Craft Descriptions - Set Decoration

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 The Set Decorator is the Department Head responsible for the design, selection, budgeting, acquisition and placement for all Set Dressing items. The Set Decorator also supervises and staffs the Set Decoration Department. Once the sets are built and painted, or a location is chosen, the Set Decorator decorates the sets by selecting the objects known as "set dressing" -- which contribute to telling the story and support the vision of the Producer, Director, Writer, and Production Designer.

Set dressing can be defined as the surroundings that are a part of everyday life, filling and defining the shooting space. In everyday life, a given room may contain furniture, throw rugs, lighting fixtures, plants, perhaps clutter on the floor, unopened bills on the table, a torn curtain on the window -- physical items which might give one specific impressions about the person who inhabits this room: personal tastes, nuances of character, an indication of time or period. If reproduced in detail on a film set, all of these items would be considered set dressing, and would require the expertise of a Set Decorator.

SET DECORATOR'S RESPONSIBILITIES. The Set Decorator supervises and staffs the Set Decoration Department with Property Personnel (see "Property" craft section):

• During prep, is among the first of the key department heads to be hired to establish set dressing concepts through conversations with Producer, Director, Production Designer/Art Director. Creates presentation boards with set dressing concepts and personally represents these ideas in all meetings.

• Obtains blueprints and/or sketches from the Art Department.

• Breaks down the script in terms of visual set dressing items, and crew requirements.

• Creates and tracks a Set Decoration Department budget throughout the production.

• Acquires from accounting, for the purpose of budgeting, the following list of proper tracking numbers: purchase orders, work authorizations, set numbers, television episodic numbers.

• Supervises all petty cash for the Set Decoration Department

• Staffs a permanent crew that may be added upon daily, depending on the scope and needs of the show.

• Supervises and staffs all Drapery persons for the given show, and may oversee additional Property people specializing in Floor covering, Upholstery, Electrical Fixtures and Floral needs.

• Scouts all locations/ attends "tech scout" -- a location scout where all department heads are present with Director and Producer.

• Attends "production meetings" -- meetings held to review entire script page by page with the Director, Producer and all department heads to review overall interdepartmental questions and what the Director expects for each scene.

• Selects, acquires and oversees manufacturing and installation of Set Dressing.

• Responsible for the placement and dressing of all sets.

• Creates a carefully dressed set, with many "coats" of the lives of the characters who "inhabit" that set -- down to personal items on a desktop or night table, cigarette butts in an ashtray, or a cartoon taped to the side of a cash register in a restaurant set, etc.

• Maintains an enormous source library needed for local and distant locations.

• Reviews daily the requirements of the shooting schedule.

• Is ultimately responsible to the production company during the wrap for supervising the Set Dressing strike and the return of all set dressing items and petty cash.

• Notifies Production Manager of overages, loss and damage.


Lead Person (contractually classified as "Gang Boss"). Assistant to the Set Decorator, responsible for logistics and personnel

• Arranges logistics for the Set Dressing crew.

• Maintains the allocation of manpower (generally referred to as "man days").

• Handles call times, and notifies crew members where to report.

• Ensures that the Set Dressing crew is provided with location parking.

• Arranges meals for set dressing crew in an appropriately-timed fashion (to avoid meal penalties).

• Collects and submits time cards for processing. Sometimes responsible for initially approving them.

• Sets up a "goldroom" (office to store valuables).

• Rents a "Box" or "Kit" which contains moving equipment, tools and other supplies required by set dressing crew.

• Coordinates pickup, warehousing and return of all set dressing (NOTE: Set Dressing must not be transported in personal vehicles).

• Manages paperwork for pickups and returns.

• Obtains purchase orders for any loss or damage items.

• Handles Tagging System. As the Set Decorator chooses furnishings in prop houses, the Lead Person places "Hold" tags on the items which state the Set Decorator's name, show, set, pick-up date and phone number/pager. (Important: As shoot dates change, a crucial function of the Lead Person is to change pick-up dates so that the prophouse items are not released back into available stock and potentially rented to another production).

• Works with accounting to arrange for purchase orders, work authorizations and check requests.

• Manages petty cash.

• Assists with coordination of the time necessary for prep, dress and wrap for the sets on location.

• Coordinates with transportation the number and type of needed vehicles and crew for required tasks. Also orders special transportation equipment for Set Dressing Department, such as Condors and forklifts.

• Coordinates with Gaffer and Set Lighting Department on rigging of set dressing practical fixtures.

Set Dressers (Property Persons, also known as "Swing Gang"). Responsible for the physical pickup of items and dressing in of sets under the supervision of the Set Decorator.

• Pick up set dressing items from prop houses.

• Unwrap hand props and place in organized fashion off-set.

• "Rough-in" furniture and items into place, based on sketches or directions from Set Decorator.

• Execute more detailed placement upon Set Decorator's instructions.

Set Dresser Assigned to the Set. The Set Dresser Assigned to the Set represents the Set Decorator during actual shooting once the Set Decorator leaves the set.

• Works under the supervision of the Property Master during actual shooting (Underline?-BMB), and represents the Set Decoration Department on set.

• Verifies that reference photos have been taken for redressing the set, if necessary.

• Ensures that items are redressed in their proper places if set dressing items have to be struck for any reason.

• Notifies Lead Person if there is a change in schedule, or if shooting on a particular set hasn't been completed.

• Protects the set and covers necessary items. Works with the Assistant Director to protect against accidents by preventing eating and drinking on any set.

• Places "Hot Set" signs on a set in progress so set dressing is not moved, which otherwise might disturb the continuity of the scene.

• Locks up valuable pieces once shooting for the day has wrapped.

STAFFING CONSIDERATIONS. The size and scope of a show may necessitate any of the following situations:

• On large shows, the Set Decorator may call in another Set Decorator to do sets when distances between locations make it difficult for one Decorator to supervise all necessary work.

• A Set Decorator may staff two Lead Persons. One may handle crew logistics and paperwork, and the other may assist the Set Decorator with tagging and supplies.

• The most efficient and cost-effective way to meet the requirements of shows with extensive drapery work may be to place a drapery person full-time on the Set Dressing crew. This person would then also be available to transition over to help the other Set Dressers as needs may dictate.

DEPARTMENTAL INTERACTION. As television and filmmaking is a collaborative process, communication between departments is necessary. In the interest of maintaining a good working environment, a Set Decorator will most likely confer with the following departments:

(listed in alphabetical order)

Accounting. Acquires from accounting for purpose of budgeting the following list of proper tracking numbers for doing purchase orders, work orders, set numbers and television episodic numbers.

Art Department/Production Design. To discuss the overall design concept for the project in order to select the appropriate Set Dressing.

Construction Coordinator. For any set dressing-related construction requirements, possible budgeting overlaps, painter requests, scheduling of dressing time and construction of goldroom.

Director. To clarify Director's specific needs in relationship to Set Decoration and to present an overall plan for the Set Dressing of the show.

Director of Photography. To discuss practical lighting, colors and window treatments in relationship to lighting needs and their appropriateness.

Gaffer/Set Lighting. To discuss the style and number of Set Dressing fixtures so Set Lighting will be prepared and staffed to make them practical.

Producers. To discuss the time frame for prep, shoot and wrap, as well as the set dressing concept and any budget challenges.

Production Office Staff. Arrange for "start" paperwork (W-2's, deal memos, etc.), office space, parking accommodations, copy of deal memo and legal clearances.

Product Placement House (if one is provided). To discuss any scripted Set Dressing, or Set Dressing that logically would be present, which might be obtained for no cost in exchange for its promotional value. The Set Decorator, at his/her discretion, personally contacts the Product Placement Houses.

Property Master. To clarify delineation of responsibilities. (A basic rule of thumb is that the Property Master will be responsible for the acquisition, purchase and manufacture of any item which moves, which is held by the actor or which is specifically identified in the script.)

Special Effects. For metal work and sometimes specialized furnishings. Large lighting fixtures may require special rigging. To make sinks, tubs and showers "practical" (workable, useable). To discuss breakaway pieces that may need to be built in order to match existing Set Dressing, to alert Special Effects of the Set Dressing 'suse of candles and torches so permits can be obtained.

Stunt Coordinator. To discuss any Set Dressing which is present during stunt action.

Technical Advisor (if available). To provide specific information to correctly dress a set that relates to the advisor's field of expertise (for example, a physician/nurse for medical set-ups, a magician for magic tricks, an acupuncturist for proper technique, a military officer for advice on protocol, etc.)

Transportation. To discuss drivers and vehicle requirements for show.

Unit Production Manager. Hires and negotiates deal memo with Set Decorator, discusses "pattern budget (an estimate created by accountants based only on script data)" and is given an educated budged prepared by the Set Decorator for Set Dressing, Transportation and manpower. Daily conversations on crew overtime hour, meals, additional manpower or transportation, budget update and scheduling challenges.

Video and Computer Graphics Coordinators. To address all Set Dressing requirements so that video and computer screens will photograph naturally.

Wardrobe. To maintain harmony of color palettes, especially with regards to upholstery colors, bed linens, table cloths, where actors' clothing may interact.


QUALIFICATIONS. A Set Decorator is recognized by Local 44 in one of two ways --

(1) Through advancement from within the union. A Property member must have:

• a total of 720 hours as a Property Lead Person under the Basic Agreement or its Supplements to be eligible for placement on the Industry Experience Roster (IER) as a Set Decorator, provided that all hours as a lead where preformed within 12 consecutive months immediately preceding the submission date of his/her application to be placed on the IER as a Set Decorator; and

• Paid the adjusted balance now due for initiation fees and quarterly dues (since fees and dues increase in proportion to one's rate of pay under the Basic Agreement).


- OR -

(2) Through the union organizing process:

• A non- union candidate is recognized by CSATF as having worked for 30 qualified days as a Set Decorator on a show which has been organized by IATSE; and

• He or she pays all appropriate initiation fees and dues, and is sworn in by Local 44 as a member.

MINIMUM PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS. Over the years, the Set Decorator's craft has benefited from a rich and time-honored tradition of learning from previous veterans. A Set Decorator should possess and develop the following:

• An overall knowledge of furnishings and styles.

• An ability to read blueprints

• Facility in breaking down a script according to Set Dressing requirements

• Strong research skills.

• Access to resources and catalogues.

• A working understanding of the technical aspects of filmmaking -- camera angles, film stock, how colors will photograph, how camera lenses will affect an image.

• An overall knowledge of construction.

• Intuition.

• Innovation.

• Physical stamina! The long, arduous hours of film and television production require good judgement in physically pacing oneself and avoiding illness.

• Focus and concentration.

• Ability to lead and delegate responsibilities.

• Accountability for large sums of money.

• Good understanding of union jurisdictions.

• Communication skills with Director, Producers, and other department heads to establish needs.

• Impeccable organizational ability to list many thoughts at once.

• Ability to order and manufacture set dressing items such as: an oversized conference table, or a stuffed, lifesized dinosaur.

• Computer skills.

• Strong visual concept. Experienced Set Decorators speak of "having all the sets in my head." As they visit prophouses or vendors, a good Set Decorator has the ability to tag items for multiple sets.

• Flexibility and adaptability.

• Spatial sense. Set Decorators have mentioned visiting location sites where it was impractical or impossible to carefully measure dimensions of the shooting space. In these cases, they must rely upon an intuitive concept of how many furnishings will be necessary to properly fill the space on the day of the shoot.

SCRIPT BREAKDOWN. No specific format exists for breaking down a shooting script into the requirements of the Set Decoration Department. A suggested format is as follows:

(1) List All Sets. It is necessary to "read between the lines" for hidden budget areas:exterior streets, hallways outside rooms required for entrances and exits, porches seen from windows, etc.

(2) Dissect Each Set. Identify and list all set dressing items needed to create the appropriate environment (essentially, a working shopping list).

(3) Create Budgets For All Sets. Each set is listed on a Budget Form and items are grouped into the following categories:

 • Purchases

 • Rentals

 • Drapes

 • Flooring

 • Fixtures

 • Manufacturing

 • Hardware

 • Greens

The Budgeting Form is submitted to the Unit Production Manager.



• Ensure that he/she or a representative will "open" the set in the morning.

• Remain on set until the camera rolls for the first shot.

• Let the Assistant Directors know when leaving the set.

• Communicate with the Production Designer regarding creative interaction.

• Respect all departmental jurisdictions.

• Keep the Unit Manager informed of daily activity.

SCREEN CREDIT. The Set Decorator, along with other affiliated craftspersons such as the Director of Photography, Art Director and Costumer, has a contractual right to screen credit. The agreement between the Producers and IATSE reads as follows:

Whenever and as long as the practice of giving screen credit to an individual (exclusive of the producer, writer, director, and cast) prevails, the producer agrees that screen credit shall also be given in a prominent place on all positive prints to Set Decorators rendering their services for the photoplay.

The term "associate" or "assistant" shall not be used in connection with such screen credit."

--Producers Agreement, Paragraph 84, p. 98

AWARD ELIGIBILITY. On both large and small screens, Local 44 Set Decorators have received countless nominations and many awards.

Film. Set Decorators are eligible for an Academy Award, along with the Production Designer, under the category of "Art Direction."

Television. Set Decorators are eligible for Daytime and Primetime Emmy Awards, along with the Production Designer, under the category of "Art Direction."

ORGANIZATIONS. A number of fine organizations exist for the Set Decorator which provide support and fellowship:

Set Decorators Society of America

Pacific Design Center

8687 Melrose Avenue, Suite MB28 (mezzanine, Blue Building)

Los Angeles, CA 90069

(310) 289-1959

Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS)

8949 Wilshire Boulevard

Beverly Hills, CA 90211

(310) 247-3000

Academy of Television Arts & Sciences

5220 Lankershim Boulevard

North Hollywood, CA 91601

(818) 754-2800