Set Dresser

  • Set Dresser

No matter how impressive the set or visual effects, the scene does not feel organic without set dressings; these include tables, chairs, utensils, and anything else that occupies a scene (but the actor doesn’t touch) that makes a space feel lived in and realistic. To assist in bringing the set to life, set dressers are tasked with implementing the set decorator’s design.


Duties

The set dresser works under the supervision of the set decorator and lead dresser, and is responsible for the pickup and transportation of set décor, to ensure it arrives at the filming location, as well as the maintenance and repair of décor items. As per the instructions of the set decorator, the dresser will prepare and place dressings on set during principal photography. This position differs from that of the on-set dresser, who is tasked with moving decorations and props to accommodate the lighting and camera crews during shot coverage. The set dresser is only responsible for décor items in the initial setup of the scene. When production has concluded, the dresser will assist in returning rented items and clearing the inventory.

Skills & Education

A set dresser must have an artistic eye and also be knowledgeable about the production process. Specifically, it is important that the dresser understand how the décor and prop departments collaborate within the larger art department. Additionally, practical knowledge of researching and sourcing rental items is valuable. The dresser should know every prop house in town and quickly be able to recall where the decorator saw that rug she loved. In performance of the job, the set dresser must be attentive to instruction and highly organized. A particular college degree is not required, though majors in film and television production, theatrical design, or interior design are relevant and helpful in this career.

What to Expect

The cliché of “hurry up and wait,” is perhaps most apt to describe the pace of the décor department. Prior to filming, the dressers are in a rush to get the hundreds of items in place and camera-ready. Once the scene is set, there could be hours of sitting around to wait for the next setup. There isn’t much room for creative freedom in this role. On the job, set dressers put this here and move that there. However, rookies must put in the time in order to advance to senior-level roles. The good news is that a promotion may not be that far off.

Unlike the fields of camera operation and lighting, the art department tends to offer a faster track to the senior-level. What is most important in furthering your career is developing positive working relationships with your supervisors. Crew leads often recruit from their existing crews when preparing for a new project. Eventually, an opportunity will arise to take on a lead dresser or set decorator role. In fact, those gigs can be referred to you when a colleague can’t take the gig or the department head has to be replaced mid-production.

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