You likely won’t recognize her, despite her work in many high-profile movies, music videos, television shows and commercials, but careful viewers might recognize the personal touch University of Wisconsin-Green Bay alumna Jeanelle Marie ’02 (Art) imparts to them all.
In fact, Jeanelle Marie’s work as the production designer on the television series A Crime to Remember earned her an Emmy in 2015 for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Lighting Direction and Scenic Design. In December 2017, she was awarded a certificate honoring her contribution as production designer for the Emmy Award-winning movie Bill W. And she just finished working on the second season of Jessica Jones, designed the TV show Nightcap (guest stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Jim Gaffigan and Jason Biggs), and was the set decorator for Killing Reagan, produced by Ridley Scott’s company.
Not bad for the Green Bay native who traces her professional roots to West High School and UW-Green Bay.
“My freshman year, our high school was doing a play and I suggested we build a set for it,” she recalled. “No one had done that before, so I volunteered to do it. Jeff Entwistle, the theater set designer for the local Pamiro Opera Company, attended the play and invited me to be a member of that crew. I helped with set construction and specialty prop design for them, and I was hooked.”
Entwistle, it turned out, was (and is) a professor for UW-Green Bay Theater and Dance, so it was natural for Jeanelle Marie to choose UW-Green Bay for her undergraduate education. Her choice of school and field of study were also influenced by her mother, Toni Damkoehler, a professor for the the University’s Design Arts program, and her stepfather, UW-Green Bay Prof. Emeritus David Damkoehler (Art and Design). She also credits “the visionary artist Norb Kox” for his inspiration and influence. “I looked up to him as a mentor and a friend,” she said.
She describes her path from Green Bay to New York.
“I was an Art major at UW-Green Bay and worked on theatre productions on campus and at the Weidner Center. It was a great experience. I became especially interested in installation art and was fortunate to be accepted into the Parson School of Design at New School University in New York City for graduate studies, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts degree from Parson and a certificate in film production from New School University.
“A close friend at the New School had been working in film for a while and commented that my work resembled movie sets, so she took me on a backstage tour of some projects she was working on. I realized then that I could use my art to tell stories through the objects on these sets, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”
And doing it very successfully, judging on the string of awards she’s received. She recalled the night she accepted her Emmy Award for A Crime to Remember.
“It was not the first time I attended a red-carpet event, but it was the first time I was up for an award,” Marie recalls. “The ceremony took place in New York at Lincoln Center — it was all a blur of excitement. When the category came up during the ceremony, I was mainly focused on clearing my mind of any expectations. I heard them announce the name of the project along with my name and the name of two other people I shared the award with.”
“I paused before getting up because I realized I didn’t expect to win! When I stood up and went to the stage, I was dazed and focused on just not tripping on the steps! I couldn’t think of what to say, so I just said, ‘thank you’ and carried the statue off the stage.
“Backstage, they took photos and did interviews, then we left to continue on to a celebratory party across from Lincoln Center. It is definitely one of the big highlights of my career so far!”
Jeanelle Marie brings an array of artistic skills to her work. She has served as art director, production designer, set designer, prop stylist and set decorator on projects ranging from big-budget films to television commercials to photo shoots. You can see her complete biography at www.jeanellemarie.com and view her credits.
In addition to her continuing study of art history and contemporary art she also has a strong set of managerial skills and technical skills in design and fine art (drawing, painting and sculpture, set construction, graphic design) and software knowledge in her arsenal. The combination of artistic abilities and technical skills helps Jeanelle Marie manage the people who work with her — sometimes as many as 50 trade professionals.
“I enjoyed the creative freedom and the challenges UWGB gave me,” she said. “I worked on a large variety of projects. I was also allowed to work independently in the studio, often overnight, which gave me the creative space to figure out how to bring projects together technically and artistically.”
“I use those problem-solving skills every day now. If a camera has to physically move through a set, for example, it has the potential to compromise the artistic element of the scene, the ‘look’ the director is going for. I enjoy the challenge of getting the best from both aspects, which often produces something we had not anticipated and adds to the whole production. That’s something I learned here.”
What’s next? She says she is focused on doing more work as a production designer and set decorator in large-budget projects. For her, the fun is getting all the details right, whether it’s an item that is correct for the period of a scene or the type of pen that matches a character’s personality.
“Many people might not see that detail or know that we spent time getting it right,” she said. “But I’ll know.”
Which is the personal touch that wins awards and sets her work apart.
Story by freelance writer Jim Streed ’05. Photography by Dan Moore ’00, Marketing and University Communication.