Hired during pre-production of a film, television show, or live production, the construction buyer works under the direction of the construction coordinator and construction foreman to source all materials necessary to complete the build of set pieces and scenery.
Based on the scenic plans drawn by the set designer or draftsperson, the construction coordinator and foreman determine all materials required to execute the design; this includes conventional products like lumber and wood screws, as well as unconventional materials such as foam and scrim fabric. A detailed estimate of the quantities of each product is recorded, as is an itemized budget allowance. That information is then given to the construction buyer so that he or she may conduct research to determine where the materials can be purchased from and for what price.
When working in familiar territory like Los Angeles or New York, the buyer is generally familiar with vendors and simply places a few calls to obtain quotes based on the shopping list. Productions that take place on a motion picture lot may opt to use the on-site expendables store. However, when working in an unfamiliar location, it may take longer for the buyer to obtain all of the required goods. The same can be true when trying to purchase rare or uncommon materials that may need to be sourced from specialty shops. These orders will take considerably more research and logistical planning on the part of the buyer. With the price quotes returned, the buyer receives approval to make the appropriate purchases and will handle establishing a billing method with the vendor. This person will also arrange for pickup and delivery of materials to the scenic shop or shooting location.
Skills & Education
The construction buyer’s worth is in his or her ability to track down common and uncommon items on an extensive shopping list while keeping the bill under budget and ensuring that the delivery arrives on time. For this, a thorough knowledge of construction materials and techniques is required, as is a familiarity with the typical costs of such products. The buyer should be capable of effectively maintaining a budget record, and therefore must be highly organized and proficient in the use of spreadsheets and accounting software. A college degree in film and television production or theatrical design is beneficial but not required. This position demands an individual who understands the scenic construction process, can manage related logistical concerns effectively, and is knowledgeable about vendors serving the craft.
What to Expect
Most gigs are routine in that the buyer understands the materials list and knows exactly where to purchase such goods. However, occasionally the buyer is thrown a curveball and must devise creative solutions when a major component of the set design is unavailable or in short supply. Under such circumstances, this individual must be resourceful and clever to meet the production timeline and stay on budget. Another important facet of the career is maintaining positive relationships with vendors; making mutually beneficial contacts allows the buyer to drive business to colleagues while achieving the best possible rates for the construction crew. Buyers often graduate to this role after gaining experience as a scenic carpenter or lead carpenter or through previous employment in the art department. This is often a freelance position, though opportunities for full-time employment also exist within third-party scenic shops that cater to the entertainment industry.
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