Ron Shulem, Leadman for CBS show How I Met Your Mother, participated as a panelist in the Set Decorators Society of America (SDSA) Education Symposium held at FIDM last fall. He's worked on feature films, TV movies, hour dramas, and every other kind of filmed entertainment (check out his IMDB profile), and we got the chance to catch up with him for an inside look as the job of a leadman.
What is one of the most important skills necessary to be successful as a Leadman? Believe it or not, I think the most important skill is being able to tolerate being interrupted as you are trying to accomplish your every task on a show. Every minute of the day seems like a "flag on the play." It's a completely kinetic atmosphere, and as someone once told me, "stay fluid." Of course, being organized helps too. Every week, I issue purchase order numbers, tack the budget, hire the set dressing daily crew and manage their tasks at hand, schedule all trucking needs regarding pick ups and returns of all of the set dressing, and most of all, be there for the Set Decorator to plan the daily events according to his or her priorities. My photo library is up to 45,000 continuity pictures.
What is the most rewarding part of your work? It's interesting, even though I am not responsible for the overall look of the show, I work directly with the person who's job it is, so I take great pride in being the undercurrent of the process. I can help Susan Eschelbach [Set Decorator for How I Met Your Mother] with the process, line up all the factors at play, and watch the set unfold before my eyes. The saying, 'You are only as good as the people you work with,' is very true here. I hire the team in place to make sure Susan's goals are executed correctly. It's not always easy, and we are always trying to beat the clock! My goal is to make sure that when the Director yells, "ACTION," the set is dressed, cleaned, and ready to shoot. After that, we deconstruct the dressing, organize it by prop house and purchases, and then load it on trucks in a particular way regarding its route. Every five days, we shoot a new episode here on How I Met Your Mother. Our average swing sets per week is 11, plus a day of shooting on location on the back lot. Six sets are dressed on a Monday, shot out on Wednesday, stuck, new sets put in their place, then we dress six more for a Friday shoot. See what I mean about staying fluid?!?!?
Any advice for someone thinking about studying Entertainment Set Design & Decoration? Yes, go to a LOT of parties, and meet people. You really need to network in the industry, and do a lot of self promotion. The only one who is looking out for my career is me. Your reputation in the industry is always two blocks a head of you. If you get a phone call from a decorator looking to hire you, you can bet she's called a couple people to find out about you first.
Interested in a career in Entertainment set Design & Decoration? Don't miss our feature story this month on FashionClub.com.