The TV/Film Art Department

The Art Department

PRODUCTION DESIGNER (architect of the projects “look”): Self Absorbed, misunderstod genius that makes the Director look like he knows what he’s doing. The production designer must be able to communicate the language of vision to the audience. He gets the point across without the use of irritants such as actors. If you took a still of each set of a well designed project with no actors in frame you’d understand the story completely.

ART DIRECTOR (traffic Cop): TRIES to calm down the production designer while making the signeage and acting as a conduit between the construction crew, the paint crew and the set dressing crew because production designers have such poor people skills and would get EVERYONE FIRED!

(Radar O’ Reilly) mind reader/accountant somehow must be a psychologist for the entire art department while making sure they don’t kill each other. You usually can’t see this person because they are tethered to a desk surrounded by a moat of paperwork. A fire breathing production designer decides when they are allowed to eat or drink. I’m pretty sure that these creatures only exist at wrap parties.

CONSTRUCTION COORDINATOR stoic, smug know it all that conducts a crew of stoic know it all carpenters to build a dream that won’t kill a crew and actors and make the nightly news.

SCENIC PAINTERS (homeless hipsters).  After the set is built, it still lacks life. The skilled artists known as scenics paint over all the sloppy carpentry and make production designer look like a genius (sensing a theme here?)  The ghosts/ninjas of the film industry appear and disappear in a cloud of smoke. We ignore them during preproduction because they are wearing lose fitting clothes that are covered in paint and what looks like feces if they were woodgraining that week. When they show up on location the cops chase them out of the food line. When they show up at the wrap party everyone wants to know what department they worked in. One of the reason people don’t talk to them is because the negotiation and discussion of what needs to be painted, color, texture and specifics takes twice as long as the actual execution.  Scenics are either wanna be artists or wanna be left alone. Often both.

SPECIAL EFFECTS (why doesn’t this toilet flush?). The pen is mightier than the sword but the sword won’t retract and the water won’t run and the car won’t explode when the drawer is pulled open and the cat jumps out of the elevator and falls through the trap door IF WE CAN’T FIND THE EFFECTS MAN!  He puts the action in movies and TV. If something isn’t working the effects man will tell you how much it will cost to repair it THEN ask you what’s wrong.

GREENSMAN (plant based life form). The greensman is the production and the DP’s second best friend.  He creates and moves a world of trees, vines, plants and grass to hide us from the realities of shooting on stage and on locations that look nothing like what the script calls for.   As soon as DPs and gaffers and grips discovered that a greensman could hide the stand of a light, they stopped trying to set lights and flags out of the shot and decided to “let” the greensman save them from their own laziness.

SET DESIGNER (draftsman) weirdo recluse who spends hours creating mazes for the rats known as grips, actors, electricians, cameramen and various other film crew to navigate. The set designer devises a beautiful structure to be built to explode upon impact with a shooting crew. Set Designer are great to invite to parties because it’s their only chance to talk to real live human beings. He/She once wanted to be a production designer until he realized that you have to communicate with…

SET DECORATOR (interior designer): Nervous Wreck that makes the Production designer look like he/she knows what she/he’s doing. The set decorator is the industry’s greatest politician as he/she must make promises to the UPM to stay within budget, form alliances with the vendors and production designer and somehow force the DP to shoot what he/she has dressed and not find the one square inch of the set that doesn’t have a porcelain fowl to photograph.

LEADMAN (set decorators consigliere):

Essentially a wizard/hypnotist capable of placing four set dressers into an instant coma by reciting a single word: “Listen”!

Sergeant at arms that executes the decorators wishes, saves him/her from his/her own PANIC and gives marching orders to the SET DRESSERS (whom he/she blames for EVERYTHING that goes wrong). Getting a crew of set dressers to get along, get on the truck, gather tools and do the job is…”Like herding kittens” Oscar Thompson (loc 44 Leadman).  When the lead man says, “Go open the Company”, the set dressers hear,  “Go get breakfast from the caterer”.

SET DRESSERS (labor force) : All the drawings, theory, planning and justifying don’t mean shit unless SOMEBODY ACTUALLY DOES THE WORK!   The set dressers are the Whiney, crybaby, spoiled infantry that DO the work of putting together what has only been imagined and theorized and pointed at. Breakfast, lift, lunch, lift, wrap, repeat.

DRAPERY MAN (Pirates of the carabiner) window coverings can make the simplest set look grand and a beautiful room look abandoned. Hanging  drapery is a fulfilling occupation if you are a loner, grouch or smug. Most drapers have a trifecta going. The job is not as tough as it looks, it’s tougher.

PROPERTY MASTER (golf pro) actually thinks that he is some sort of MASTER just because he gets free sunglasses, beer and golf clubs. The prop master makes sure that the actors are using the coolest phones, guns and laptops that product placement can get for his/her school aged children. Actors love prop masters because they can always steal watches that they “forget” to return and production pays for it.

ON SET DRESSER ( the last line of defense) five set dressers have spent two days loading furniture into a 10×10 set so it only makes sense to leave one guy to disassemble and reassemble it three times while the shooting crew refuses to get the fuck out of the way. The on set dresser must fix and complete everything that the set dressers decided not to completely install and left balancing so delicately that the slightest breeze will dislodge. As the Set dressers run away from a dressed set that will explode as soon as the crew arrives you can hear them chuckle to themselves, “Let the on-set guy deal with that shit”! The on set dresser falls into two categories: a know it all who the swing gang (set dressers) don’t want riding on the five ton with them because he wants to do everything right or a knucklehead that the swing gang doesn’t want on the truck because he can’t do anything right.

The SET DRESSING DRIVER (Nap Time babysitter). The pilot of the Set Dressing 5 ton is usually the crazy driver the the coordinator had to hire. He can’t be with the shooting crew because he’s such a loudmouth that he’d get the whole department fired. He must figure out how to put three sets into one truck without lifting anything off the floor. (BTW I’ve met a total of one person in this business other than myself that actually knows how to pack a truck.). He also must cater to crybaby swing guys who want to eat lunch where there’s no place to park a white dinosaur. (Pun intended

Shout out:

SET DRESSING SHOPPER/BUYER (irritating wanna bee or sorcerers apprentice) All the “glamor” of the set decorator with no stress or the additional responsibility. The shopper is great at pissing off everyone but you have to be nice to them because of one or two reasons: If they are competent, diligent and productive they will soon be decorators, if they are only marginally competent it means that the decorator will get rid of you before letting them go. The union and the business still believes that in the age of HD one decorator can completely shop, tag and order nine sets full of detail in two days (as in single camera episodic). The buyer allows the decorator the time to paint in broad strokes and leave the details to him/her. So why does everyone hold a quiet resentment for the buyer? To the teamsters he’s stealing a job because he picks up items in his station wagon. The swing gang is jealous because they are the same category but don’t touch tools and go home when they feel like it. You can tell who the shopper is: well dressed, wears open toed shoes with a pedicure (yes, even the men) just to prove a point, well rested and not nervous. He might say hello, ask you your name then, “can you help me unload my car”? although you’ve been on the same show for five seasons.

The Art Department PA

it’s no secret that everyone has insecurities. Insecurities are magnified under the lens of so many creative minds collaborating in one artistic venture. The most inspired vision and ideas are subject to scrutiny and vulnerable to arbitrary attacks by directors who lack vision, production designers who hate an idea until they are credited with it, producers whose wives are better at design because “I pay the bills that’s why” or a know it all onset dresser who will sabotage all y’all shit just to prove a point.

With all that rage, creativity and insecurity floating around, the department needs an outlet (scapegoat). That’s where the Art Department PA comes in. His or her sole purpose is to act as a basket for all the tasks that the rest of the team are “way too talented” to be bothered with (or just don’t know how to do). They bring the PA projects and problems are way too complex or require more experience that the PA can’t handle just to make themselves feel better about still being an “art dog”. 

The art department PA or intern may be there to learn but the lesson that is taught is that the Art Department is a madhouse and a dysfunctional family who kills itself to create a believable visual story that requires no narration. Silent but deadly. The Art Department PA of today is the production designer, producer or burger franchise owner of tomorrow. 

I’ll be back yesterday…

Bruce Bellamy local 44
3rd best on-set dresser and all around badass.

(323) 382-5412


6 thoughts on “The TV/Film Art Department

  1. Sent this to a few friends. I do know a couple a people than can load and tie off a truck. One is my son Hunter who works on Bones over at Fox as a Set Dresser. He was taught by a Decorator friend of mine Bobby Gould who’s been watching trucks be loaded and off-loaded for 50 yrs. Very clever bit of writing

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, the comment about truck loading is bait. I posted a tutorial on FB a while ago and got into it with a few people and it kinda got out of hand. I think I’ll post it again on this blog just to start another war.


  2. As usual, no mention of the scenic artists (they’re the grubby looking bunch with crap all over their clothes, and shoes that look like they were passed down through several generations of homeless vagrants) who are the real genius wizards who make plywood look like stainless steel angel farts if that’s what the DP decides at the last minute he wants some completely unrelated object to look like – an object the entire rest of the crew listed above discussed ad nauseum for months prior to his arrival on set and agreed it should look like plywood, no – marble, no – velvet, no – frosted glass, I mean, oh nevermind we’ll never see it. We don’t get screen credits because the viewing public doesn’t know we exist and that knowledge would destroy the illusion of film making.

    Liked by 1 person

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