How to become a Set Director?

Written by 90 Seconds
Last updated: October 4, 2023
How to become a Set Director?

As the creative and passionate force that drives the making of a film, a set director must fill many roles.

In order to both visualize the structure and style of the film and define it, a set director needs to be effective at finding the right cast, editing the script for clarity, composing shots for maximum effect, selecting the appropriate shots for the film and editing the final version.

Having an educational background as a freelance set director provides a solid foundation. However, the most useful item for becoming established as a set director is a showreel that highlights your best work.

Anybody out there wondering how to become a freelance set director? Well, a set director is tasked with managing all the activity on a set to ensure there’s maximum efficiency.

This includes developing the script, working with extras and the Art Department, etc. to ensure that all aspects are moving smoothly and according to schedule.

He is also tasked with ensuring that the furnishings, the drapery, artwork and lighting fixtures developed by the Art Department are consistent with the director’s vision.

He also selects the best shots to be used in the final edit of the film. Freelance set directors aren’t employed by any film studio or company. They prefer to work as independent agents.

Get some experience

Are you willing to work for free?

Volunteering at various small film projects within your area will give you the opportunity to view the set directing job up-close.

This will enable you to approach the set director and ask him/her questions regarding what it takes to get that job so that you get a feel of what the job entails.

You’re also able to get involved in other aspects of the film development process and this will not only increase your knowledge base but also enable you to understand how all the cogs in the system work together.

Would you go to school?

While practical experience in the field is crucial, getting a formal education will make you an even better set director. Classroom instruction coupled with active participation on set will make you very competent and the best prospect for professional film work.

Build your showreel by working pro bono

You want to get your name out there so that proper well-paying shows can take you seriously. Well, doing some pro bono work will help you in that regard and assist you in developing your portfolio.

Play to your strengths

In order to find success as a freelance set director, you should possess the following strengths:

Be creative, artistic, collaborative and detail oriented

Be an excellent leader by staying calm, working effectively while under pressure and able to work with diverse personalities

Be passionate about filmmaking while retaining a deep understanding of both the creative and technical aspects of the process

Do you have an eye for art?

Information on how to become a freelance set director will be incomplete without mentioning the artistic element involved.

This job requires one to work consistently with a film’s Art Department, and this requires a certain appreciation for the aesthetic elements that would be best for a film.

Great organization skills always come in handy

Having the ability to easily organize a group of people into getting a task done efficiently is a skill that counts as a great resource for any prospective set director. Successful films are the products of remarkable set organization and direction.


While set directors notably work in Los Angeles, home to Hollywood, many others work at video production companies or regional television stations.

Other areas that freelance set directors can be found include small independent movies or training films.

A set director could also branch out into other areas related to that career. These include producing, writing, teaching or script development.