What is a Set Dresser?

When it comes to keeping audiences entertained, suspension of disbelief is absolutely critical. Creating a scene that allows the audience to believe that what they are viewing, if even for a brief moment, is real can help make a production stick with a viewer long after its finished and they’ve gone home. This sense of belief is enabled through the actor’s interpretation of the scene, the director’s vision, and the eye of the set dresser. While it may be the actor and the director who receive a majority of the praise, the set dresser is responsible for the placement of props and set decoration. Everything object within a shot must be carefully placed and look as if it is part of a living, breathing world. Set dresser’s must meticulously place each so that it doesn’t look out of place in the context of the scene or the director’s artistic vision.

Primary Roles

Prop Placement

Prop Placement

The devil is in the details, and in order to make a scene really stand out a great set dresser must have both a sharp eye and knowledge of a wide range of prop types. Films and videos can take audiences to times long past or to worlds completely imagined, and a set dresser must make these scenes come to life with correct placement of props. A computer sitting on a table in ancient Rome would look out of place, while silverware from the Old West might pull an audience member out of the moment if its located in a scene taking place in the future.

Managing Production Continuity

Managing Production Continuity

Audiences have surprisingly keen minds when it comes to picking up the tiniest details. A chair facing two different directions during several takes of the same scene may confuse viewers, and cause them to lose interest in what they’re watching. Set dressers must work with the production crew in order to maintain set continuity. By taking pictures of each set, they can be sure that the props are correctly placed from scene to scene.

Secondary Roles

Minor Construction

Minor Construction

A film or video production crew operates in many ways like a construction site, and it’s not unusual for set dressers to be required to build props from time to time. Building furniture, air conditioning ducts and keeping track of tools and hardware are all part of the set dresser’s job description.

Maintaining Valuable Props

Maintaining Valuable Props

Sometimes, the best props are the real ones. Depending on the production, the director may want actual valuable props such as jewels or heirlooms instead of replicas. It is up to the set dresser to take and monitor these valuables in order to make sure that they aren’t broken or, even worse, stolen.

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