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Miniature scenes inside an old TV make for a unique pandemic passion project

North Vancouver film industry worker Melanie Lane has found a creative way to fill the small screen during COVID-19

A North Vancouver film industry worker has found a unique way to keep bringing magic to the small screen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a little over a year now Melanie Lane, who works as a seamstress in the world of Hollywood North, has been crafting cool miniature scenes for display in a hollowed out TV in the lobby of her apartment complex. The crafty activity started as a fun one-off before the COVID-19 crisis began, but it turned into a pandemic passion project once the public health restrictions hit the film industry and she was out of work.

She’s back on the job as a seamstress now, but she can’t stop crafting her dioramas because they’ve proven so popular amongst her neighbours.

The Grinch Whole Stole Christmas, done in miniature by North Vancouver's Melanie Lane. Melanie Lane
The Grinch Whole Stole Christmas, done in miniature by North Vancouver's Melanie Lane. - Melanie Lane

“It kind of turned into a thing,” she said with a laugh. “I’d get text messages from people in the building, or they’d see me in the hallway and say ‘when’s the next thing coming out?!’”

The idea started in 2019 as Lane was planning the decorations for an annual Christmas party she throws in the lobby of her building. She’d once seen a scene depicted inside an old TV box and thought it looked really cool, so she decided to try to make something similar. Problem No. 1 was finding an old TV, and the solution involved a little bit of that Hollywood magic.

“I built it,” she said with a laugh. Enlisting the help of a couple of carpentry friends, she crafted the TV and then got to work filling it with a Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer diorama. It was a big hit at the Christmas party, and her neighbours encouraged her to both leave the TV in the lobby permanently and get to work on more scenes to fill it.

Lane worked away at a couple of other scenes, but it all went into high gear when COVID-19 shut the world down in March.

The 7 p.m. cheer at an Italian piazza. Melanie Lane
The 7 p.m. cheer at an Italian piazza. - Melanie Lane

“When COVID hit I didn’t really have much to do anyways. I was making masks for the first month or so, and I got really bored with that,” she said. The diorama project gave her the pandemic pastime she needed.

“Having so much time on my hands, it just took off,” she said. “I remember when [the film industry] shut down they said it was closing for two weeks. I was like, ‘yeah, OK.’ We didn’t get back until July – that was a long two weeks. But I enjoyed every minute of it.”

She’s now completed 11 scenes and is finishing up No. 12. There was a drive-in theatre scene that involved patrons getting attacked by birds while watching the movie The Birds – quite a meta concept for a diorama – as well as a more conventional Hockey Night in Canada scene last winter. Lane completed a haunted bed and breakfast scene for Halloween and then did a highly detailed depiction of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas for the 2020 holiday season (sadly the annual lobby Christmas party was cancelled, but the TV scene remained).

Her favourite scene depicted an Italian piazza with neighbours out for the 7 p.m. cheer that was a staple of those 2020 summer nights. The scene features details such as a fountain, a cafe and a cute little moped that was made out of a pop can by a neighbour named Neil Edwards. Lane titled that scene COVID.

A drive-in screening of The Birds. Melanie Lane
A drive-in screening of The Birds. - Melanie Lane

While the project has been time-consuming – Lane said it takes about two weeks of steady work to complete one diorama – the toughest part has been finding the supplies she needs to make all her mini marvels. The shelves at her favourite supply stores have been pretty bare since the very start of the pandemic, she said, and so she’s had to get creative with her supplies. One example comes from her current project, a vintage bowling alley. 

“I went out the other day and bought myself a model of a ‘57 Chevy Bel Air, and I've cut off the fins at the back and I'm going to use them for the bowling ball returns,” she said. “The place is gonna be called Fins and Pins – it’s the 1950s. The trickiest part is probably trying to figure out what materials to use to make stuff look good.”

A haunted bed and breakfast for Halloween. Melanie Lane
A haunted bed and breakfast for Halloween. - Melanie Lane

She’s succeeded so far in making her stuff look good, as evidenced by the demand for more. Lane said she’s back working a fairly full schedule as a seamstress, but she’s going to continue moonlighting as a miniature maven to make sure that the small screen in her lobby is always showing something new.

“It's going to go right into this year, apparently, because people are still asking ‘what's next?’” she said with a laugh. "I have had so much joy making these, and what I thought would be a short project has turned into a year long endeavour and now into year two. There are some positives for sure that can be found during this tough time. Mine is giving people in our small community building something to look forward to."

You can find more detailed depictions of the projects on Lane's Instagram page.  

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