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Meeting Challenging Set Construction Deadlines

My company has faced some very challenging deadlines this past year.  We have been pushed to our limits more times than I care to say.  And I must say that I cannot blame my clients for these demands.  It’s all on their clients.  I’d speculate that the reason for these new and very shortened deadlines might fall on past performances.  If it took you 8 weeks to complete their last project, why not make it 6 weeks this time.  Here at Bratton Scenery, we take pride in delivering a high-quality product on time and on budget.  It pains me at times when we have to compromise on details just to meet the deadline.  Don’t get me wrong, we still deliver good quality, but having designers do with less is very disheartening at times. 


Encourage you children to work in the trades!  I have subcontracted out more work this past year because we lacked the labour force to keep the work in-house or our facility is busting at the seams with product and manpower.  In a perfect world we would love to be able to spread the work throughout the calendar year, however, this is not possible as it seems that everyone wants it all at the same time.  It’s also disheartening to have to let staff go when the workflow dries up.  That being said, it’s been the same way for the past 33 years and I doubt that it will ever change.  As the old saying goes, “It’s feast or famine”.

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Set Construction Today & 35 Years Ago

We just completed the set construction of Big Brother Season 4.  As I reflect at the challenges that this design brought to the table, I dare say that the biggest was keeping up with the sheer volume of CNC demands it presented.  I remember way back when the personal computer became a prominent feature in business.  It would make our lives so much easier.  It would give us so much free time because we could complete our task in record time.  Then CAD drawings took the design world by storm.  Drawings could be produced cleanly, accurately and most of all with efficiency. CAD was the stepping-stone to CNC routing.  Cutting curves or intricate patterns would take way less time and we could be more efficient, just like the personal computer.  Well so much for the idea of free time.  Now we edit our documents and spread sheets almost without giving it a second thought.  Now we can cut as many curves or patterns as we like. 


Our CNC was going non-stop throughout the Big Brother build this season.  If you look the picture attached at the entry of this blog, it shows the turret cladding, mirrored wall patterns that are stood off the wall, so included is the structure behind all that mirror, dining room table, the curved under lit floor, the archway to the pool, the whale bone ceiling frame, well you get my point.  If you go to my portfolio and check out the difference in the design of Big Brother Season 1 to Season 4, it’s night and day as to how much CNC work there is. Todays set construction is a far more complex beast than when I started out in this business over 35 years ago. 

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Big Brother Season 3 Set Construction


Well we just completed a total overhaul of the Big Brother Canada set for Season 3.  When we were first presented with Pete Faragher’s design concepts for this season, we were blown away.  It was really exciting to push the Captain Nemo’s Nautilus meets Steampunk theme throughout the set.  I mean gear themed light fixtures and dining room tables along with gear driven safe doors; what a blast!  Captain Nemo’s bedroom and pipe organ walls, you just don’t get to build this kind of stuff every day.  They were certainly challenging tasks but what a joy to build.  Even the raw unfinished product had a feel to it.  I believe people had a real difficult time recognizing the bones of the season 2 house in the season 3 version.   There wasn’t a single item left untouched with the exception of the pool tiles.  Although we did outfit the pool with octopus tentacle light fixtures.  We'll be posting Season 3 pictures in our gallery real soon.


Pete’s creative mind is simply outstanding.  Every time he added a design element as we progressed through the build I just had to shake my head in amazement at his true vision for this house.  Some will say that this will be hard to top next season, however I for one won’t be surprised if Pete knocks my socks off.

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Set Construction Is The Beauty Of Raw Structure

I really got my start in show business back in 1975 when I enrolled in the Professional Theatre Technical Program at John Abbott College.  It was there that I met the man who would change my life forever.  His name was Derek Goulder.  He was my shop teacher.  I was glued to his hip for three years and I bled that man dry of all of his knowledge, and passion for set construction.  He taught me to see the beauty in the raw constuction found on the back of the set and to appreciate it as much and even more that the finished product on the audience side.  It was there that I learned to take the time to ensure that all of the rails on the back of the set lined up.  


Earlier this summer (39 years later) I was having a conversation with my shop foreman Kevin (Hal) Halliday behind the set of "Pressure Cooker" when I found myself staring at the back of the set and admiring at just how great the raw unpainted framing looked with every rail lined up.  He is a bit of a perfectionist and he shares that same passion.  I believe that if you take the care to make the back look good the front side will follow suite.


Some of my clients might not understand the passion that I have about "Raw Structure" and they may not see the beauty that I see in it as a builder.  I'm ok with that.  I just find myelf in the middle of building their project, seeing their structure taking shape and I know that when we delivery and install their set, they will be wowed about the finished product just as much as I'm wowed about the structure.  


But for me today where it has been close to 20 years since I have pick up my tools to personally build something for my clients, I realize that this pride and passion is shared with the carpenters and welders that are hired to build here at Bratton Scenery.  We have taken graduate students right out of college and university theatre programs and apprenticed them to show them how to take the care required when building a set to line up the framing and to make the back look as good as the front.  Why do we do that?  Because our clients deserve the best!

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Set Construction of Pressure Cooker For Real

We're pretty excited about being awarded the set construction contract for the newest cooking show "Pressure Cooker" which will be carried on the W Network.  The show is being produced by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's Fresh One Productions and Bristow Global Media.  So the shop is sizzeling these days trying to get the set built under a compressed schedule.  But it's ok as we "can stand the heat so we don't have to get out of the kitchen" so to speak!  The set is designed by Gary Wichansky of Hotopp Associates Limited out of Seattle.  I can't post any pictures of the set until after the show airs, but I have to say that this is a cooking set with a real twist!  This is not like any kitchen that you've ever seen.  I must say that I am really proud of the crew that I have working in the shop on this project. The deadlines are really tight and we have a lot of overtime hours ahead of us, but these guys are real team players and they are doing a great job!  This crew makes Bratton Scenery shine.  I'm very appreciative of their efforts.

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Reinforced Earth Panels

From Set Construction To Reinforced Earth Panels


I find that the work that we do and the techniques used here at Bratton Scenery have the ability to cross over to many other types of industries.  One such example is the contract that we have taken on with the Canadian office of a company called Reinforced Earth.  Reinforced Earth Company Ltd. is a company with locations throughout the United States and Canada.  The company specializes in the contruction of retaining structures, bridge abutments and highway overpasses.  However they are different as they have developed a full line of decorative structural facing panels that can vary from geometric shapes to full on artistic wall art.  The use of these panels has proven to discourage graffiti.  Have a look at some of the examples under Projects on their website.  So we have been contracted to build a whole series of heafty concrete forms with a high gloss polyurathane finish that we cut on our CNC.  Each form has a different pattern that will be use multiple times for their upcoming project.  We are pleased to add Reinforced Earth to our ever expanding client base.  I'll try to get a picture or two of the completed project. 

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MLB FanFest

MLB FanFest Archway


We just finished that last of our new build and refurbish work for BaAM Productions MLB All-Star Fanfest.  We built the very first FanFest for The MLB All-Star game when it was in Toronto back in 1991.  We have added new elements to this show throughout the years.  This year we added to the main Entryway Arch, reconfigured the Locker Room and added new lockers to this display. We built new batting helmet stands and player cutout stands as well.  Believe it or not, there are some elements that we built back in 1991 that are still touring today.  


FanFest is a hands-on fan experience with numerous exhibits for the baseball enthusiast.  Those of you who know me personally can attest that I am one of them.  I can go to a baseball game being played at any level and enjoy the experience and even develop a rooting interest. My favorite team is obviously the Toronto Blue Jays but I'm also  huge St. Louise Cardinals fan.  You should also treat yourself by taking in a minor league game.  It's really not far off from Keven Costner's Bull Durham.  But enough of that.  I just feel privileged to be involved through BaAM Productions with Major League Baseball.  FanFest is a huge undertaking every year and BaAM Productions does a terrific job with this event.      

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Hogan Lovells

We just completed work on an event for the law firm Hogan Lovells with Terry Queeley of Q Ideas at Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto.  If you have never been there, it is quite a complex.  I've been working with Terry Queeley for years and he's a real straight shooter and a stand up guy.  He knows what he wants and he knows just how to get the best out of everyone involved.  We had hundreds of sheets of gator board to CNC cut the paint with a variety of colours in a gradient spray finish. The trick was to rig all of this in just two day in a venue that is open to the elements!  I dropped by again on Friday to see the finishing touches being put in the space and it really is terrifc how Terry transform an old brickworks factory complete with abandoned kilns and turns it into an eclectic event space.  I just want to thank Terry for bringing us this opportunity and I'm looking forward to working with him again in the future. 


We have just been signed onto another new television project which I'll let you in on as soon as I get permission to do so. We are also working on another unusual project with an old highschool friend.  More on that later.  Check back soon.


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My First Blog

Big Brother Season 2 Completed:

Well we were certainly thrown a curved ball last summer when we were in the middle of prepping for season 2 of Big Brother Canada.  Someone decided to sell the industrial building that we were located in.  That meant demolishing the existing house and clearing out of there pronto.  We salvaged what we could from the season 1 house for use in season 2. 

The challenge was finding a suitable building that could come close to the footprint of the season 1 house in a very short amount of time.  Once we settled on a new location a brand new design was conceived by set designer, Pete Faragher.  So we went from a 1 story house with an independent elevated Head of Household to a 2 story set with cantilevered balconies. 

We move the swimming pool into the house to create more space in the back yard for challenge sets.  Considering that we were over a month behind schedule to start with, we found a way to catch up and be ready for the first day of shooting. Have a look at our Project Gallery for "The Construction of Big Brother Season 2" to see the house under construction from the ground up.  We also have photos of the completed project for you to have a look at.


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Bratton Scenery Blog, An Introduction


We have a new logo and a new website!  Well it has been suggested that I include a blog in the new Bratton Scenery website to increase our web presence.  So here it is for all to see. Now what am I supposed to do?  Theoretically I’m supposed to come up with some very insightful thoughts and put them on this page to keep you interested and hopefully you’ll tell your friends who will drop by and visit and subscribe.  Then your friends are supposed to tell their friends and soon enough I’m supposed to have this huge following.  If that happens, then I have to keep coming up with more clever things to tell you about.

So I’m thinking I’ll write a little report on either projects we’re working on or projects that we have just completed.  I figure that I’ll add some progress pictures and some completed pictures that will be different from our gallery page.  

I guess we’ll see how well this works!


That's all for now.

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Steve Bratton
January 17, 2018
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