Set Decorator: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Working as a set decorator requires some formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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In any kind of production, from a school play to a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster, someone must design the set. Working closely with the writer, director and producer of a production, a set decorator helps bring a scene to life. Set decorators must have a bachelor's degree in theater design or a similar field.

Essential Information

Set decorators, also known as scenic designers, display coordinators, exhibit designers, set designers or stage scenery designers, work at theaters, movie and television studios, museums and other exhibit-based venues. They use creativity and resourcefulness to make environments that convey a message, story or mood in music videos, television shows, concerts, plays, movies, art exhibits, museum displays and commercials. A baccalaureate degree is held by most set decorators, and many participate in industry organizations through voluntary membership.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in theater design and production, fine arts, drama, interior design or a related field
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 6.8% for set and exhibit designers*
Median Salary (2015) $49,530 for set and exhibit designers*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

A set decorator works in the entertainment field, creating background scenery for movies, plays, television shows and other artistic properties. Collaborating with production designers and directors, they use artwork, furnishings and other props to design rooms for television and movie productions. Set decorators can also work in museums, creating displays for artwork or artifacts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median salary in 2015 for set and exhibit designers, including set decorators, was $49,530 per year (www.bls.gov). The demand for set and exhibit designers is expected to increase by 6.8% between 2014 and 2024, per the BLS.

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Duties

In order to create the appropriate background, set decorators must read scripts and conduct research to inform their designs and make sure they are in the appropriate historical or geographical context. Set decorators are responsible for coordinating with other production specialists, such as lighting coordinators and camera operators, when considering set plans. They must track down the items needed for set construction and decoration while keeping within budget constraints. Set decorators work closely with directors to ensure proper location of props and furniture. With larger productions, set decorators can be in charge of hiring personnel to assist in set building.

Requirements

To be a set decorator requires creativity and originality, as well as an understanding of design and fine arts. Set decorators must be skilled at time management, decision-making, communication and critical thinking. Although previous experience is not always necessary, these professionals typically need bachelor's degrees. Degrees may be in theater design and production, fine arts, drama or interior design. Set decorators who work in museum settings might have art history or science degrees.

Although not required, networking through membership in professional organizations can lead to job opportunities. Membership in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) includes all types of industry workers, such as stagehands, ticket sellers, make-up artists and broadcast personnel. The Set Decorators Society of America (SDSA) supports set decorators and crew members, as well as entities that supply furniture and props to production efforts.

Ideal set decorators are creative and have a scrutinizing eye for detail as well as the communication skills necessary to work with writers and directors. They also possess the technical knowledge needed to produce the set design that they envision.

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