Steve Bamford, artist and scenic constructor
Steve builds and often designs scenery for theatre, film and television production companies. He has worked on films such as City of Ember and HBO’s Game of Thrones.
I’m from England but have lived in Belfast for over 20 years.
What job do you do?
Generally I work with set designers to help them realise their vision for the production they're working on. They design the scenery and I find a way to build it for them. I also make polystyrene models for outdoor events, parades and festivals.
I have a broad range of skills: joinery, metalwork and finishing. I sculp, plaster, paint.
I have a broad range of skills that I use from time to time: joinery, metalwork and finishing. I sculp, plaster, paint. All this really helps me do my job – it’s multidisciplinary work.
A typical day, if there is such a thing, would find me in one of the workshops I use. There’s one in Killyleagh and another in Duncrue that I rent. These are joinery workshops where I build sets and scenery. The production company transports the scenery I build either from the workshop or I build it on site. If it’s a touring production, they take take it from venue to venue.
What qualifications do you have?
I have a degree in Fine and Applied Art and a diploma in Specialist Scenic Construction.
What do you do at work?
I solve problems. It usually starts with scheduling: I look at a job and work out how long it’s likely to take and cost for that.
Set designers can have far-fetched ideas and it’s my job to find a way to make them come to life. You need to make the impossible possible and you need to do that on budget, which can be a challenge. I work from the designer’s technical drawings and sometimes a model too and use my multidisciplinary skills to make their vision become a reality.
You need to have good communication skills so that you can discuss details with the designer or with a production manager.
Often, I do the whole build myself but there are times when I need to bring in other people with skills I don’t have. Then my role takes on administrative and organisational responsibilities.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I like making things, It’s a simple as that. I like working in a creative environment with other people. The work I do for events like the parades is really enjoyable because I get more scope for artistic input, I’m more likely to be left to play with the things I do.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Set designers can have far-fetched ideas and it’s my job to make them come to life.
The hours – they can be difficult. If you’re building something for theatre, the deadline can be tight and there’s no flexibility. That’s where the pressure comes from.
Because I’m freelance, the work load can be a case of feast or famine too. I get odd quiet months throughout the year but, thankfully, I find the work is out there – there’s more for film and TV now.
How can I get into this kind of work?
Northern Ireland isn’t set up for someone to follow a career in scenic construction yet, but it’s moving in the right direction and opportunities are increasing.
In London, there are specialist workshops for that kind of thing so it’s a good place to gain experience. There’s more demand in London and you’re more likely to find a facility to provide that service.
My tips are:
1. You have to be willing to work hard. The hours can be long and deadlines tight.
2. Get experience wherever you can – volunteer if necessary. Be prepared to muck in and show what you’re capable of and that you’re motivated.
3. Don’t be put off by criticism. The people I work for can be highly demanding but it’s my job to meet their requirements. You have to be thick skinned sometimes.
4. Get to know the way the whole thing works. Whether it’s theatre, television or film, it helps to be very aware of everything that’s going on around you.