Fresno State Grad Designs Her Perfect Career

Srmayan with one of her paintings. Photo Credit: Maggie Srmayan

By Miguel A. Gastelum

Before ever setting foot on the Save Mart Center stage for her graduation, Maggie Srmayan had her first professional job lined-up. After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree on Friday afternoon, she packed her car and headed down to Los Angeles to start work on a short film that Monday morning. Since moving to Los Angeles, Srmayan has been working non-stop on short films, television movies, and the Television series “American Housewife.”

Srmayan graduated from Fresno State with a double major in Fine Arts – Painting and Theatre Arts – Design/Tech (Set Design emphasis) in 2015. Studying at Fresno State ended up being an extremely beneficial choice for Srmayan; as an undergraduate, she was able to try her hand at designing for University Theatre’s mainstage productions, a rare opportunity for design students in undergraduate programs.

“I shared my interest in design early on, and I was given the opportunity and guidance from my professors to do so, which gave me a lot of practical skills and experience in my field,” said Srmayan.

In her final semester, Srmayan designed the set for “The Playboy of the Western World” written by John Millington Synge and directed by Brad Myers. Her scenic design for the final show of the 2014-2015 season would go on to become her favorite design. “I liked it because it was a period piece coated with layers of colors, sculpted rocks, and rafters, all of which gave the set a lot of character.”

Maggie Srmayan’s set design for “The Playboy of the Western World.” Photo Credit: University Theatre
Maggie Srmayan’s set design for “The Playboy of the Western World.” Photo Credit: University Theatre

Srmayan values her time spent at Fresno State and credits several professors with having a lasting impact on her as an artist and designer.

“Ruth Griffin, Jeff Hunter, Melissa Gibson, and the two most important people; Elizabeth Payne and Nick Potter all had a tremendous impact on my education,” said Srmayan. “From designing sets to helping me find internships to learning about the history of theatre, or helping me enhance my style as an artist, these professors were my sources of information and encouragement.”

Currently, Srmayan is working as the Set Designer on ABC’s “American Housewife.” She started work on the show when it premiered in 2016 as an Art Department Assistant, but has since worked her way up to Set Designer.

“I work directly under the supervision of my Production Designer, Donald Lee Harris, who is one of Hollywood’s best, seasoned television designers.”

An example of some of Srmayan’s designs for “American Housewife.” Photo Credit: Maggie Srmayan
An example of some of Srmayan’s designs for “American Housewife.” Photo Credit: Maggie Srmayan

As a set designer, Srmayan is responsible for designing the sets for all 23 episodes in one season of “American Housewife.” Each episode takes one week to prep and one week to shoot, Srmayan works on designing and building the next episode’s set while the current episode is being filmed.

“Everything starts with the script; I read the script, go through all of the sets that are involved, which is divided into interior and exterior locations. I build the digital 3D models and draft architectural working drawings, which get distributed among the various departments; construction, lighting, and grips to name a few. My average day consists of drawing on the computer, scouting locations, and running around the studio with blueprints on hand, checking on the sets that are being built. Sometimes when I have downtime, I go to the table reads.”

Photo Credit: Maggie Srmayan
Photo Credit: Maggie Srmayan

Soon, Srmayan will complete her 70th episode of “American Housewife” and she shows no signs of slowing down.

“I absolutely love my job! I love the fast pace of television,” Srmayan says. “I love that I get to imagine something, draw it up, and within a couple of days I am standing in the middle of it; built, painted, furnished, and ready to roll. I love that it is purely creative and it pushes me to get better and faster every day. I also love that my work actually gets to see the light of day. I feel incredibly happy to have this job.”

But the television industry isn’t without its struggles.

“It is really difficult and often times impossible to get a job on a decent project. The entertainment industry is tough and competitive,” Srmayan says. “You have to know the right people and you really have to be good at what you do or you’ll be replaced by the next insanely talented person in your field.”

Despite the struggles of work in television, Srmayan still encourages students who are considering a career in film and television to give it all they got.

“First off, make sure you really want this, then don’t waste any time! Figure out exactly what you want to do early on. Focus on learning and becoming really good at what you do. Most importantly, go talk to your advisors; find internships in the field that you want to work in, get as much exposure to the job as you can before you graduate. Save up some money, always practice your drawing skills, and be brave!”

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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