Production Designer

Production Designer

The production designer creates how the script looks on screen. It’s a highly creative job that requires a wide variety of skills, from photography to set building and drawing.

They are also the head of the art department. In fact, this is the largest department on a film set, with some sets having hundreds of art assistants. So, if you are interested in the visual side of filmmaking and think you would make a good leader, this role is for you.

On this page, you can find a complete production designer job description. We’ll also discuss the job role skills, education, pay, and work route options.

What is a Production Designer?

In short, they are the head of the art department. They work with the director of photography and other visual departments to create the story world. The art department is often the largest department on a film set and includes personnel with many job roles. It’s the production designer’s job to lead everyone.

Below is a list of art department job roles and their hierarchy.

  • Production designer the head of the art department
  • Art director oversees the art department whilst on set
  • Art coordinator keeps everyone organized on set
  • Props master buys, hires, and creates props for the film
  • Set designer responsible for building film sets
  • Art runners/assistants entry-level job roles

What Does a Production Designer Do?

production designer annotating storyboard

As mentioned, the production designer is the head of the art department. They create and design the film’s look with all visual departments. The film’s look includes the use of color set design, locations, props, character design, and world-building.

They work with the director, DOP, costume and make-up artists. The production designer has a lot of say in the film’s visuals. It’s their job to listen to the director and execute their vision. However, they have a lot of power over the final look.

Production designers work throughout pre-production and production. When on set they lead a large team and manage the department’s budget. In this next section, we will break down the job role for each filming stage.

Production Designer Job Description

The production designer’s job often starts in early pre-production. To begin with, they will create a script breakdown, making notes on any visuals needed for the film. The visuals also include the set and location design, props, costumes, and makeup. In addition, they create the mood and color design for the film.

During filming, they stay on set unless they still have work to complete. In that case, the art director can watch the scene for them. Their main task is ensuring all sets and locations are fully ready for filming each day. On some sets, for example, fantasy films, every visual aspect of the film needs attention from the art department.

Pre-production Duties

To begin with, the production designer reads the screenplay and makes a script breakdown. Next, they meet with the visual departments to decide the film’s look. During this stage, they also hire the art crew and start work on getting everything ready for filming. Their exact role changes per project, but some tasks might include building sets, making props, hiring props and painting set walls. 

  • Create a script breakdown
  • Attend meetings with visual departments 
  • Hire the art department team
  • Design the entire film’s look 

Production Duties

During filming, the production designer leads the art department. They prepare all sets and locations for filming and work close to the director. If possible, they will stay on set watching the filming. The production designer has a say on every visual within the film, including the choice of lighting, colors, and costume design. 

  • Create the film sets and locations
  • Watches over the film shoot
  • Leads the entire art department 
  • Solves any art design problems

Education and Skills

Grand Budapest Hotel production design

The production designer is the leader of the art department. You don’t need a degree to work in this department, but an art design or filmmaking degree might help. It’s important to have a range of art department skills and fully understand the filmmaking process.

It’s common to start out as an art trainee or art assistant. Many art assistants have various skills such as drawing, set building, painting, and props making. You will find that there are many short courses and workshops available to help you.

The art department is also often the largest team on a film set. As such, the production designer must have strong teamwork and leadership skills. Lastly, it’s helpful to understand scheduling software and how to draw up a budget.

  • Strong creative art skills
  • Full filmmaking knowledge 
  • Teamwork and leadership 
  • Scheduling and budgeting 

Production Designer Career Route

The production designer can work across film and TV. The typical career path is to start at the bottom of the ladder and work up to high job roles. To begin with, the entry-level job roles in the art department are art trainee and art assistant. If you struggle to find art department work, you may need to start as a general production assistant.

Art assistants have a range of art design skills. So, you must build up your resume with disciplines such as photography, drawing, painting, and graphic design. Many filmmakers begin their careers by working on student and low-budget films. Once you have work experience, you can work up the department ladder taking on more responsibilities. Because of this job role’s complexity, it will take a long time to work up it.

Production Designer Salary

The day rate of all film industry crew members depends on the project type and budget. So, you get less pay for a low-budget indie film than for a high-end TV project. If you look at our crew rates, you can see how the rates change depending on budget and job role. Of course, your pay will also take into account your personal experience. 

The production designer is a head of department role, and you will get paid more on union projects. You can expect to start in this role on at least $500 per day. On a typical 6-day work week this means taking home $3000. However, this position is highly negotiable, and you can still ask for more based on your experience.

Finding Work

At the start of your career, you can find entry-level jobs on film job sites. The entry-level job roles for a production manager are art assistant or art trainee. Although these positions are competitive and so you might need initial experience as a production assistant or runner

Ideally, you want to get a position on a professional film set. However, you may need work experience on low-budget film sets within the role. That way, you can learn the job role through hands on practice and work up to higher budgets. Even so, you will still need to spend time building up your art skills so you can create an impressive resume. 

US 🇺🇸UK 🇬🇧
Backstage CrewArts Jobs UK
Backstage magazine lists crew production jobs throughout the US. This list includes all art department job roles, from entry-level to head of department. They also have jobs in theatre set design which you can use as a stepping stone into the film industry.Arts Jobs is a government run website that lists jobs within the art sector throughout the UK. These opportunities include film, media, events, and theatre. In addition, they include work experience placements, internships, and apprenticeships.

Wrapping Up

To sum up, the production designer is a highly creative job role. Therefore, you need to have a wide variety of art based skills to succeed in this role. This is why many aspiring production designers spend a long time working up to this position.

This job is a great career for someone who is highly creative and can lead a team. You will likely start by working on low-budget films and progress to designing bigger projects. The good news is that production designer is among the highest paid film crew roles.

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