Set decorator

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The set decorator is the head of the set decoration department in the film and television industry, responsible for selecting, designing, fabricating, and sourcing the "set dressing" elements of each set in a Feature Film, Television, or New Media episode or commercial, in support of the story and characters of the script. The set decorator is responsible for each décor element inside the sets, from practical lighting, technology, art, furniture, drapery, floor coverings, books, collectables, to exterior furnishings such as satellite dishes, Old West water troughs, streetlamps, traffic lights, garden furniture and sculptures.


While the Set Decorator provides all of these elements, the Propmaster provides elements that are handled by the actor. For example: a library is decorated with set dressing such as the furniture, books, desk lamp, blotter, framed photos, personal effects, letter trays, letter opener, papers, paper files. The Propmaster provides the props – the letter the actor is opening and reading, the pen he writes with, and the ink into which he dips his pen.

Detailed description of the role of the set decorator

Set Decorators are Key Department Heads, hired by the Producer for their creative talent to implement the visual interpretation of the script and its characters; and for technical skills and expertise in project management including budgeting, scheduling and organizing the Set Decoration Department staff.

Working in partnership with the Production Designer, the Director, and the Producer, the Set Decorator researches, budgets, designs and presents set decorating concepts for each set in the script.

Creatively, set dressing elements convey mood, style, time period, location, genre, character, and backstory, and shape the visual imagery of the project. Working with concepts from the Production Designer, approved by the Director/ Producer and Studio, along with drawings and illustrations from the Art Department, the Set Decorator budgets, designs, develops floor plans, sources, builds, schedules and eventually supervises the installation of the set dressing in each set, including industrial equipment, lighting fixtures, graphics, furniture, artwork, drapery, decorative accents, florals, floor coverings, and exterior décor to support the story.

Whether on Feature Films, Television shows, Commercials, Webisodes, or emerging media formats, this work of developing, selecting, and providing the dressing elements of the set is under the direct supervision of the Set Decorator.

The script breakdown

The Set Decorator begins each project by breaking down the script. This entails analyzing all scenes of the project, dividing them into sets, and detailing requirements. Each set has a creative concept behind it, partially described in the script and further developed by the Set Decorator in consultation with the Producer, Director and Production Designer.

Each set breakdown evolves into a series of lists of set dressing elements, all of which are budgeted, designed built and sourced. The production schedule and production budget delineate how these lists are achieved.

Design skills and education

The visual storytelling vocabulary of a Set Decorator includes history of design, art, architecture & interiors, photography and film, as well as geography, anthropology and psychology. The Decorator is knowledgeable about lighting, technical materials, textiles, mechanics of machinery and technology, paint techniques, construction practices, upholstery and drapery, decorating trends, period details, color theory, and is proficient at spatial furniture layouts for film.

This knowledge combines with strong research, design judgment, cultural understanding, and observation skills to create interior and exterior environments rich in character and style to bring the script to visual life.[ citation needed ]


The Set Decorator creates a materials budget for the film or episode, and a labor budget based on the production schedule and scope of work. Labor costs are calculated to include overtime, fringes and kit rentals. The budget allows for equipping workshops, expendables, 2nd unit requirements, camera tests, and work performed for the Set Decoration department by other departments and specialty vendors.

Budgeting involves projecting costs for prototypes, and educated guesswork. Set Decorators are familiar with pricing structures for each element and labor required to complete the work within production schedules. Set Decoration budgets may be revised several times in the course of preproduction due to shifting circumstances.

Even after the Producer has approved the Set Decoration budget, the estimate is updated as special requests by the Director, script rewrites, or shifts in schedules bring changes during production. Overseeing creative aspects of Set Decoration while staying within the budget and delivering the sets on time are a key skillsets of the Set Decorator. Producers rely on the accuracy of the Set Decorators budget to ensure that the overall production budget remains within its bounds.


The Set Decorator attends concept production meetings, scouts, safety classes, legal clearance briefings, product placement meetings, and ongoing conferences with the Production Designer, Director, Producers, the Art Department and Accounting.

The Set Decorator maintains communication with fellow Key Department Heads, including the Assistant Director, Director of Photography, Gaffer, Propmaster, Construction Coordinator, Lead Scenic Artist, Location Manager, Costume Designer, Greensman, Special Effects Coordinator, Key Grip, Sound Mixer, Visual Effects Producer, and Stunt Coordinator. This ensures a smooth flow of information to fulfill the visual and technical requirements of the production.

The Set Decorator opens every set ensuring that the Director is satisfied, and makes any changes necessary.


The Set Decorator works with his or her staff to develop a schedule of fabricating and procuring the set dressing elements. Working with the Leadperson, the Dress/Strike schedule is developed, dictated by the shooting schedule. This defines the labor budget for the Set Decoration department.

The Set Decorator schedules and supervises the work of the Assistant Set Decorators, Leadperson, Buyers, Budget Tracker, On-Set Dressers, Property Persons, Drapers and Upholsterers, and all inside and outside manufacturers


The Set Decorator selects, acquires, and oversees designs and builds for all the set dressing, He or she supervises the Assistant Decorators and Buyers as they source elements, and gives final approval to all choices.

Once the set dressing is prepared, the Leadperson supervises the transportation of all elements to the sets. After delivery to the stage or location, the Set Decorator directs the Set Dressing crew in the decoration of the set, following Safety Guidelines, IATSE Union Contracts and industry past practice. The Leadperson and Dressing crew work as a team within compressed schedules and side by side with Art Direction, Construction, Locations, Paint, Set Lighting, Grip, and Special Effects. Set maintenance plays a large part for long-term sets for many films and TV shows.

The Set Decorator is responsible for budgeting, hiring and managing his/her staff according to the requirements of each production including but not limited to:

Technical knowledge

Awards, recognition, and professional associations

Set Decorators are eligible to receive the Emmy, BAFTA, and Academy Award for Best Production Design along with the Production Designer, [1] [2] [3] as well as recognition by the Art Director's Guild Awards,

Set Decorators are represented in North America by the IATSE labor union, under jurisdiction of Local 44 (Los Angeles), Local 52 (New York), and various other regional IATSE locals in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Related Research Articles

Film crew

A film crew is a group of people, hired by a production company, for the purpose of producing a film or motion picture. The crew is distinguished from the cast as the cast are understood to be the actors who appear in front of the camera or provide voices for characters in the film. The crew is also separate from the producers as the producers are the ones who own a portion of either the film studio or the film's intellectual property rights. A film crew is divided into different departments, each of which specializes in a specific aspect of the production. Film crew positions have evolved over the years, spurred by technological change, but many traditional jobs date from the early 20th century and are common across jurisdictions and filmmaking cultures.

Electrical lighting technicians (ELT), or simply lighting tech, are involved with rigging stage and location sets and controlling artificial, electric lights for art and entertainment venues or in video, television, or film production.

"Below-the-line" is a term derived from the top sheet of a film budget for motion pictures, television programs, industrial films, independent films, student films and documentaries as well as commercials. The "line" in "below-the-line" refers to the separation of production costs between script and story writers, producers, directors, actors, and casting and the rest of the crew, or production team.

Set construction

Set construction is the process undertaken by a construction manager to build full-scale scenery, as specified by a production designer or art director working in collaboration with the director of a production to create a set for a theatrical, film, or television production. The set designer produces a scale model, scale drawings, paint elevations, and research about props, textures, and so on. Scale drawings typically include a groundplan, elevation, and section of the complete set, as well as more detailed drawings of individual scenic elements which, in theatrical productions, may be static, flown, or built onto scenery wagons. Models and paint elevations are frequently hand-produced, though in recent years, many Production Designers and most commercial theatres have begun producing scale drawings with the aid of computer drafting programs such as AutoCAD or Vectorworks.

In film and television, the production designer is the individual responsible for the overall aesthetic of the story. The production design gives the viewers a sense of the time period, the plot location, and character actions and feelings. Working directly with the director, cinematographer, and producer, production designers have a key creative role in the creation of motion pictures and television. The term production designer was coined by William Cameron Menzies while he was working on the film Gone with the Wind. Production designers are commonly confused with art directors as the roles have similar responsibilities. Production designers decide the visual concept and deal with the many and varied logistics of filmmaking including, schedules, budgets, and staffing. Art directors manage the process of making the visuals, which is done by concept artists, graphic designers, set designers, costume designers, lighting designers, etc. The production designer and the art director lead a team of individuals to assist with the visual component of the film. Depending on the size of the production the rest of the team can include set decorators, buyers, dressers, runners, graphic designers, draftspeople, props makers, and set builders.

Interior design Design of the interiors, sometimes including the exterior, of a space or building, to achieve a better environment

Interior design is the art and science of enhancing the interior of a building to achieve a healthier and more aesthetically pleasing environment for the people using the space. An interior designer is someone who plans, researches, coordinates, and manages such enhancement projects. Interior design is a multifaceted profession that includes conceptual development, space planning, site inspections, programming, research, communicating with the stakeholders of a project, construction management, and execution of the design.

Art department in filmmaking terms means the section of a production's crew concerned with visual artistry. Working under the supervision of the production designer and/or art director, the art department is responsible for arranging the overall look of the film as desired by the film director. Individual positions within this department include: production designer, art director, assistant art director, storyboard artist, concept artist, draftsman, art department coordinator, set decorator, set dresser, makeup artist, painter, property master, leadman, swing gang, production buyer, Film sculptor, and property assistant.

Art director is the title for a variety of similar job functions in theater, advertising, marketing, publishing, fashion, film and television, the Internet, and video games.

Filmmaking is the process by which a film is made. Filmmaking involves a number of complex and discrete stages including an initial story, idea, or commission, through screenwriting, casting, shooting, sound recording and pre-production, editing, and screening the finished product before an audience that may result in a film release and an exhibition. Filmmaking takes place in many places around the world in a range of economic, social, and political contexts, and using a variety of technologies and cinematic techniques.

United Scenic Artists

United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, formerly known as United Scenic Artists of America (USAA), is an American labor union. It is a nationwide autonomous Local of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. It organizes designers, artists, and craftspeople in the entertainment and decorative arts industries. The organization was part of International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades, however it reaffiliated with IATSE in 1999. United Scenic Artists was organized to protect craft standards, working conditions and wages for the entertainment and decorative arts industries. The members of Local USA 829 are Artists and Designers working in film, theatre, opera, ballet, television, industrial shows, commercials and exhibitions. The current membership totals nearly 3,800. Local USA 829 establishes wages for designers and artists, and negotiates with employers the best possible terms and conditions of employment, as well as Health Insurance and Retirement benefits through employer contributions of Pension, Welfare, 401(k) and Annuity plans.

Television crew positions are derived from those of film crew, but with several differences.

A set dresser in drama prepares the set with props and furniture to give it correct appearance and make sure each item is in correct position for each performance.

Location scouting Filmmaking and commercial photography production process

Location scouting is a vital process in the pre-production stage of filmmaking and commercial photography. Once scriptwriters, producers or directors have decided what general kind of scenery they require for the various parts of their work that is shot outside of the studio, the search for a suitable place or "location" outside the studio begins. Location scouts also look for generally spectacular or interesting locations beforehand, to have a database of locations in case of requests.

Location manager

The location manager is a member of the film crew responsible for finding and securing locations to be used, obtaining all fire, police and other governmental permits, and coordinating the logistics for the production to complete its work. They are also the public face of the production, and responsible for addressing issues that arise due to the production's impact on the community.

In the cinema of the United States, a unit production manager (UPM) is the Directors Guild of America–approved title for the top below-the-line staff position, responsible for the administration of a feature film or television production. Non-DGA productions might call it the production manager or production supervisor. They work closely with the line producer. Sometimes the line producer is the UPM. A senior producer may assign a UPM more than one production at a time.

A theatrical technician, is a person who operates technical equipment and systems in the performing arts and entertainment industry. In contrast to performers, this broad category contains all "unseen" theatrical personnel who practice stagecraft and are responsible for the logistic and production-related aspects of a performance including designers, operators, and supervisors. Many professional designers and technicians consider the diminutive "techie" to be offensive.

(Also known as Designer's Guild or B.F.D.G. and can be seen after a member's name as a professional certification abbreviation)

Articles related to the field of motion pictures include:

A line producer is a type of film producer who is the key manager during daily operations of a feature film, advertisement film, television film, or an episode of a TV program. A line producer usually works on one film at a time. They are responsible for human resources and handling any problems that come up during production. Line producers also manage the budget of a motion picture and day-to-day physical aspects of the film production.


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