Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Simply Christmas Set Design

As our theme for Christmas this year was Simply Christmas, it stood to reason that we should make the set fairly simple. Last time, I wrote up our plan for the hanging lighting. This time, we’ll take a look at the rest of the set. 

Last year for Gunch!, we built a wall upstage, and cut a cool shape in it. We decided we liked the wall enough to keep it, so in March, we squared it off and painted it black. For Simply Christmas, we wanted to go a little more rustic. So we took a field trip to Home Depot to see what they had for siding options. We settled on 1/2” OSB for two reasons; first it had a nice warm, woodsy look to it, and second, it was cheap. We sided the wall with the OSB, running the sheets long ways to give us a 24’ wide upstage wall. To save material, we did the first 8’ completely, then did 2’ up each side of the wall.

We wanted to use some muslin for a screen. The idea was to create a setting that looked like some kids found a big sheet in a barn, then tacked it up to show movies on or something. To help create that allusion, we tacked some 2×6 and 2x4s to tie the screen off to. The screen was tied in the corners, then pulled taught to the 2x with clothesline. To finish it off, we strung some globe lights along the top. 

The screen has some natural low and high points in it, we didn’t want it completely flat. In the end, it looked pretty much like we wanted; simple, homemade and warm. 

As we had 8 people lined up to read the prophecy and birth stories of Jesus during the program, we needed something for them to read from. I had in mind a really simple, rustic podium, that would again looked like it was tacked together from some spare pieces of wood found in a barn.

It’s almost done; I eventually used cable staples to clean up the wiring.

I used a 4×4 piece of redwood for the main upright, and a simple 2×4 wooden base. The top was a scrap of the OSB we used for the wall. I found a cool porcelain lamp socket at a hardware store in Palm Springs while I was there with my wife for our anniversary (that’s a long story…), and planned on mounting an old-looking Shure 55SH mic to the podium.

The 55SH is a fine mic, but would make a terrible podium mic. So I gaff taped a DPA 4098 to the upstage side and used that. The 55 just looks cool. The old-fashioned bare bulb in the porcelain socket completed the look.

This was the first cable groove. I soon cut another on the other side for power for the light. The hole held the short mic pole.

I could have let the cables hang out the back, but that seemed crude (I was going for rustic, not sloppy). So I took a chunk of the redwood 4×4, plumb cut it, then routed a few grooves in it for the cable to chase through. The cables came out on the upstage side of the main upright, and I cable-stapled them in place. When it was done, the audience didn’t see any cables, and the light was a great touch.

The four of these created a crazy amount of fake snow.

The final piece of the puzzle was to make it snow. My boss has this idea that we needed to make it snow for the program, so I rented four Little Blizzards from our local rental house. After playing around with hang points, we decided to hang them from our backlight pipe, which is pretty far downstage in the center, right below our main valance. 

We backed it off a little bit for the actual service.

We pointed them toward the audience in a fan pattern and fired them up. The name “Little Blizzard” is an apt one, it snowed like crazy! When I posted pictures on Twitter, everyone commented that they didn’t want to clean all that up. But that’s the great news; you don’t have to! It uses a special, extra-dry fluid that simply evaporates after about 3-5 minutes. 

The machines are loud, however, so we had to time the cue carefully. We made it snow during the build of The Earth Stood Still, and it worked just wonderfully. There was an audible gasp from the audience every time and everyone loved it.

Did you try any cool special effects for Christmas this year?

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6 Comments

  1. revmcgator@mac.com

    We've been wanting to use snow machines for the last 22 years. In fact, we did one year, but the problem has always been the noise. We would like a quiet snowfall, but these things sound like you've fired up a couple of vacuum cleaners or blenders. Does anyone have any experience with a quiet snow machine?

  2. revmcgator@mac.com

    We've been wanting to use snow machines for the last 22 years. In fact, we did one year, but the problem has always been the noise. We would like a quiet snowfall, but these things sound like you've fired up a couple of vacuum cleaners or blenders. Does anyone have any experience with a quiet snow machine?

  3. mike@mikejonesblog.com

    Hey Mike,

    We are just north of LA and did a very similar setup for our Christmas series this year. We wired everything in parallel and got wire and even the same cool lights locally at Home Depot (which surprised me that they even had cool retro lights). They were a bit more expensive than what I'd seen online but it was worth it to have supplies we could get easy access to if we blew a lamp. People are still talking about it! It made for a classic, simple, almost nostalgic Christmas set. We hung them in three lines (varying heights like you did) from front to back and varied the brightness of each line to help add depth to the design. Worked great! Will be posting photos soon on my blog – but thanks for your blog post! I'm a new reader but already a fan πŸ™‚

    Mike Jones

  4. mike@mikejonesblog.com

    Hey Mike,

    We are just north of LA and did a very similar setup for our Christmas series this year. We wired everything in parallel and got wire and even the same cool lights locally at Home Depot (which surprised me that they even had cool retro lights). They were a bit more expensive than what I'd seen online but it was worth it to have supplies we could get easy access to if we blew a lamp. People are still talking about it! It made for a classic, simple, almost nostalgic Christmas set. We hung them in three lines (varying heights like you did) from front to back and varied the brightness of each line to help add depth to the design. Worked great! Will be posting photos soon on my blog – but thanks for your blog post! I'm a new reader but already a fan πŸ™‚

    Mike Jones

  5. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Mike,
    Thanks for the kind words! From what I've seen and heard, the hanging, bare bulb look was a popular one this year. Like yours ours was well received. We're leaving it up through March!
    mike

  6. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Mike,
    Thanks for the kind words! From what I've seen and heard, the hanging, bare bulb look was a popular one this year. Like yours ours was well received. We're leaving it up through March!
    mike

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