EXT Lydia’s Hut DAY and INT Lydia’s hut DAY. Just two short sentences from the script. As head of the “Phantom Moose Large Props Department,” it was my job to take those lines and convert them into a semi-believable reality.
We quickly cut the exterior shot of Lydia’s house. There were no quaint little medieval huts in the neighborhood, and, well, let’s face it: a full-sized hut would take an awful lot of cardboard. We explored a couple of options, then deleted it and moved the essential part of that scene’s dialogue to the indoor set.
With all the dialogue happening in this “Lydia’s Parlor,” I didn’t want to stick a couple of chairs against a white wall and call it good. The artist in me cried out against anything that didn’t at least have the “feel” we were going for. We created Lydia’s character as being hard of hearing and very old, but still sprightly. What would this person’s parlor look like? I would stereotype her as someone with teapots and dried flower arrangements. Knitted afghans and cozy fireplaces. There we have the first architectural element. A fireplace. Instant problem. The fireplace we have is in the middle of a room that is much to big for a medieval hut. The average hut at that time, even in a fantasy, did not have a vaulted ceiling or big glass windows. The solution? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count. Here it is in one of my favorite words. Cardboard. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to have an actual fire in a cardboard fireplace, but the idea is still there. And if worse comes to worst, animated fire is a possibility.
Ruth and I created an entire fireplace unit: hearth, chimney, mantel, even two “brick” ovens built onto each side. Set this next to an existing wall, use the cardboard units for the third wall and we had the beginnings of a great set. Throw in a rocking chair and knitted afghan (made by Sarah) for Lydia, a pretty teapot, oil lamps, (I know, wrong time period, but hey, they worked!) a great wooden bench for Marelac and Emcracy, side table, pillar with a plant on it, and finally, a bookshelf with lots of knick-knacks on it, and you’ve got it. (You don’t see any of the knick-knacks in the film. I positioned it too far back, so it was out of the camera’s range.) But wait, you say, where did Stelen sit? On one of the ovens. We supported it with a stool underneath. As long as he didn’t move, he wouldn’t fall through the fireplace and take the entire wall of the set with him.
Thankfully, everything went well. For a final touch, we added mugs of tea. Slight problem! None of the actors liked tea, so we improvised. Hot chocolate does a great job at dubbing in for tea, believe it or not.