Oh, Hollywood. The red carpets, the flashing lights, the star-studded parties…
Think the entrainment mecca is reserved for the likes of Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg? Well, artists, think again.
Whether it’s a landscape painting in Grey’s Anatomy or a sculpture in Austin Powers, television and film set decorators need artwork. That’s where you come in.
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about getting your art on TV and film:
Like the name suggests, art rental companies operate by renting artwork to clients, who pay weekly fees. According to Jennifer Long, the owner of Film Art LA, a Hollywood-based art rental company, fees generally range from 10% to 15% of a work’s retail value per week. For Film Art LA specifically, the rental company pays 40% to the artist, takes 40%, and spends the remaining 20% to promote other artwork. Long explains that most film budgets allow between $8,000 and $25,000 for artwork. It might sound like a lot, but it’s significantly cheaper than purchasing the same pieces. “Well-placed artwork is like a good score,” Long insists.
The proof is in the pudding. Film Art LA represents over 400 artists, and their work has appeared in 100+ TV shows/films, like The Nice Guys, War Dogs, Gone Girl, Birdman, Sex and the City, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Castaway, and Gossip Girl, to name a few.
Long isn’t only creative. She’s quick, too. “If someone asks me for a painting with a certain type of feeling, I can pull the slides of 10 artists in five minutes.”
Film Art LA (among other rental companies, like Art for Film NYC) assembles a curated selection of work via artist submissions, so make sure your website is up and ready to go!
Valda Lake runs Wallspace, an art gallery on La Brea in Los Angeles. She explains that at least one-third of her business is selling pieces to Hollywood, which causes viewers to try to find her and the artists she showcases. Lake reveals, “One man from the TV show Mad Men, he had tracked down the artist, he was calling, emailing all the way from Germany…It’s smart of an artist to think of this as a business, make the work work for you.”
Unfortunately, Wallspace doesn’t reveal it’s pricing split. However, the art gallery does reveal its rental terms for TV, film, and print media. Interestingly, for pilots, Wallspace offers 50% off rental prices. Other than having select pieces available for rental, Wallspace makes it clear that it’s an art gallery and not an art rental company—all artwork is available for purchase.
Since Vancouver offers a generous tax credit to Hollywood projects shot on site, it’s no surprise that the Vancouver Art Gallery also sells art for TV and film. The gallery holds an open call for submissions every year, and its mission is to promote local artists.
“We look for work that reflects Vancouver’s—and British Columbia’s—contemporary art community and, in doing so, represents emerging, mid-career and established local artists,” says the manager of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Donna Partridge.
Every gallery has its own submission policy, so make sure to do your research before approaching a gallery.
Jessica Heyman, who created Art for Film in NYC, describes the factors that can make artwork for appealing to set decorators:
“Medium to large format abstract work is generally more sought after than figurative work. As a figurative piece, especially a portrait, may convey something about a character’s personality or history, whereas abstract work is usually more subtle and can be more open to interpretation. Most decorators and designers avoid loud, bright colors, as they can distract from the action in the scene… You don’t want background set decoration that jumps out of the background too much.”
“You have to be professional and easy to work with,” says Anne Silber, veteran Hollywood artist. “You also have to understand that it is not just a matter of the buyer liking your artwork; the art has to be appropriate to help define their characters and also work within the production budget.”
Also, if you don’t have an agent, don’t worry about finding one. Carolyn Edlund, CEO of Artsy Shark, insists, “The reality is that nobody cares about your business as much as you do.”
Dying to see your art on TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead? Living near production hubs is helpful, but not essential. According to artist Tom St. Amand, whose credits include The Hulk, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park, a large portion of “Hollywood artists” have some sort of Hollywood background, either by birth or education. That’s because they have easier access to production companies, industry courses, and film professionals. However, if you live elsewhere, don’t fret! The internet is a great way to showcase your art chops. Galleries will pay attention.
The road to becoming a successful Hollywood artist is tough, so make sure to keep your greater purpose in mind. Need inspiration? Renowned artist Rene Magritte famously said, “Life obliges me to do something, so I paint.”
After realizing that he could make $1,000 to $10,000 by renting his artwork to TV shows and movies, LA sculptor Bruce Gary tapped into this secondary revenue stream. His artwork has appeared in each Austin Powers movie, Meet the Fockers, and Batman Forever, to name a few, plus 100+ TV shows, like CSI and Six Feet Under. Gray warns aspiring Hollywood artists that the money might not add up to a livelihood, but it’s a great way to gain interest from prospective art collectors.
Anne Silber’s serigraphs have graced the sets of dozens of TV shows and films, including Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, The West Wing, House, The Departed, and Runaway Bride. She estimates that she rents and sells around 50-75 art pieces to Hollywood every year. Silber’s tip? Make sure your prices make sense. “I try to keep my prices reasonable so they’re affordable to a lot of budgets,” she explains.
If you’ve seen Ocean’s Twelve, Spider-Man 3, and The Bourne Ultimatum, you’ve seen Mark Pollard’s artwork. “My first brush with show business came as a kid in Wisconsin,” Pollard explains. “I come from a family of artists and my parents were creating artwork for TV show tie-ins, such as lunch boxes, coloring books, and paper dolls.” Now, he says he’s most proud of having worked for famous directors like Wes Anderson and Charlie Kaufman. Even when work becomes hectic, Pollard insists that it’s important to create art as a hobby.
Getting permission to use art on TV and movies is an art in itself. Clearing artwork (approving copyrighted artwork through the artists, galleries, estates, or whoever owns the images) has become increasingly critical over the past years. In 1998, Warner Brothers had to pay a hefty settlement to sculptor Frederick Hart because the film Devil’s Advocate reproduced Hart’s masterpiece Ex Nihilo. In 2011, S. Victor Whitmill, Mike Tyson’s tattoo artist, sued Warner Brothers for featuring one of his tattoos on Ed Helms’ face in The Hangover Part II without permission.
The takeaway? Now more than ever, artists and studios take clearance seriously. Artists want to get paid for their work, and studios want to make sure they don’t blow their budgets in settlements. That’s why art rental companies and art galleries work—they protect both the artist and the studio. Sure, you don’t need to work with a rental company or art gallery to get your art on TV. However, it definitely helps.
Art rental companies vs art galleries: Whereas art rental companies operate by renting pieces to set decorators, who pay weekly fees, art galleries generally sell artwork to Hollywood clients. However, some art galleries, like Wallspace, also set aside pieces for rent.
Additional factors that can help boost your chances: Live near production hubs (if you can!), lead with minimalistic abstract pieces (if that’s your style!), and tap into your business savviness (which you already have since you’re reading this!). Most importantly, know your purpose and worth as a creator. Hint: You’re worth infinitely more than any TV or film budget.
Here’s what seasoned Hollywood artists have to say: Bruce Gray (Austin Powers, CSI, Batman Forever) says to treat these gigs as a secondary revenue stream and a way to get art collectors interested. Anne Silber (Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, The West Wing) explains why keeping prices reasonable gets her more clients. Mark Pollard (*Ocean’s Twelve, _Spider-Man 3, _The Bourne Ultimatum*) insists that it’s important to simultaneously create art as a hobby.
Clearance matters: Recently, approving copyrighted artwork through artists, galleries, estates, or whoever owns the images has become absolutely critical. Because all showcased pieces are already cleared, art rental companies and art galleries help protect artists and studios from copyright-related lawsuits. If you want to see your art on TV and film, you need to make sure it’s cleared.
Of course, putting your art on TV and film is a choice. Whether or not you’re interested in sharing your artwork will millions on the Silver Screen, you’re already a star.
Mark Pollard says it best:
“Hey, just go for it. Do what you love and then hold onto your hat. It’s gonna be a wild ride, so don’t spill your soup. But seriously…”