Behind the glitz and glamour of the film industry, there are countless details that go into bringing any production from page to screen. Bill Wiggins, a set dresser who has worked in the film and television industry in New York since 1985, shared his insights on what goes on behind the scenes of these productions in MacMillan House on Monday evening. 

Cinema Studies Professor Tricia Welsch led the discussion with Wiggins, guided by a list of questions generated by residents of the house. The talk was sponsored by Lectures and Concerts, the Kurtz Fund and the Cinema Studies program.

In his 32 years of experience, Wiggins has worked with all-star directors and filmmakers including Woody Allen, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese and has contributed to nearly every motion picture set in New York, including “Midnight in Paris,” “Batman” and “Spider-Man 3,” as well as many major TV productions such as “30 Rock” and “Gotham.” He currently works on the popular TV drama “The Affair,” picking up various other projects in between. In addition to spending 60 hours on set per week, Wiggins is the owner of Black Elk Images, in which he sells rental images for film and television.

The job of a set dresser consists of assembling physical components of sets down to the smallest detail. For a Cheerios commercial, for example, this might entail sorting through a box to pick out the most perfect pieces. To give the students a concrete taste of what goes into a single day on set, Wiggins passed around call sheets—a piece of paper delivered to the cast and crew the night before a day of shooting, specifying the minute details of every scene. 
“I think the students were surprised to learn how many people it takes to put together every single shot,” said Welsch.

For Wiggins, a career in the film industry was anything but preplanned. An anthropology major, Wiggins was partway through his dissertation on Ottoman historiography when he decided to move back to New York to seek work in TV production. After placing numerous phone calls to production companies, Wiggins landed his first job as a production assistant, and soon after joined the union. He built a network of contacts in the industry, and has since spent his time lining up one gig after another.

“It’s like waiting for the bus. When one bus drops you off, you wait for the next bus, then you get on that bus,” Wiggins explained to students.

According to Wiggins, the industry is a highly collaborative endeavor. Being cooperative and outgoing is crucial in getting along with other people on set.

“[The film industry] attracts a very creative, highly intelligent, very interesting bunch of people with great stories and great backstories,” he said.

In addition, the freelance nature of this type of work requires him to be be flexible in a variety of situations.

“One day you’re in a roach-infested apartment and the next day you’re in some $25 million loft in Soho,” said Wiggins.

Wiggins has worked on sets ranging from Donald Trump’s apartment (which, by the way, has a gold-plated front door) to a cruise ship in the Caribbean, and has been on the top of nearly every building in New York.

To student attendees, Wiggins offered a concrete take-away: his phone number. Emphasizing the importance of networking, Wiggins was sincere in extending an offer to help students aspiring to enter the film industry.

“[Wiggins] gave the inspiration that if there’s something you want to go for, to continue to pursue it and reach out to people because there are people that are willing to help you,” said Katherine Gracey ’16.