A set designer is involved with decisions on how to make each shot visually interesting. Far from just setting several props up in a room, they’re expected to create realistic and beautiful interpretations of the director’s and writer’s visions. They need to be able to use input from people on set, but also bring their own skills to the table.
What to look for
What types of sets have they worked on before?
If they’ve only ever designed 18th Century parlors, they may not know the first thing about styling a room from today or even another time period. Look for someone who repeatedly gets out of their comfort zone.
How do they decide on a look?
You want someone who has an overall framework to every set they’re on. For example, do they subscribe to a ‘less is more’ policy when they design?
How do they deal with change?
A freelance set designer needs to be able to go with the flow, even when the scene gets cut or changes abruptly.
Know what you need
What will your sets need to look like?
If you’re producing a film production of Our Town, the sets will be much different than those of Annie Get Your Gun. For the most part, very simple sets will mean less time and work for the set designer.
How central will your sets be?
If the sets are just a place for the actors to do their talking, you’ll need less attention to detail than if you want to give your sets a character all their own.
Who will use the sets?
The set designer has to take into account the actors as much as they do the artistic demands. The furniture, props and placement will need to accommodate those who will be on set.
Questions to ask a potential candidate
What other kinds of productions have you done?
For this position, you need someone who has hands-on experience, whether that’s through school productions or video. Set design is a matter of practice and experience with all kinds of scenes.
What's their favorite picture in their book?
The potential candidate should bring a book showcasing their best work, and asking them this question gives you a chance to see how the details in their work adds to the value of the production.
What's something the viewer may not notice, but you do?
Not everyone notices everything in film, but that doesn’t make the set design any less important. A set designer should be able to point to real examples about how their work evokes the right tone in any given scene.
What drew you to set design?
Find out more about their passions and strengths to see if they align with yours.
How did you solve a set problem?
Actors bump into oversized furniture, or the scene look crowded instead of charming. Whatever it was, find out how the freelance set designer fixed the issue.