art directors, production designers, and many other categories. The contribution of labor unions in shaping the conditions of the work is also addressed.
Father’s career as magician and comedian with Spike Jones and His City Slickers--Helps father with his act on weekends--Watched TV and movies often as a child--Introduction to theater while at public school--The strong theater program at Hollywood High School--Jerry D. Melton--Begins work as a stagehand with Local 33--Role of studio system in training craftspeople--A variety of jobs when first working for Local 33--Becomes apprentice scenic artist at Center Theatre Group (CTG)--Works at Triangle Studio--Attends Valley College--Attends California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and works with Jules Engel--The training in the crafts under the studio system--The American Film Institute (AFI) art directors training program--Becomes resident art director at the Mark Taper Forum--Works on Zoot Suit at the Taper and in New York.
Role as resident assistant designer at Mark Taper Forum--Differences in work style between East Coast and West Coast scenic artists--Innovations in design for staging Children of a Lesser God in New York--Work on Miss Lonelyhearts, an American Film Institute (AFI) graduate student film--Works in IMAX format--Works with Tony Walton in New York--The versatility of craftspeople in New York--Enters the Directors Guild of America (DGA) through work on Flipper.
Membership in Scenic, Title and Graphic Artists Local 816 and in the stagehands Local 33--Union closed-shop practice--Enters the Art Directors Guild, then Local 876--Challenges of hiring local teams under incentive plans--Work on A Gathering of Old Men, with Volker Schlondorff--More on difficulties of finding local crews--Work on the Handmaid’s Tale by Volker Schlondorff--Desperate Housewives--Buddy Faro.
The significant amount of research and prep time required for each production--Begins work in documentaries, including MGM: When the Lion Roars and In Search of Dr. Seuss--Prepping budgets, process of visualization in pre-production--Work on Buddy Faro for CBS--Work on Longmire--Issues in teaching production design.
Struggle between Conference of Studio Unions and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employee (IATSE)--Origins of Society of Motion Picture Art Directors--Segmentation of crafts through union charters--The impact on unions of independent film production--The impact of computer-generated imagery on union covered work--The formation of the Art Directors Guild, Local 800--Local 800 governance--The demise of studio research libraries--Efforts to attract members with digital skills to the guild--Efforts to preserve as well as to publicize the work of art direction--The Production Apprentice Program--Importance of digital literacy among workforce.