Setting the Scene

Through a job shadow with set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg ’78, a film major experienced the ins and outs of a professional production.

By Carolyn Ten Eyck '18

Left to right: Rosemary Brandenburg ’78 - Set Decorator, John Naehrlich - Lead, Kevin Kropp - Assistant Set Decorator, Carissa Kieger ’24 - Intern, Lucie Bourgeau - Buyer, Sierra Bezdeka - Production Assistant, April La Branch - Set Dec Coordinator

Carissa Kieger ’24 was cleaning out her email inbox last winter when a message caught her eye: a job shadowing opportunity through the Career Development Office. A film major from Cleveland, Ohio, she was interested in gaining experience in the field before graduating. Eventually, after conversations with the CDO around transportation and scholarship opportunities, it was decided: she’d be spending two weeks the next summer in Atlanta on a film set: Marvel’s upcoming “Captain America: New World Order” with set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg ’78.

“It’s a warts-and-all kind of immersion,” said Brandenburg, whose work can be seen in many recent blockbusters (“Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol”, “Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” are just a few examples). “I‘m offering an ability to really bond with the team and really see how it‘s done. And it‘s quite a serious operation.”

Brandenburg found her way to Kenyon through Ted Walch ’63, a high school mentor who encouraged her to check out the College’s theater program. After a junior year abroad in France studying theater, she took time off to intern for Folger Theatre in Washington D.C., working as a stage manager.

“At Kenyon, since we’re doing everything [ourselves], we’re doing it on a smaller scale. This broadened my perspective of what there is to do in the film industry.” 

Carissa Kieger ’24

With a year of professional experience under her belt, she wasn’t planning on finishing her degree, but was lured back to Kenyon to stage manage the production of ​​“C.C. Pyle and the Bunion Derby,” produced by Walch and directed by Paul Newman ’49 H’61. “It was great. It was hard work,” said Brandenburg. “Internships and experiences like that were very important to me.”

Post-graduation, Brandenburg slowly accumulated an impressive pile of credits as a set decorator, working on films as varied as “Amistad” and “School Ties” (where she met her husband). Set decorating lays the groundwork for the story being told on film, navigating the economic, stylistic and character backstory to create a world.

In the late 1990’s, Brandenburg started thinking about giving back to her alma mater. “I thought, that‘s something that I can do for Kenyon: accept students on an extern basis.” After working with the Career Development Office to define parameters — students with working experience in film, theater or art — she began to regularly host students to shadow her team on set. Her best advice for students embarking on a job shadow? “Ears open.” 

Kieger arrived on set during a tense moment in the film industry — the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike. “I‘m a union member and I did not want to cross a picket line. So [Carissa] got to experience quite a bit of drama around that,” said Brandenburg, who ensured that Kieger was present during many fraught conversations regarding the strike. 

Carissa Kieger ‘24 on a visit to Los Angeles.

“It was very eye-opening, going from small, student-run sets to the real world,” Kieger said. “At Kenyon, since we‘re doing everything, we‘re doing it on a smaller scale. This broadened my perspective of what there is to do in the film industry.” Brandenburg works on a lot of high-budget science fiction and fantasy films and has a team to match, managing crew, from set dressers and sculptors to buyers and carpenters. 

On set, Kieger was able to interact with those team members, researching historically accurate decor, managing shipments and learning as much as she could.

“The students often help me find research, whether it‘s what they used in a chicken factory or in a prison sewing shop in the 1930s. It can be anything, and that‘s always helpful to have some fresh eyes on that kind of research,” said Brandenburg. 

Coming back to Kenyon and preparing for her senior thesis film, Kieger used inspiration from her job shadow experience to inform her work and make the details pop. “I definitely was impacted by the experience in how I was able to translate my creativity onto my film, particularly with colors and moods and an item’s significance.” 

On the whole, Brandenburg has found her student externs to be “very curious, willing to jump in and hear what‘s going on. I‘ve appreciated a certain maturity with everyone being able to hold their own in a workplace with some pretty seasoned professionals.”

For Kieger, the experience felt like a once-in-a-lifetime event. Then, following her return to campus for senior year, an email from Brandenburg arrived with an invitation to work as a production assistant with her team this summer on a different project. After graduating in May, Kieger headed back to set. “It‘s worked out beyond my ability to conceptualize how amazing of an opportunity it has been.”