Leadman

  • Leadman

Set dressing is a simple task—place a dish there, a curtain here—that plays an important role in the realism and continuity of a film or television production. A bare set of walls or empty backlot street is not nearly as convincing or enveloping as a fully dressed environment with all of the ordinary items that humans interact with in real life. 


Duties

The leadman or lead person serves as a member of the art department under the supervision of the set decorator. He or she is responsible for managing the swing gang and/or set dressers, a crew of technicians tasked with placing set decorations in preparation for principal photography of a scene and then clearing the set when the scene is wrapped. During production, the leadman ensures that his or her crew executes dressing the set in accordance with the set decorator’s designs and art director’s established aesthetic. The lead person has a complete inventory of all decorations that correspond to a script breakdown—notes that indicate what items should appear on set for each scene and location—that is used to instruct the crew in proper placement.

The team typically arrives to a location shoot or at the soundstage in advance of the director and camera department in order to prep the stage before photography. Occasionally, when the director arrives, he or she may order changes to the set or design for logistical reasons. It will be the leadman’s responsibility to organize his or her crew, with the cooperation of the set decorator, to augment the set dressings and produce necessary replacements; this could call for new set pieces to be hurriedly scrounged and produced, so resourcefulness is a necessary skill. Typically, all technical production departments bring more to the set than is called for in the script for just such an occasion. When the scene is wrapped, the lead person supervises the crew in clearing all decorations and striking any properties that are no longer needed for the day. In the event that pick-up shots are required, a scene must be re-shot after the fact, the leadman must replicate the original set dressings in cooperation with the script supervisor to ensure complete continuity.

Skills & Education

This career does not require a specific education, but a degree in film and television production is beneficial to understanding the production process and learning the techniques related to set construction and prop making. Degrees in theatrical design or show production are also relevant to work as a leadman. To be successful in this position, you must be highly organized, be thorough, and have a meticulous eye for detail. There is nothing that a script supervisor or astute audience member hates more than a wandering set dressing that appears to be magically transporting itself across the set between camera shots. Practically, the lead person should be capable of lifting at least 50 pounds without assistance, comfortable working at heights, and able to operate carpentry tools.

What to Expect

Leadmen in the film industry are generally freelancers that work on a contract basis on one production at a time. On a television series, a single leadman could remain employed on the show for the life of the production, perhaps several years. It is common for a lead person to collaborate with the same set decorator on multiple projects. When you have developed a positive working relationship with a supervisor, he or she will often repeatedly request that you be hired on future projects. That is the key to a long career in the entertainment business, whatever your field or specialty. Those seeking to become a lead person should seek out entry-level crew positions in the art department; this includes props, set construction, painting, and set decorating. Lower-level roles are few, but they do exist on every crew. Specifically, you may find opportunities as an assistant to the set decorator, carpenter’s assistant, painter, or trainee. Likewise, certain productions are willing to hire crew to the swing gang or set dressers without experience, who demonstrate basic knowledge and a willingness to work hard. Experience as a set production assistant is also useful.

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