Filming is an involved and complicated process with numerous teams working in collaboration to bring the several logistical and creative pieces together. The set construction process is a small example of that; many skilled craftsmen and women work diligently to complete pieces of a larger design that come together only through cooperation and careful planning.
The construction crew is responsible for building the sets and scenery for a film or television show according to the plans set forth by the production designer and set designer. The lead carpenter works under the supervision of the construction foreman to see that all members of the crew adhere to technical standards during set construction. He or she is also responsible for ensuring that teams complete assigned projects according to production deadlines, expediting work as necessary to keep the build on schedule. This person is first a skilled craftsperson who participates in the construction process, with the added responsibility of managing subordinates in their day-to-day activities. The lead carpenter is available to mentor junior crewmembers and to be a first point of communication between the foreman and crew.
Skills & Education
As a senior member of the construction crew, the lead carpenter must have several years of practical experience. A solid foundation in the standard principles of building practices is necessary, accompanied by a mastery of the techniques specific to scenic construction for film and television. Thinking practically, the lead carpenter must possess considerable skill in using trade tools and reading and interpreting build design blueprints. Though techniques can be taught, skill and talent must be practiced. Hands-on learning is the best education, as many professionals have spent years in the apprenticeship of a mentor. A college degree in film and television production with a concentration on set design and carpentry is beneficial. The degree provides an additional advantage in learning the production process, as well as an understanding of the different trades associated with the many departments within a production team. As a leader, this person requires the ability to communicate effectively within groups, exhibiting good decision-making and organization.
What to Expect
Not all carpenters find their way onto a film or television set through a film degree. Many come from a traditional theater background, while others find opportunities to enter the industry after developing the necessary skills while working in commercial or residential construction. Like any facet of the business, making a career for yourself is all in who you know. Seeking out opportunities to learn from veteran professionals while developing your skills is beneficial, not only to perfect your craft, but also to develop working relationships that can be an avenue to employment. It is common that a novice crewmember starts by being a shop hand, tasked mostly with cleaning, running errands, and assisting when asked. Employment opportunities exist within scenic shops that cater to the entertainment industry, as well as those for freelancers on a contract basis. Though it isn’t glamorous, take every chance you find to participate in student films, community theater, and other amateur work. The experience gained will be worthwhile when seeking your first paid gig. After several years of professional work as a member of the construction crew, those who have mastered the trade can seek advancement to the role of the lead carpenter.
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