Understanding the set decoration roles and hierarchy on any film or television project is very important before starting in the industry if you plan on working with the art department and set decoration (set dec) department.
Set decorators help interpret the script with the help of the production designer, director of photography, and director who work above them. Set decorators do not function independently but the set decoration department is an independent entity.
The roles and hierarchy listed below are the standards that you will find in most union production offices and film sets in North America. These roles are representative of the various set decoration crews I have personally worked in over the years. These roles may differ slightly by project, budget, region and union.
Set Decoration Roles in Film and Television
The set decorator is responsible to the production designer and the art director for the co-ordination and realization of: the dressing of all decor; the procurement, storage, movement, placement and preparation of all dressings within all studio and/or location sets; the maintenance, replacement and listing of inventory; monitoring the dispersal of the assigned set decorating budget; delegation of work for the efficient operation of the department; completing of decorated sets, camera ready, prior to the requirements of the production schedule.
ASSISTANT SET DECORATOR
The assistant set decorator is responsible to the set decorator and may, in the absence of the set decorator, assume all responsibilities of that position. According to the instructions of the set decorator, the assistant is required to assist the set decorator in the research, purchase, rental, leasing and acquisition of all items and materials used as set decor; organisation and delegation of the runsheets and wrap binder; the storage, movement, placement and preparation of all dressings within all studio and/or location sets; the maintenance, replacement and listing of inventory.
Not all film and television production centers function with this role. It is largely at the discretion of the set decorator whether they require an assistant set decorator.
SET DEC BUYER
The set dec buyer is responsible to the set decorator. Under supervision and approvals of the set decorator, the set dec buyer may purchase, rent or acquire items to be used as decor for all studio and location sets. They may also be responsible for the organisation and delegation of the runsheets and wrap binder.
This is a very important position that requires vast knowledge of furniture and dressings throughout history. The set dec buyer is also required to know the landscape of the city they work and to create working relationships with their stores, vendors, and appropriate rental houses.
The set dec buyer must liaise with the lead dresser/s to make sure all items are picked up and transported to set in order for each set to be dressed.
The lead dresser is responsible to the set decorator or in the absence of the set decorator, the assistant decorator or set dec buyer. The duties of the lead dresser shall be to oversee and maintain the standards of the set decoration department in dressing and wrapping of sets, and to carry out tasks as assigned by the decorator or his/her assistant or buyer.
The lead dresser shall delegate work to set dressers to accommodate scheduling and ensure the proper tools and materials are available to the dressing crew to complete assigned tasks.
ON SET DRESSER
The on set dresser is responsible to the set decorator and props master for on set continuity of set dressing and the placement of all set dressing on set.
Duties include but are not limited to:
- Placement and replacement of all set dressing for camera.
- Care, safety and cleaning of all set dressing pieces.
- Cleaning or dirtying of on camera surfaces (in many cases).
- Placement and replacement of all set dressing as per the set decorator, property master,
script supervisor and camera department.
- Clear knowledge of camera lenses so that he or she can anticipate the shot.
- Policing of set to prevent damage to all set dressing.
- Care and watering of all indoor plants and floral arrangements.
The on set dresser is responsible for a full tool and hardware package, flat dolly, truck dolly, furniture moving blankets, packing material, cleaning kit, ladders and camera.
The set dresser is responsible to the set decorator but their superior is largely the lead dresser. In the absence of the set decorator or lead dresser, or if otherwise required, the set dresser is responsible to the assistant set decorator or set dec buyer. According to their instructions, the set dresser may assist in: the safe and efficient pick-up and return of all items and materials used as set decor; the storage, movement, placement and preparation of all dressings within all studio and/or location sets; the maintenance, replacement and listing of inventory. The set dresser should be able to perform these tasks without direct supervision once instructions are given.
SET DEC DRIVER
It is important to note that in most unions the transportation department (teamsters) is in charge of picking up and transporting set dressings to and from set- not the set decoration department. They do so with an allocated driver to the department- the set dec driver. However, a set dresser is usually required to function as a ‘swamper‘ to help load and unload the truck as well as fill out the runsheets correctly in order to drop them back off with the set decoration department in the production office.
This post is a continuous work in progress and will be updated frequently. How would you describe the roles within the set decoration department? Am I missing anything? As always, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
Rose Lagacé | @artdepartmental
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