Greensman

  • Greensman

When Marlon Brando clutched his heart and staggered to the ground in The Godfather, surrounded by his cherished tomato plants, did you ever spare a thought to wonder who actually maintained the Don’s famous garden? It was the work of a greensman, the member of the film crew with a green thumb who procures, places, and looks after any vegetation on the film set. Working with real or artificial landscaping, the greensman works to make a lowly patch of dirt look like the Garden of Eden and a mundane Hollywood backlot look like an alien rainforest.


Duties

First and foremost, a greensman— so-called whether male or female—is a horticultural expert, a set dresser with a specialized skill. He or she uses that expertise to create landscapes from the ground up, to decorate interiors with plants and flowers, or to beef up lawns and gardens with extra plants to suit the requirements of the production designer and the script. The main responsibility is to obtain greenery, which can be live or artificial; after obtaining the appropriate plants, the greensman then places them according to specifications; finally, the greensman maintain the vegetation throughout the shoot, making sure that it retains its appearance, color, and health so that continuity is preserved.

In preproduction, greensmen meet with the production designer to plan the designs and how to execute them, and do research into habitats and plant hardiness. Preproduction also includes the procurement and transportation of the vegetation itself and the necessary materials to maintain it: soil, fertilizer, tools. On location, greensmen take on traditional landscaping duties and “greening out,” or concealing unwanted parts of a location or studio. Sometimes they work with members of the art department to create artificial rocks, plants, trees, or flowers, as well as creating soils and forest litter and other elements present in conventional landscaping. Maintenance continues throughout the shoot, watering and feeding the plants; after shooting, the landscaping and artificial environments are dismantled. Once the plants and materials are returned to the appropriate sources, the job is done.

Skills & Education

A career as a greensman may not require a college degree, but it requires an extensive skill set, including a keen attention to detail, understanding of the filmmaking process, physical strength and stamina, and most of all, excellent horticultural knowledge and abilities. Greensmen are an important part of the art department, and as such have creative skills that allow them to create extremely realistic environments with their vegetation and other materials. Collaborating with the production designer and members of the art department from fabricators and sculptors to painters makes communication skills necessary, and greensmen are part of teams that require not only the ability to take orders but to give them. Besides expert knowledge of plants, gardening, landscaping, and tree surgery, greensmen commonly have masonry skills, woodworking abilities, and experience making artificial foliage. Many are licensed to drive trucks, forklifts, and Bobcats and have certification to work with hazardous materials.

What to Expect

Greensmen can expect to get dirty and work hard; some consider this the dirtiest job in the film industry. You will rarely get a break during shoots and will often be among the first to arrive and the last to leave; irregular and long hours are common, as well as working in inclement weather. The duties will vary greatly depending on the budgets and requirements of productions: You may have to provide daisies for the planter in front of the main character’s apartment, redo the landscaping on the expansive grounds of a Victorian mansion, or turn a planetarium into an alien environment using a combination of real and fake vegetation. Expect to provide your own tools and pair of gloves; the only thing you really cannot expect as a greensman is to keep clean, but that’s just part of the job.

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