Construction and decorating

The construction and decoration of sets for film and TV is a complicated process involving a huge range of skills and artistry. Departments such as painting, plastering, carpentry, rigging and model making work together under the supervision of a construction manager to build the entire look of a production from the ground up. 

Fortitude © Sky UK Ltd

Skills needed for working to construction and decorating

  • creativity and resourcefulness
  • artistic and scenic skills
  • painting technique, layout and colour mixing
  • traditional art skills (e.g. painting, drawing, sketching, rendering)
  • specialist techniques like marbling, ragging, wood graining and texturing
  • understanding of art history, period styles, motifs and architecture
  • craft and decoration skills
  • organisation and leadership skills
  • awareness of shortcuts to building temporary and fake structures as quickly, cheaply and safely as possible
  • ability to understand complex drawings, specifications and technical literature
  • strong mathematical skills to calculate angles and dimensions
  • physical strength, stamina, a good sense of balance, and comfortable working at heights
  • knowledge of relevant health and safety legislation and procedures
  • good carpentry and joinery skills

Ways into the construction and decorating department

Different people in the construction and decorating departments have a variety of specialised accreditation or avenues into the industry. Most construction managers progress through the carpentry department and have accreditation such as the advanced construction award or an NVQ in carpentry and joinery.

Most painters in the screen industries spend at least two years working as domestic painters or decorators first and have qualifications such as the Intermediate Construction Award or a CITB or NVQ in painting and decorating. Most scenic artists have art school qualification and gain experience in painting theatre backdrops. 

Carpenters move into the industry as trainees after gaining a CITB or NVQ in construction skills. Most plasterers have accredited qualifications, such as NVQs.

Riggers are required to have accredited qualifications, such as SITAC, CITB, ECITB or NVQ/SVQs. Aspiring riggers should spend two or three years with a reputable scaffolding company to gain experience. 

Qualifications for model making include the SQA National Certificate, BTECs or BA degrees. 

Jobs in construction and decorating

Construction manager
Construction managers are responsible for interpreting the production designer's plans. They must establish the number of sets required and their size, design, colour and texture while staying within budget. They hire carpenters, painters, riggers and plasterers and brief them on plans and deadlines. Construction managers are responsible for supervising all aspects of construction, materials and tools required to build sets. They are responsible for meeting strict health and safety guidelines and for the safety or crew working at heights and with machinery. They must coordinate the strike (dismantling of sets) and ensure all materials are disposed of or stored safely. 

Chargehand painter
Chargehand painters are responsible for all the work carried out by the painting team. They discuss with production designers and construction managers to establish the amount of work required, how long it will take, what finishes are needed, colour schemes, textures, and any other special requirements. The calculate the number of painters a production needs and hire them. Once the painting team is in place, chargehand painters brief them and supervise their activities. 

Scenic artist
Scenic artists may be asked to paint cloud or city backdrops, murals or other on-set paintings. They may create complex prop pieces and are responsible for scheduling their own work and buying necessary supplies. 

Standby painter
Usually selected by chargehand painters or construction managers, standby painters must be present on-set during filming to deal with any painting problems or touch-ups. They are also responsible for resetting the environment to its original condition after each take in order to help maintain continuity.

Painters may be responsible for a range of artistry, from painting cars with a metallic finish, using a spray gun to cover a huge background surface, applying fine specialist finishes such as replica marbling and graining effects to sets, applying paint to pipes to make them look old and rusty, and hanging large wall coverings. They usually supply their own tools and specialised brushes.

Carpenters produce a variety of structures, from onscreen props like windows and furniture to replica spacecraft or medieval ships. They also do a great deal of off-screen building to create support structures for the crew. Chargehand carpenters are responsible for all the work carried out by the carpentry team. This includes all the wooden structures required by film production, from doors and windows to the raised platforms that may be required by the crew. They set up the workshop, ensuring that it provides a safe working environment, and once the team is in place they supervise the workshop.  Most carpenters will employ trainees to learn how to interpret technical literature, to organise suitable resources such as timber and tools, ensure a safe working environment, assemble joineries such as doors, frames and stairs and to hone skills like measuring, sawing, planing, chiselling, drilling, finishing, boring, fitting and securing. Trainees will also strike wooden structures at the end of shooting and ensure they are safely disposed of. 

Plasterers' work involves the traditional job of applying wet finishes to walls, ceilings and floors. It also involves fibrous plastering: making moulds and model casts from solid plaster or fibreglass in workshops. Chargehand plasterers are responsible for all of the work carried out by the plastering team. They liaise with the construction manager to look at production designers drawings and establish the amount of plastering work involved. Then they hire plasters and supervise their work. The team may be responsible for reproducing numerous 'fake' items that would otherwise be difficult or expensive to get including cars, cobbled roads, castle walls or rock formations.

Rigging is the fastening or securing of items at height in a safe way. Head riggers are responsible for the work of the entire rigging department. The liaise with construction managers and other heads of departments to determine the project's rigging requirements and plan a schedule. Supervising riggers act as the eyes and ears of head riggers on set and ensure safe and smooth operations. They must co-ordinate rigging gangs on a number of different sound stages or location buildings and make sure the right crew are on the right rig at the right time. 

Model maker
Model makers are responsible for building models and miniatures. They could work with clay, plaster of paris, plastic or metal and a range of techniques. They may use freehand drawings skills or computer-aided design (CAD) to create designs.

Stagehands contribute to building sets, housekeeping, hanging backing clothes, working with CGI materials and loading and transporting sets and props. 

Some other job roles in craft

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