What is a Set Director?

A set director, or set designer or decorator, is in charge of creating and managing the interior and exterior in which a film will be shot. Whether it's a commercial that's over in 30 seconds or a 2-hour movie that makes the viewer feel like they got to know the characters, set directors turn everything from sound stages to real-life restaurants and parks into believable and palpable milieus that make the viewer feel like they're right there living out the story.

Primary Roles

The set director's chief role is to oversee the creation of exterior and interior sets for video production. Set directors work closely with production designers to ensure that every detail from the furnishings down to the items dotting the set like posters, curios, and accents fit the production's setting, story, and characters. A bedroom set can feel sterile and impersonal, but an adept set director will make it feel authentic as if the character in that scene actually lives there. The set director selects furniture, drapery, signs, and even things like traffic cones and statuary to inject realism into a scene (or surrealism, depending on the type of film being shot.)

The set director plans the design scheme for each scene by researching the setting, genre, sources of inspiration for the writer and director, as well as the time period and location where the film takes place. Then they go by the script to note all the furnishings and decor needed to dress each scene prior to shooting. By using inspiration boards, sketches, color swatches, and other materials the set director can work with the director and production designer to finalize what the set needs. Once the director approves the set design, the set director assigns the set buyer a checklist of items needed for the set to be cataloged by scene and shooting date. For items that can't be easily bought or rented, the set director designs and commissions specialty pieces which involves working directly with artisans like sculptors, illustrators, furniture designers, and other creative professionals to design unique set objects for dressing the set. The set director then supervises on-set dressers and must make alterations to the set as needed by the director.

Secondary Roles

Set directors have some managerial roles when it comes to working with on-set dressers and set buyers. Depending on the size and budget of the film, the set director may also be an integral part of the design team that works closely with the director of photography to establish the visual style of the production. On smaller film sets, the set director may have a role in lighting, wardrobe, and other visual elements that coordinate with the set.

Set directors must also be mindful of budgets, so they also have a strong secondary role with the line producer when preparing budgets according to the purchase and rental needs of each unique set, along with on-set labor who must assemble and break down the set every day. It's on the set director to monitor the set decoration budget every day and be mindful of the production's ongoing needs for both set items and labor.

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