Give The Art Department Some Love

Thumb Creating a 12-ft mural in a 20-ft apartment took 2 days.

When you're scheduling and budgeting your next film, try and give some love to the art department. They're worth it.

On a studio or larger indie film, production design spans at least five departments:

  • Production Design Staff
  • Set Dressing
  • Props
  • Greens (plants)
  • Set Construction


This structure reflects the different tasks and skills involved in creating the film's world.  But it also gives the team the flexibility to combat time.  They always have to be on today's, tomorrow's, and yesterdays sets simultaneously.  On a typical nano-budget indie film, your "team" is one or two all-purpose folks.  To make their work easier, follow these tips:

PREP: Whether you pay your production designer for prep (I hope you do) or you're doing the work yourself, get started early.  Art needs at least 1-2 days of prep for every day of shooting.  On Found In Time, I was the production designer (as well as director), so I started prepping in May - for a September shoot.

START WITH EXTERIORS: Schedule a few exterior days first.  This is good for many reasons, and it gives the designer time to prep the first big interior.

ALTERNATE SMALL AND LARGE SETS: Schedule "simple" interiors or exteriors in-between complex sets.  You're giving the team time to wrap out yesterday's place and set up for tomorrow.

SCHEDULE THE HERO PROP:  If you have a really expensive/labor-intensive ('hero') prop, schedule all its days together.  This reduces rental costs and wear-and-tear from repeated setup/transport/wrapping.

RENT AN ART VAN: You'll be happier when your props arrive intact instead of crushed underneath a grip cart.  When the designer needs to go buy something, she won't take the rest of your gear with her.

RENT, DON'T BUILD: Set building ALWAYS takes longer and costs more than you think.  In most cases, you're better off renting a more expensive location that needs minimal tweaking, than building a perfect set.

CARD: Give the art department its own credit card.  Designers do a lot of buy-and-returns, so they may max out the card temporarily.

STORAGE: The props, dressing, fabrics, paints, and tools all need to go somewhere.  Don't assume that your designer will be cool about turning his apartment into a free storage shed.

RECEIPTS: On indies, art paperwork suffers.  If you have an intern to spare, have him organize art's petty cash, deal memos, and purchases.

RENT FOR PREP AND WRAP: Make sure the location owner will let the art team in before and after the shoot.  You don't want them setting up while the crew is standing around waiting.  You may have to factor this into the rental price.  But waiting on the shoot day is worse.

WALKIES: Your on-set art person will need a walkie.

CARTAGE: Art generates a lot of mess (broken props, used paint cans, scrap lumber, etc.)  You may have to rent a commercial dumpster for it.  They're a lot less expensive than an illegal dumping fine.

Good luck and happy shooting!