Rick Pickett (Graphic Designer)
Rob Thomas is not that great.*
"Oh, Rob," we cry, "how clever art thine posters! How realistic is thy high school decor! How sneakily didst thou insert a deus ex machina emblazoned with thine own name into thy kickass finale! Truly, thou art awesome beyond all reason or easy human comprehension."
But hark, dear readers, for we have been unfair! Responsible for every exquisitely detailed newspaper article, fancy pink business card, and professional-looking computer interface is not the Slave Rat, but one Rick Pickett, graphic designer extraordinaire. Rick has been behind nearly every artistic piece that's made it on air in Veronica Mars, and then some, and now we give props to the prop maker. Read on, gentle Marsaholic, for a stunning exposé of the seedy underbelly of shoddy memorial fountain construction, anti-Wizardry directors, and guys who totally wear dresses. Dude.
*Just kidding. Rob's ownage has us crying ourselves to sleep every night. Even if the man can't stick-figure his way out of a paper bag.
MI.net: How did you get started with the show?
Rick: I moved here from Chicago, because I was assistant teaching at an inner city high school and they couldn't hire me on, so I moved out here because my parents were living here. I spent two weeks with my best friend. Just getting used to the place, then he left. I had to start looking for a job, so I looked on craigslist, and lo and behold there's a job that said,"Graphic design," er..."Entry-level graphic design position available." "Okay, I feel like I'm kind of entry-level." So I applied for it. Found out that it's actually the Veronica Mars thing. I went in and interviewed and then started from there. That was last August 16th, roughly. So it's been about a year.
MI.net: So which episode did you start working?
Rick: I came in on episode...the tail end of two. So we shoot eight days per episode and I was probably there for the last two days of episode two. So from three to twenty-one, I was there.
MI.net: Oh, you weren't there for twenty-two?
Rick: Twenty-two, sorry. I just couldn't remember how many we had.
MI.net: I guess they advertise a lot in craigslist, because we've seen other listings.
Rick: Oh, really?
MI.net: Yeah, they were looking for extras. They were even looking for a stand-in for Francis.
Rick: Oh, wow. And which craigslist were you looking at? The San Diego one?
MI.net: I think so.
Rick: Geez. People are becoming more and more keen to that. You can establish your own new network through such a great service as those community forums. I buy tickets, bought cars, motorcycles.
MI.net: So is this your first job in television?
MI.net: You had no idea it was for a television show when you were interviewing?
Rick: Well, they said "with film and video" in the title. They mentioned nothing about Veronica Mars or that it was going to be a syndicated show and all that stuff. I also had previous experience in film and video, so I was kind of looking forward to it. "Okay, cool. I can combine graphic design and work in an industry that I really was attracted to." So I showed up, and when I realized how legit the whole system was, I actually really got excited. Some of that euphoria has disappeared just because of getting in the grind of things, but I was definitely on cloud nine for a long time.
Interested in working on VM: Check.
San Diego craigslist: Check.
"With film and video": Hmmm...]
MI.net: How many hours do you work? You said it was a grind.
Rick: At first I worked for free for a week. I did it because I wanted to prove to them that I could attack it and adjust, because Alfred Sole, my production designer, great guy, he was drilling me left and right. "Can you do these things? Can you turn it around in three hours?" [overwhelmed voice] "I don't know because you're not giving me specifics." [chuckles] So I was a little apprehensive if I could do it. Then after that first week, I felt like I had the skills to pull it off. So I did that. I actually slept on the couch the first night because I had to get so much stuff done. I was thrown right into it. They needed graphics for, I want to say, almost the next day. And I didn't have a computer. I had to bring in my own computer, all that stuff. So it was pretty crazy. So now I roughly do about 60 hours a week.
Rick: That's not as much as some of the other people, though. Security works probably about 70 to 80 hours a week.
MI.net: They work that much?
Rick: Yeah, it's pretty rough. I mean, it's nice to get that double overtime, but it definitely takes its toll on people. I think that's why we have such long hiatuses after the season ends.
MI.net: So were you just tired by the end of the season working 12-hour days?
Rick: You get used to it because you are so inundated with the pressure of getting stuff ready for shoot dates or whenever you need to be ready for. And everyone's in that kind of frantic hell mode. You're just going non-stop, 110%. And it's nice to look over and see that someone else is busting their chops and their rump just as hard as you are, if not harder. Plus towards the end, you're looking at the end, and you get that second wind or twentieth wind.
MI.net: So how many guys are in your department?
Rick: My position, I guess, originally is in art. I'm in the art department, but I work for a variety of different people. Like I designed the slates...they engraved the slates for this season because they wanted it to look nicer. So Joaquin Sedillo, our director of photography, had me design the slates for them, just simple stuff like that.
MI.net: What's a slate?
Rick: A slate is like a clapper, so when you drop the arm onto it, it has the timecode for the audio so you can sync video and audio together. So, you know, we just had it engraved and it looks nice. It has "Veronica Mars" and his name engraved on it. It's, you know, a nice little touch. I've done stuff for them on the side, but most of it is props, art department. And art department includes set dec, and...pretty much just set dec because we are always designing the sets and whatnot. And I do some costumes as well, in terms of logos that go on them.
MI.net: Can you take us through a typical design process? From once you get the script to final shooting.
Rick: Basically what happens is...it depends on what my ultimate goal is or what the final product [is that] I'm striving for. Like in the beginning of the season, I know that, "Okay, we're in a high school. We need fliers. We need banners. We need things that will make the high school feel legit and sell it for our viewing audience." Before any shooting has started, before any of the people who are on the production, camera crew, lighting, grips, and all that, before they come in, we have a couple of prep weeks that we sit there and get the sets built. "Okay, well, we're designing this new set. So we need to have this artwork here. We need to have this look." So that's that process.
But once we actually start getting scripts rolling through, I'll get a preliminary one, a studio draft. And I'll read through it. I'll highlight what I see as potentially something that would fall in my lap as a request from a certain department. I have little fluorescent sticky flyers...flags that I put on the ends of scripts, and highlight, and jot down notes. I look at it, and I try to prioritize: "Okay, what can I crank out real fast? What can I let sit because I can't crank it out fast? What do I need right now?" And I try to prioritize, but things change. Like, we just had three shooting schedule changes within the past day. And they're big changes where you take a set that was once four days back from start, and move it all the way up to second—that affects everyone, including myself. You have to be aware of that.
MI.net: That must be crazy.
Rick: It gets crazy at times. And communication is really the big key in making things work. But the problem with communication is that so many people need to be in on it, that either people sometimes are forgotten, dropped out, you didn't tell them, and then all hell can break loose, which happens from time to time. But amazingly enough, we've managed not to have too many disasters.
So yeah, I'll read the script, highlight it, and I just basically get to work on the ones that I need to start on.
MI.net: So is it your design from start to finish or do other people have input? Like they go, "Can you change this a little?"
Rick: And again it depends on exactly how pertinent it is to the storyline. Like last year, there was the whole election thing with Wanda and Duncan. Sarah Pia Anderson was the director for that one. Alfred is the production designer, so he's kind of the guy who creates the overall feel for the set and that look. He communicates with the cinematographer, the writers, the producers, Rob, and the director. He has some input. He'll come over and look at stuff, but on that particular one, Sarah was very involved in some of the processes for the hero posters. And when I say hero, if you don't know, it means a focus prop. Like the camera will stay on it for a long time, usually for clues. So she was involved in it.
Rob often...if I feel like Rob really needs to have his approval, because I don't want to disappoint him because in the end it is his show, as well as Kristen's. But creative-wise, it's Rob's. So I'll make a GIF and I'll email it to him, Dan Etheridge, one of our producers. I have to really think, "Who's invested in this look right now? Is it Alfred? Is it Rob? Is it myself?" But they've been very, very kind and nice in letting me have some free rein on, "Hey, we want this." So basically all they say is, "I want a poster." So then I'm left going, "What's going to be on the poster? Picture? Graphic?" Which is fun because I get to goof off a lot, in terms of playing with how my mind works and how I make art.
MI.net: Have they ever rejected something?
Rick: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Nick Marck, he's one of our directors, he's coming back for four episodes. And I think he did three last year, I can't remember off the top of my head. And we had a rave flyer from when the ravers show up at, I can't remember which girl's house, the girl who's being harassed supposedly by her boyfriend. And they show up, and they're supposed to have flyers in their hands, "Hey, there's a rave going on." So I'm thinking, "Okay, rave flyer. It's going to be brightly colored, very flashy for all those candy kids." I make it. Looks cool. Did a little photo shoot with one of the assistants to the line producer, Dawn. And it looked really cool. Flashy. Spent all this time on it. Take it down to Nick when they are shooting out in the parking lot for the high school scene, and he looks at it and goes, "Nah. I don't want it. I want it hand-drawn." "What?! Okay, I'll turn around..." That's actually quite nice to make me hand-draw it, because it's not often that I get to do my own...because I'm a cartoonist, and I like doing that type of stuff. So when I get to play with pens, I feel a lot happier.
MI.net: So did you have to change it right on the spot?
Rick: I didn't...I mean, I went back to my desk. I thought about it. They're going to Sultans of Acid or something was the rave, and it was in dialogue. So I figured, "Okay, what can I use? I know what, I'll draw a sultan, and make it look kind of trippy on the side, and put the flyer information." Nick got it. He loved it. I moved on to the next task at hand.
MI.net: How much time do you have to do a prop?
Rick: I've had as little as thirty minutes to turn around something.
MI.net: What was that thirty-minute one?
Rick: A flyer, a logo needed to be printed on stickyback so we can apply it to a prop that we forgot to have greeked out, so that we can't see the original logo. I've had posters that needed to be printed. The most recent one, the metal detectors...in a rush to get the whole school season started, we forgot to put logos on them. I'm like, "D'oh! This isn't fun." Little things like that come out of nowhere, and you just hope that you're on set, and you're listening to your cell phone. Because if you can't find the person, you're pretty much SOL.
MI.net: Do you spend most of your time on set? Where do you spend the time? Is there an art department somewhere?
Rick: We have two stages at Stu Segall Productions. The stages are very tall ceilings, probably about, I want to say, twenty feet, thirty feet in some areas, to hold all the lights and everything. But there's an upper floor production office, so I work up there. Actually, above the stage basically. And those stages hold Mars Investigations, Mars apartments, the high school, and a couple of other sets. The sheriff's department is also there. Those flow in and out. So, I work basically on set.
MI.net: You said you do the sets, websites, props, and signs. Do you actually produce the final product or do you just come up with the ideas?
Rick: For the most part, I...I mean there are times when I'll create something and it's so large that we don't have the resources to print it. But for the most part, I do create the final product. So what you see on screen is basically what I saw on my computer screen before I either printed out on my computer, or printed it out with a vendor. Yeah, pretty much all my stuff.
[Editor's note: All those props. Sixty-hour work week. One guy. Damn. I repeat, damn.]