A set dresser is a professional designer who works in film, television, or live theater. Under the direction of the art director and set designer, the set dresser is in charge of furnishing sets. Depending on the production, a set dresser may have considerable or limited authority over the selection of items such as wall and floor coverings, furnishings, and decorative elements.
On a small film shoot or theater production, the work of a set dresser may be combined with that of a designer in order to save on crew members. One person may be responsible for designing and sometimes construction the set, shopping for furnishings, and dressing the set or location. Larger productions may involve a separate person or even separate teams for each of these functions. On a large scale shoot or production, a set dresser may only be responsible for physically arranging furnishings and decorative elements on the set.
The education for a set dresser may come from a variety of areas. Some begin as interns in order to learn more about the craft before committing to a full-time career or educational path. Many are working their way up to being designers or art directors, taking jobs as set dressers in order to make contacts and gain insight into the art and craft of the discipline. Some, but not all, possess university degrees in interior design, architecture, or set design.
The amount of authority a set dresser has will depend on his or her experience and the scope of each production. Set dressers who are learning to be designers may have limited authority and be expected to follow closely to the plan of the designer or art director. Professional set dressers, on the other hand, may work in a team with a designer and have a significant amount of say in the selection and placement of all dressing items.
The job of a set dresser is critical to the look of a film, TV show, or theater production. Furnishings tell the story of a location; a room filled with soft floral couches and framed photographs reveals important information about the owner, making it immediately distinct from a minimalist room with nothing but a huge red circle painted on the wall. While less obvious than the dialogue or action of the characters, the look and atmosphere of a set helps create a rich internal life for both the characters and the world.