Michael Stanford (colloquially known as Stanford) works in film, events, theater, and is a Cuber!
Before the film world converted him into a New Yorker, Stanford was studying architecture, drafting, and communications in high school in Philadelphia, and architecture was the end game for him. When he was 3 months away from graduating, his high school had a presentation introducing him to film production and from there we went to film school.
He finished college and immersed himself in the industry right away. He was a production assistant for 3–4 years in art and general film production. Devin Delano, a designer Stanford met on a TV show that was shooting in Philly, gave him a ring to work on a web series. It was the night before set and Stanford received the call sheet — the production was in New York. He didn’t have a car, but he’s a man of his word, so he was going to get to that set. He took a train and started commuting to New York and New Jersey jobs for 8 months.
He was originally saving up for the big move to Los Angeles, but instead realized he had a good thing going in New York. He used the money he saved for LA and finally packed up north to the New York scene. He was still working gigs across the board and even got into Assistant Directing, but once you’re in the art department it’s hard to love another department as much (I write, very much biased).
“It was a year of just bad jobs, especially these two productions, and after the second one, I realized ‘I’m tired of this, I’m going to go back to art because that’s what I liked in the first place’ and it’s been four years since.”
When Lion TV, a production company that produces re-create crime shows, asked him to AD, he told them he was looking for more art department gigs, “and that’s when I met you and Callen [Golden]!” Since then, I, Jess, have worked my summers with Stanford and Lion TV!
“I find this department far more rewarding and we work with our hands a lot and, if not, you’re designing it — and it comes together in the end and then you think, ‘Wow we did this’ and then we take it all down.”
Since Stanford has an architectural background, he started looking for Art Director jobs, but there isn’t a true thread for that title on non-union jobs. One day he can be preparing drafts, making a lookbook, or simply picking things up and putting them down — but that’s what he loves about our department.
“We’re the department of life hacks, we’re resourceful and we’re the big kids who never grew up.”
Recently, he has gotten more into props, “I love finding or making unique props, and it’s definitely stood out to me.” He has been collecting over the years and like many of us “I’m a hoarder with all of my toys and because I think ‘maybe I’ll need it in the next two years.’” He changes the design of his bearded dragon’s terrarium with new props. I secretly hope Stanford will one day make a set design Instagram where he changes the set weekly for his dragon (it’s the little things in life).
In addition to his growing love for props, Stanford and his partner had a daughter, Miles, who is 2 years grown. It’s because of our industry he can integrate being a present parent and a part of the art department.
“There are ways to manage it. Now I feel like I’m on set 24/7 and I’m critical now of time management.”
As a freelancer, we usually work back to back, but Stanford has learned that he can work gigs that last 2 months tops and then take some downtime to see his daughter grow up. Once we were in lockdown and Stanford was home, Miles took her first step as if she’s aware of the family-time schedule! It’s not uncommon for folx in our industry to use our skill sets and weird schedules to be involved with their family and, even Quinn Stone created her studio when she was had a 4 month-year-old.
If you would like advice and to connect with artists who are doing it all, join ArtCube Nation, the Social Professional Network of the Art Department!
Michael Stanford, as Stanford James LLC, is a crafty and creative Philadelphia native.
Driven by the artistry of television, studying the science of film production and business were essential in his path to success in the industry.
Now as an experienced Art Director, Lead, and Prop Master, he takes pride in the challenges of bringing unique stories to life.
Driven by an interest in architecture his goals are to better his craft and move towards set design.