When you’re overseeing a production, details matter. On any lot, location or sound stage, the set dresser plays an important role. You need someone with a keen eye, a painstaking attention to details and the ability to keep track of props, scenery and blocking, especially when scenes are filmed out of sequence.
For set designers and directors, it’s critical to understand how to hire a freelance set dresser.
What to look for
How do you make it all fit?
A set dresser should have a good sense of scale and pick complementary props and scenery.
Where do you get inspiration?
A set dresser should be inspired by a broad range of media, including art, television, movies, books … and even video games.
What's your system?
A set dresser needs a solid system for tracking what props and set pieces used, where they’re placed and how they’re used from scene to scene.
Know what you need
Is the film a period piece?
A set dresser selects items for the production that are appropriate for the setting, time frame and genre of the production. When figuring out hot to hire a freelance art dresser, understand the director’s and cinematographer’s vision and needs for sets.
How prominent are the sets?
A set dresser’s work not only sets the scene but sets the mood and tone as well. Will the production have a sparse aesthetic or be richly decorated, A set dresser will identify props and pieces that complement costumes, locations and makeup.
Is the production on location or a sound stage?
Set dressers need to know the locations and conditions under which the film will be shot. If it’s on location, the set dresser will use decor that is not subject to the elements. If it’s an action film, the set dresser needs to know how many of a particular prop might be needed for the duration of the shoot.
Questions to ask a potential candidate
What materials and styles do you like to work with?
Set dressers need to have an extensive knowledge of materials, styles, colors and fabrics. Set dressers need to be flexible but may have particular preferences for their work.
How do you stay organized?
Organization is critical when thinking about how to hire a freelance set dresser. The person hired needs to keep track of possibly hundreds of objects and make sure they stay intact and do not “walk away” at the end of shooting.
What's your inventory system?
The set dresser needs easy access to props, wall hangings and set pieces. The set dresser needs to know where these objects are and how quickly they can be brought to set.
How do you track continuity?
The set dresser makes sure that props and pieces are placed and used consistently from scene to scene and take to take. That means knowing where an object is placed, what happens to it and how an actor uses it.
What did you study in school?
Many good set dressers studied film production, theater, film history, studio art or art history. A good set dresser has a clear understanding of visual display, balance and scale.