A set designer is in charge of designing and creating the sets that appear in films, on television programs as well as in the theatre. The role involves working and communicating with directors, producers, costume designers and other members of staff.
The role is given a variety of different names depending on where you’re based. In film and TV the role is often known as a production designer, whereas in theatre, it can also be known as a stage designer. However, the same skill set is intrinsic to all three types of designer.
Typical responsibilities include:
- Make changes to set as necessary.
- Reading scripts
- Produce set plans, drawings and models
- Prepare estimates of set costs
- Select the furniture, wall coverings, floor coverings, and large props to be used in set.
- Manage budgets
- View possible outside broadcast sites
- Attend rehearsals/film takes
- Meet with and commission set construction companies.
- Analyze stage entrances and exits to ensure set is situated properly.
- Ensure stage is properly broken down and disposed of after use.
- Research architectural styles and previous sets for inspiration.
- Working well under pressure
- Good spatial awareness
- Technical skills
Typical employers of set designers
- Film and video production companies
- Television companies
- Advertising agencies
- Music video production companies
Experienced designers (particularly film set designers) commonly work on a self-employed/freelance basis.
Qualifications and training required
Film schools offer courses in set design. Employers prefer candidates with technical knowledge in set design. As career progresses, you build up your portfolio with your past experiences and build your reputation through the industry and your contacts within it.
Like most roles in the industry, working hours are about as flexible as can be depending on the projects you are undertaking and the stage that your productions are at. Working hours can be extremely long, however, and will almost certainly involve weekend and evening work when deadlines for production dates are looming.
Salaries and benefits
There are literally no set guidelines as to how much you can earn in the industry, because set designers work on a nearly constant freelance basis, unless they belong to a big theatre. Freelance rates can vary widely, based on your experience and your proven track record.