Logan Allison (SASD Class of 2006) helps to bring amazing stories to the screen. One of the many dedicated behind-the-scenes filmmaking professionals, he works across four departments, working where he is needed. His recent work includes the new sitcom Downward Dog, the award winning film Fences, dramatic television series Outsiders, and the Netflix production Mindhunter.
In the Set Decoration department for the television show Outsiders (WGN), a 1970’s period drama, Allison works under the production designer to bring the set to life after it is built by construction department carpenters. By paying close attention to those little details that make the set look real and not staged, the set becomes one large working sculpture. Season 3 of Outsiders has been greenlighted, so Allison is looking forward to 9 months on the “Set Dec” crew when that production resumes.
Allison also works on the “Greens” crew, using organic materials in many different ways to transform a shot. Sometimes this means stacking 2,000 hay bales at the under layer for a 1970’s era trash dump or staging trees and bushes through a down town shot to block signs or equipment that are not correct for the period.
Serving occasionally as a member of the Special Effects crew, Logan worked on the rain scenes on Denzel Washington's Academy Award nominated film Fences which was shot on location in Pittsburgh (where playwright August Wilson wrote the story). He also contributed to special effects for the upcoming Netflix series Mindhunter, working in atmosphere enhancement, making haze and smoke on sets and outdoor locations to help everything read better on camera, including making clouds with nitrogen to blow past the windows of a mock airplane built on the set!
Logan was kind to give the SASD Art Department a few minutes of his precious down time to answer some questions about his work.
Did you go immediately toward dramatic arts or did it take a while to decide what you wanted to do?
After graduation I attended an art program in Philadelphia pursuing photography. I was quickly turned off to the program due to a few lousy teachers and a massive downgrade in the (traditional) film classes offered for a large push to digital. I hit the road, and I didn't stop travelling for many years until I saw all 50 states and a handful of other countries. During this time I mostly made my money as a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska. The seasonal aspect of the job lent me ample time to travel.
What attracted you to filmmaking? Was it always an area of passionate interest?
I was originally attracted to film work when some close friends of mine entered the business. This was something I never thought of being able to do before and it was exciting. Being part of a fast paced and creative job was what I was looking for and gave me the chance to grow some roots back in Pennsylvania.
What sort of education, if any, did you pursue to work in film?
Personally I never received any formal education specifically for set making. I came in at a busy time for IATSE 489 [Union representing film workers in Pittsburgh] as a permit worker. This was a sink or swim opportunity, through this I was able to make many great connections in many departments and eventually settled my focus on set decoration where I am today. Though there are many schools now offering programs in set production and I would recommend students to look into it if they have any interest.
What do you love about your work? What’s not so great?
Its chaos! That’s both the beneficial and taxing part of my job. Everything is on a deadline and everything is subject to change, you must be able to adapt and deliver anything the director and production designer want for the vision and look they are trying to portray. If it seems impossible you must be creative and find a way to make it a possibility. The camera can be fooled. I love creating and learning all of these tricks from the people I work with.
What is the biggest misconception about working on set?
Glamour. This job is not glamorous. It is however extremely tiring, dirty, freezing, hot, wet, dusty, emotional, muddy, and a heck of a lot of fun. A set can be in studio or on location. Locations may subject you to countless hours in the elements at any time of year. It's not for the faint of heart, but it is extremely rewarding when something you worked on for 50-60 hours a week is released to the masses.
Do you have a favorite project among all those on which you’ve worked? If so, what about it makes it special?
To date I am most proud to have put time into Fences. I played a small part on this film helping a couple days a week with special effects to make the rain and weather scenes. This movie means a lot for the people in my town, as it is Pittsburgh play write August Wilson's acclaimed play about getting through life in 1950s hill district. It was shot on location in a house down the street from where Wilson lived and wrote. I was impressed with Denzel Washington's respect for the material he was working with. Through the last year I have devoted most of my time working for a new Netflix Original series called Mind Hunter, produced by top director David Fincher, which will be released by the end of summer. Recently, at the season one 'wrap party' I got to view the first official trailer, and I think we will all be very impressed with this one.
What advice do you have for artistically-minded high school students?
Don't settle. Do the thing that brings you fulfilment; don't focus solely on money or getting ahead. “Wealthy” means loving what you do every day; from there you can advance much further in life. Also, if anyone is interested in film work, IATSE is an international organization providing work across countless departments. Do some research and see if you feel you fit into any of them. If so, knock on the door (meaning phone/email) of a local IATSE union in an area that has steady film work and don't take "no" for an answer.