What is a Set Decorator

What is a Set Decorator? Roles, Requirements, & Skills on the Set

The Set Decorator is responsible for furnishing the film set with the exception of any structural elements that are brought in by the Carpenter. Set Decorators provide various items for the set including silverware and dishes for scenes where people are eating, and appropriate newspapers or furniture props to furnish a room. Set Decorators are the providers of both action props and dressing props that are included in the shooting script or necessary to bring the characters of the film to life.

Often times, it’s the little things that make a big presence in the film shoot. Set Decorators must pay very close attention to detail and consider each of the minute needs of the feature film including things like hanging pictures on the wall to make a room appear part of a home, or placing treasured objects inside a drawer for an actor to use in a shoot. The Set Decorator must possess a creative flair and a keen ability to think ahead and provide necessary props on set.

Set Decorator

They often research and prepare the dressing of the set adapting locations for the appropriate visualization of the film production. On commercial sets, the Set Decorator is sometimes known as the stylist. They work on a freelance basis alongside the Set Designers that request them. Work hours are often long, and generally take place away from home so travel is a must.

Set Decorator Job Role

The Set Decorator’s job begins with a meeting to the Production Designer. They discuss the aesthetic feel of the film and visit prop houses to begin preparing to source the necessary elements of the film. For larger props, the Set Decorator will source and secure them well in advance of the shoot to ensure they are available on film days.

Working with the art department, the Set Decorator prepares a prop breakdown and detailed notes regarding the requirements of props for each film set including any necessary action props, animals, vehicles, and dressing props as well as potentially necessary graphics that will ensure the film comes together at shoot time.

Set Decorator

Set Decorators provide the list of needs to the production buyers and the graphic artists who work to check for any missing items that may be required to make the film come to life. Set Decorators make the definitive list of needs from which the set decorators will work off. Required set items and props are located, purchased or hired, and when necessary model-makers are commissioned and arrangements made for proper upholstering of furniture to ensure the final set is prepared for the shoot.

Before Filming

Upon delivery of the final working schedule, the list of all props and set decorations is prepared according to daily shoot requirements. Set Directors often work to place products and arrange branded items prior to the film shoot. Before shooting occurs, the Set Decorators will photograph all items and carefully measure where necessary to ensure the appropriate props are sourced for the set. Set Decorators arrive the day before the shoot to begin dressing the set for production.

The Set Designer checks the dressed set and requests any last minute adjustments or changes and then the Director of Photography offers final approvals. Set Decorators then begin working on the next scene to ensure that delivery takes place on schedule, prior to the production film shoot. Locations, prop hires, and sourcing of necessary items can be very expensive. Therefore, Set Designers must take great care when striking each set and returning all props quickly and efficiently to avoid overcharges.

Essential Skills of a Set Decorator

Set Decorators possess a number of essential skills including the ability to decorate a set with explicit knowledge of history and design. Set Decorators must have several working contacts with prop houses so as to source the right products for use on the set. Computer skills and the ability to drive and pick-up or drop-off sourced props are two must have skills.

Additional skills include:

  • A keen eye for detail.
  • Attention to detail and precision.
  • Enthusiasm for dressing objects and crafting decoration in a room.
  • A solid sense of color and art form.
  • An understanding of the film set and desired needs for the production.
  • Ability to methodologically plan the set.
  • Ability to see the broader picture and visualize the production.
  • Knowledge of the health and safety standards of the set.

The Oscars uploaded a short video on the role of a set decorator:



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