Job Title: On Set Dresser
The on set dresser maintains the integrity of the set for the set dressing and property departments. If a cup is moved or a piece of furniture is rearranged, the on set dresser is responsible for putting them back in their original places to maintain the continuity of the shot. Often, the on set dresser will take Polaroids or digital pictures to aid in this process.
On set dressers must be physically able to lift and carry furniture and heavy objects. “For my particular position, you need muscle,” says set dresser Diana Richardson. “To move up in the ranks, education in design and period pieces would be helpful. An understanding of characters in the script is also an asset. To dress a set, one would have to interpret the character: what the individual wants, likes, dislikes. Is this person neat or messy? Does this person have a collection? If so, of what?”
Advice for Someone Seeking This Job
“I think the best tip I can give to anyone interested in working in the industry is to grab the local entertainment guide,” says Richardson. “Here in California it is The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. On Wednesdays, they have a listing of productions in prep, work, and post. Contact these places until you land a job. Work and learn. Read as much as you can and listen to others. This is an industry of ‘who you know'—so know as many [people] as possible.”
“Like anything, you have to be persistent … It is a very word-of-mouth industry. Persistence is the key. Individuals will commonly start as a PA, then move towards the department desired.”
Professional Profile: Diana C. Richardson, On Set Dresser, Set Dresser, Assistant Props
Growing up in Southern California, Diana Richardson was surrounded by the film and television industry. Her earliest taste of her future career came during high school, working with theater stagehands.
She landed her first job in film serving as an extra, working deferred (meaning that her salary was credited, rather than paid out; the idea is that if the film makes a certain amount of money or gets a theatrical release, depending upon the contract, the actors will then be paid). There is an industry saying that “Everyone works deferred once.”
What do you like least about your job?
“Sometimes the pay doesn't seem to be enough for the amount and type of work demanded. ‘Splits’ or all-nighters are my number one complaint. Splits are where we start at 3 p.m. and work until 3 a.m., and you can guess about the all-nighters.”—Diana Richardson
What do you love most about your job?
“I like the hubbub. I was drawn to the art and prop departments because it is the kind of person I am—just as a photographer would be drawn to the camera, or a [person] to act.”—Diana Richardson
During the shoot, she seized the opportunity to observe the various crew members and different departments. Her first crew job was as an art department PA for a low budget film. “The pay was ridiculous: $30 a day for 14 hours, but I was young and energetic. I was also very excited about working on a film.” Although she earned little money, she gained valuable experience that enabled her to land other work.
Drawn to the art and prop departments, Richardson continued to work off and on throughout the 1990s. “I quit a couple of times to work in an office, but I always came back.” Some of Richardson's credits include: American Pie II, Nuk'em High II and III, Slow Burn, Shock ‘em Dead, and Time Force.
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