What do Set Decorators do?
Small details often tell the audience the most about characters in feature films: the pictures hanging on the walls of their homes; the contents of their fridge or bathroom cabinet; their books; the treasured objects kept in a box hidden in the desk drawer. All of these details are created by the imagination and creative flair of Set Decorators, who research, prepare and oversee the dressing of every set and adapted location on a feature film. Many Set Decorators work on commercials, where they are known as stylists, as well as on films. They work on a freelance basis with a number of Set Designers who usually specifically request them. The hours are long and the job can involve long periods working away from home.
Once Set Decorators have met with the production designer to discuss the agreed aesthetic of the film, they visit numerous prop houses, where they carefully select the bigger props and book them for the shoot. In the art department office, Set Decorators prepare a detailed prop breakdown, marking the script up and listing requirements for action props, animals, vehicles, dressing props and any graphics items (letters, newspapers, posters, books etc). Production buyers and graphic artists also prepare their own lists which are compared to check for any missing items. These lists are combined to make the definitive list from which Set Decorators work. The required items are then located, purchased or hired, and where necessary model-makers are commissioned, arrangements are made for furniture to be reupholstered, etc. When the final schedule is delivered (detailing the precise shooting order of scenes in the film), definitive lists of all props and set decoration are prepared according to daily requirements.
Set Decorators may also work on product placement arrangements, or on acquiring copyright clearances for branded items. Close to the beginning of the shoot, Set Decorators photograph all items, taking careful measurements where necessary, and allocate the appropriate props to each set. The day before shooting begins Set Decorators and their teams arrive in the early hours to begin dressing the set. After the Set Designer has checked over the dressed set and made any last minute changes or additions, and the director and the director of photography have given their final approvals, Set Decorators begin work on the next scene detailed on the schedule. Because locations and prop hire can be very expensive, striking (dismantling) each set and returning all the props must be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
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Job description sources include (but are not limited to) imdb.com, skillset.org and wikipedia.