Portlandia production designer Schuyler Telleen visits Boise State

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Schuyler Telleen—the Emmy-winning production designer for IFC’s Portlandia—visited Boise State Tuesday, Nov. 7. In an interview conducted by College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Leslie Durham, Telleen sat down in front of an audience of students and community members to tell his story of making it “big time.” The event was centered on what it’s like to work in the golden age of television, but Telleen was set on giving the audience much more.

Portlandia is a sketch comedy show, starring comedians Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. Because of the nature of sketch comedy, this means every episode requires a different design; fortunately, Telleen is “up for the challenge.” Citing a particular episode with a boxed set from the band The B52’s, Telleen said, “It was interesting to see how pleasured (Fred) was by this set of things we provided. He never saw the items before filming.”

Throughout the day of Nov. 7, Telleen met with students across the art department in classes such as film, art and graphic design to give them advice using his experience in the film and television business, before finally taking the stage in the Morrison Center the same evening.

In an email regarding the event, Durham said, “It was truly a pleasure to interview Schuyler Telleen last week. The way he described his creative work and his experience in the television industry was warm, funny, and incredibly smart.”

“I believe Moses traveled 40 years in the desert before finding his destination, when in reality, it should have taken about 12 to get where he ended up. My journey is much like that,” Telleen said.

Beginning as an aspiring actor “getting off the bus” in Santa Monica, Telleen described the nerve-wracking experience as one of his finest decisions–even if he didn’t end up in the place where he originally intended. While auditions and living jobless for a year was “tough,” Telleen said, “It’s so fun to be so nervous.” Years later, with several television credits under his belt, his perspective hasn’t changed.

Telleen said careers in the arts aren’t always the most reliable, yet he still finds excitement in the unknown.

Telleen went a full year without a steady job and was finally offered a position as a production assistant on a film called “Balls of Fury.” It was during this time that he was asked to create a filming calendar to keep the cast and crew on schedule, leading to the discovery of his talent in graphic design. From that moment on, production design became Telleen’s passion, marking a new beginning in his career.

While comparing the differences between acting and design, he cited the comparison between stage acting and screen acting. Stage acting requires an “abundance of emotion,” and acting on the screen means that when portraying a killer, “you’re still yourself, but you’re still a killer.” This, he said, is similar to how we view the director’s chair as opposed to that of the production designer. “Both get mentioned in the opening credits,” but the roles played are vastly different.

“If you watch a clip and mentally take the actors out of the scene, that’s what we (the art department) do… (production design) is a dependent process, a symbiotic relationship,” Telleen said, citing the collaborativeness that goes into the creative production of just one episode.

In the final question and answer portion of the event, Telleen explained why Portlandia has been so special to him, “It’s a mini-explosion of creativity, allowing you to create things in a small nature that you can’t do in a big production–the cast and crew are both daunting and astounding.”

Spontaneity aside, Telleen had some serious advice for students who intend on working in the film industry in the future.

“I don’t think my (entire) life is a movie–I think I wake up in a new movie every day Telleen said. “Every morning, I have to wake up and decide what kind of movie I want to be in. An old man from Sony, who I only ever met in the bathroom, once told me, ‘Walk with intent, commit to nothing.’”

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