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Blog » Marco Schmidli

Interview: Marco Schmidli, Schmidli Backdrops

Posted by Workbook on 12/13/2010 — Filed under:  FeaturesHeadlineInterviewsProduction
Workbook's David Pavao speaks with Marco Schmidli, the founder of Schmidli Backdrops, Inc. in Los Angeles. Marco’s work is known for its sensitive surfaces and has appeared in a myriad of different magazines, catalogs, and brochures. Schmidli's beautiful backdrops have set the industry standard and are the choice of many top photographers.

David Pavao: Tell us about Schmidli Backdrops. When did you start your backdrop business, and how did you get into it?

Marco Schmidli: In 1989, I was a photographer assistant in San Francisco when we needed four 10 x 15 foot scenic backdrops for a client. As a painter in Switzerland, I never painted that big, but I was up to the challenge and offered to do the job. The job was a great success and many jobs followed. I rented my own studio space in 1990 and started Schmidli Backdrops. In 1993, I moved to Los Angeles.

DP: Do you create all of the backdrops yourself? What is your technique?

MS: When I was a photographer in Zürich, my colleagues and I could not find interesting textured backdrops so I tried to copy Irving Penn backdrops but had very little success. Therefore, I decided not to use backdrops altogether. So when I started to create textured backdrops in San Francisco, I didn't try to copy anybody and developed my own personal techniques. There are infinite possibilities on how to apply paint onto a surface and I often create my own tools for that purpose. Experimenting with new techniques keeps me going and still excites me.

To give my textured backdrops a natural look, I integrate "coincidence" in the design process, and therefore I do not have a 100% control over the outcome. When I do a job, I always end up with three variations and let the client choose the one he likes most. That process helped me, in part, build up a rental collection of about 1,000 textured backdrops.

The scenic backdrops are a different story. I do not have much patience for them, so I hire qualified scenic painters and have them enlarge my images.

DP: Who are your typical customers, and for what sort of jobs do they use your backdrops?

MS: Our customers are photographers, production companies, art directors, and their clients: car, fashion, TV, magazines, sport, celebrities, and everybody else!

DP: How many backdrops do you have in stock?

MS: We have over 1,300 backdrops in stock and online. Our site allows clients to search by color, style, size and location. Our inventory is available in Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, London, and Paris.

DP: Do you do custom work as well?

MS: We love custom work; it keeps us up to speed and in touch with our customers' needs. It also inspires us to create new pieces for our own collection.

DP: What was the most unusual or most demanding job that you've done?

MS: In 1995, a Japanese client ordered one hundred 12 x 20 foot textured backdrops to be delivered within two months' time. I hired a crew of four painter assistants and developed a faster production system. Thanks to this commission, I discovered Schmidli Backdrops' full production potential. Jobs outside of the studio comfort zone and with tight deadlines are always challenging. They require great control over technique and foresight over possible complications.

DP: In the last 10 years, how has the advent of digital technology affected your business?

MS: I have seen many businesses and professions, such as photo labs, billboard painters, typesetters and so on, disappear because of digital technology. I was worried that backdrops would become obsolete too, but that doesn't seem to be the case. While digital technology provides new tools to photographers and creative possibilities to manipulate images with PhotoShop, photographers still like traditional backdrops and the control they provide on-set.

DP: In your opinion, what are the advantages of using existing backdrops versus creating a backdrop scene digitally? Do you see a trend back to traditional backdrops?

MS: All these tools coexist today. They provide more creative possibilities than ever before and are all valid. Starting with Irving Penn, backdrops have always been used and will be used in traditional and new ways in the future too.

DP: Where do you see the backdrop business heading in five years?

MS: I am very optimistic that my high quality backdrops will always be in demand. They provide an inspiration to my customers and "make them look good!"

DP: Thank you Marco!

Schmidli Backdrops Inc. can be found at The studio is located at 5830 W. Adams Boulevard in Culver City, California. Contact Marco at and by phone  323-938-2098 or 800-724-3724.