SC: Your positions have been set decorator and production designer. Can you explain what each of these roles entail?
GS: I have worked as both a Decorator and Designer in my career. The Designer is fully in charge of the overall “look” of the show. I work closely with Directors to achieve both my vision and theirs. When a new set comes up (take the new Gowen Petroleum ofﬁce for Season 7), I designed that look. I would then give speciﬁc instructions to my Decorator and she would have to ﬁnd everything to decorate the set to achieve my design. Even before that every set has a budget attached to it and the Decorator must put that together ahead of time.
SC: Growing up in Calgary, did you ever expect that you would end up in Vancouver?
GS: After spending a good portion of my life in Calgary, I never would have thought I would be doing this, especially in Vancouver. I had a normal 9-5 full-time job, but I still managed to do many creative things. I became a wedding coordinator, event planner, fashion show producer, etc. I loved being backstage where I felt the action was and knew I needed to pursue it. Calgary is not known for busy ﬁlm seasons, so I had to take that leap of faith. “One day can change everything.”
SC: You have said that you are a “firm believer of taking that chance because you just never know.” Can you share more about your journey into becoming a set decorator and production designer?
GS: Taking chances are considered risky by many but for some it is the only way to live. When you take a chance, good things or bad things can happen, but if you don’t, nothing happens. I was tired of having the “nothing” happening in my life, so in the midst of an employment crisis in Calgary, I quit my full-time job and took off running with dreams and aspirations in mind. I began as an onset dresser and realized I found my calling. Many producers, directors and DOP’s noticed my work and I was then upgraded to Decorator. It was the role I thought I was made for, but life had another role for me. When the WCTH opportunity came up I was in the right place at the right time.
I am a very visual person, so I always need to see my vision in order to go along with it. Everyone’s process is different. Take Dottie’s for example. In my mind, it had a very stale, beige/medical green look to it. To me, it felt like a woman had never been inside. I LOVE fabrics, different colours and textures so I re-painted the set, added wallpaper, large colourful paintings, artworks and of course, ﬂowers! I even went as far as creating new receipts and a cork board with new “dress ideas” Rosemary would create. I am very detailed oriented and even if I know the camera will never pick it up, I wanted to ensure the smallest detail was there. Research is the best tool. In the beginning of my career I would study various time periods to know what colours they would use, the style of drapery, what was trending at the time and how each room would have looked.
SC: Can you explain how you decide on items for the set?
As the Production Designer for WCTH Season 7, I was in charge design-wise of the following departments: Set Dec, Props, Art, Paint, Construction, SPFX (Special Effects), and Greens. I got hired while I was in the middle of Designing Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen! They loved my work and they insisted that I be a part of the show. I quickly accepted then started watching WCTH from the beginning. Once hired, I was given a personal tour of the Jamestown Movie Set (aka “Hope Valley”). From there we kept the Set Decorator the same, but we changed out the Props Master to my lovely gal who also my Props Master on Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen. Once all hires were done, we were ready to receive the first scripts for Block One.
Once the script is approved by the Execs and Showrunner, they made their way to us. We read and dissected them, taking notes of everything needed page by page. Each department would do this and breakdown the script. Once we knew what "specialty" items we would need (for example, the Christmas presents Fiona and Flo exchange with each other), we then started the creative process involving myself and the director. Each director plays a huge role on how he wants each item to feel and look, so careful consideration was always in play.
After each department breaks down every script, it is budget time. A few of the questions asked when sourcing an item include: How much does each item cost? Is it a rental or purchase? How many do you need? Is it safe for the actors? Research also plays a giant role when choosing props or greens, etc. Did it exist back then and if so, can we make it look good on camera?
Every time you see someone in the saloon and/or cafe eating, we must go through this process: What can the actors eat? Will it look good on camera? Are there any allergies? What napkin colour? What plate colour? How many repeats do we need? (Meaning how many bowls of soup is required to do several takes). All of these questions must be asked. Once the director and talent are both comfortable, we proceed with the food chosen. Once everything is chosen, we are almost camera ready.
Other considerations for set dec. would be: Are there any additional furniture items? Additional lights, flowers, etc.? This year I wanted more ﬂowers around Hope Valley and different colours for each building, so Greens and I would work together to achieve the perfect hanging basket. For the Christmas movie, I wanted to design a new Christmas ﬂower basket for each building so Greens changed them out. Even the Christmas tree Nathan had in his house needed the Designer approval before it would make it to set. As you can see there is a substantial protocol for each and every script.
SC: How many people are part of the When Calls the Heart Decorating team?
I am responsible for the following departments and this lists the roles within each:
ART: Production Designer, Art Director, Art Coordinator
SET DEC: Set Decorator Asst., Set Decorator, Lead Dresser, Dressers, Onset Dresser
PROPS: Property Master, Asst. Property Master, Props Truck, Onset Props
SC: What are some of the challenges you face or special considerations you need to take note of for a period piece like WCTH?
Special considerations I take note of, is the town itself. All the buildings are originals and have been there for almost a decade! Hope Valley is located near Fort Langley, British Columbia where weather can be very harsh and unpredictable. Weather needs to be kept in mind when replacing a door, doing renovations or when you need to decorate the town. One is example involves the Christmas booths from the Home for Christmas special. I went through many variations of the booths before going with what you saw on the screen. Most of the design had weather in mind as I needed something that could not blow away easily, have cameras shoot through the booths and be very bright and colourful all at the same time.
SC: How do you try to keep as close as you can to historical accuracy on set?
It can be challenging at times to get the historical aspect of everything. If we cannot ﬁnd an item that is historically accurate, most of the time we would custom create it, to keep the integrity of the show intact.
SC: Did you prefer working on the Christmas movie or the regular season? Was it difficult to switch back and forth?
Both were amazing to work on and each one comes with their own unique presence. For me, it was not difﬁcult to go back and forth, but it was a challenge for other departments. For example, the crew had to dress the entire town while we would shoot scenes in the rowhouses. As you saw, we had even more decorations this year! My set dec team did an amazing job keeping up, even though it was a lot of hard work.
SC: Which props/piece of scenery poses as the most challenging to you? How does the weather affect your job?
Everything mostly. I have to make sure something written in the script actually existed back then and if not, we create something that could pass as early 19th century. Weather at Jamestown can be hot and lovely or wet and windy. Many times, we have had to bring talent inside rather than having them walk outside. Any scenes written where we need to be out in the woods were also very challenging. If it’s raining, we must install a special rain cover throughout the trees to protect the talent. The department called Grips installs them and that in itself is also very challenging and time consuming.
SC: Were you aware of When Calls the Heart and its many seasons prior to joining the crew?
There is not a person in ﬁlm in Vancouver who has not known about our show! Many people know of it and know it is a wonderful environment to work in. I knew it had been on TV for a while, but I did not realize just how big the show is globally until I started on Season 7.
SC: What type of movie would be your dream to set decorate or design for?
My dream job to design would be an Ancient Rome, Ancient Greek, Ancient Mythology and/or anything in regard to Ancient Egypt. My husband and I are history buffs and have studied these for many years. We are currently studying Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics.
SC: What do you enjoy most about the work that you do?
Creating. Creating a set that fans can fall in love with then spend days talking about it. I just love designing movie sets, what can I say!
SC: If you could trade positions with one other WCTH crew member for a day, which job would you choose and why?
The position I would trade would be with the Director. I love them all don’t get me wrong, but to be that up close and personal with every aspect of what is being ﬁlmed intrigues me.
SC: Were there lots of learning opportunities in your role during WCTH S7?
There were learning curves for sure. I had never done a television series before, so this space was new for me. Many challenges would include ﬁlming 2 episodes per block, at the same time working with another director to prep the next block of 2 episodes. But I had a fabulous team that took each daily challenge at a time and we were able to get everything completed for camera.
SC: Do you have a favourite prop/location/filming space?
Hope Valley in itself is literally my favourite place to work! The saloon has provided me with the space needed to create and design many recurring and non-recurring sets! You’ll notice in Season 7 we had a guest of Lee’s stay at the saloon and needed a hotel room, so that set was designed and built within the saloon.
SC: Did you know of the Hearties fanbase prior to becoming part of the crew? What was it like to experience your first Hearties Family Reunion?
I was not aware of the Hearties fanbase before working in Season 7. Going to the Reunion made it clear about the devotion and passion these fans have, not only for the show’s talent but for everyone involved! It was a beautiful experience and if there is another one, I cannot wait to go again! The Hearties are a very inviting and welcoming group and they are a real blessing to the show! Every time I created a new set, I always had them mind and cannot wait to blow them away!
SC: Hope Valley is a place that cast, crew and fans hold near and dear to their hearts. From the story to the scene, countless details are considered in every filming location on set. With season seven soon on screens around the world, wait to watch the end credits, searching for Ginna’s name, and the rest of the crew that works tirelessly to bring Hope Valley to life. Social media is a great way to let Ginna know of the specifics most appreciated in this new season, and to also learn more about the design and details that she creates from the heart.