Film School for a Set Dresser?



November 9, 2011

For many people interested in becoming a set dresser, film school can seem like a somewhat obvious and straightforward path to breaking into the industry. While film school can offer some benefits for future set dressers, it will typically also offer classes and coursework that provides little real insight or useful skill related to dressing sets for a film production. Many set dressers find that other methods of learning about set dressing and the various types of tasks necessary within the industry are more appropriate for their needed skill sets and the abilities they will be expected to have.


A set dresser typically works to design, construct, and maintain sets for shooting film productions. Set dressers are usually part of a film crew and will work with other set crew members and concept artists to create a final set that matches the vision of other artists and the film’s director. Since construction is a major aspect of set dressing, many set dressers have a background in construction or education in engineering, design, and interior design or architecture. While certain practical considerations are important when building a set, the aesthetic appeal and impact of a set should also be taken into account, and so various disciplines may be important for a set dresser.


Some set dressers go to film school to learn the various methods used in creating and designing sets for film productions. This is hardly necessary, however, and a number of other programs are offered by various schools to learn the skills needed to work in set design and construction. Many colleges and universities with drama programs also include classes or programs to help students learn about set design and construction, often tied to engineering programs offered by the school. Other types of schools also offer programs that can help set dressers learn what they will need to know to work in the industry, such as mentor-apprentice (extern) programs.


In these types of programs, a student is paired with a mentor who is already working in the industry, and someone would learn about set dressing and construction while working on a set with other professionals. This allows someone to learn while receiving experience as well, and many people find this type of “learning by doing” to be far more beneficial than traditional classroom lessons. Experiential learning of this type has been used for centuries in a number of different construction disciplines, and is a common form of education for anyone interested in becoming a set dresser.