Film and TV drama

Production designer (Film and TV Drama)

Production designer (Film and TV Drama)

What does a production designer do?

Production designers create the way a film or TV drama looks. Films can be set in any number of places; a Victorian orphanage, a Caribbean cruise ship, or another planet, for example. They work with all the other visual departments, costume, lighting, visual and special effects, and graphic design. They help create the visual world in which the story is set. 

Production designers start with the script. Researching and collaborating with the director, director of photography and other heads of department, they imagine the screenplay visually. They draw sketches showing mood, atmosphere, lighting, composition, colour and texture, which are given to the art director to develop.

Then they work with other art department members to draw up a budget.  They prioritise the work schedule and allocate the management of finances to team members performing different tasks. They are usually freelancers.

Watch and read

What’s a production designer good at?

  • Creativity: visualise the whole look of a film or TV drama, starting with words on a page
  • Art: draw by hand to scale, do technical drawings and computer-aided design
  • Design: understand colour theory, know the history of architecture and interior design
  • Knowledge of photography: understand cameras, lenses and lighting and their effect on a film’s look and mood
  • Organisation: manage budgets, draw up schedules, prioritise and meet deadlines
  • Communication: share the vision with a wide number of different people and keep a team working together well

Who does a production designer work with?

How do I become a production designer?

Most production designers have worked in the art department for many years. Aim to start as a runner or trainee and work your way up through the ranks outlined above. You can to apply to ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder.

At school or college:
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers in art and design, architecture, photography, theatre graphic design or graphic communication are useful. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:

  • NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design)
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Graphic Design)
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)
  • BTEC National Diploma in 3D Design and Crafts
  • BTEC National Diploma in Photography
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design

Get an apprenticeship:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn as you learn. However, it can be challenging to find jobs as an apprentice within production companies. It might be worth looking for a job as an apprentice in an industry that uses similar skills, such as being an illustrator in publishing or a graphic artist in advertising or an architectural assistant. This will help you develop your craft and create a body of work for a portfolio that you can use to find your way into film and TV drama at a later point. Check out What’s an apprenticeship?  to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly. Go to ScreenSkills information on apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in film and television.

Get a degree:
Most production designers have got degrees in art, architecture, theatre, theatre design, interior design or 3D design. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in film and TV. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the film and TV industries.

Build a portfolio:
This is essential for impressing admissions tutors and people in the film industry. Go to Build your art portfolio to learn how.

Go to ScreenSkills’ events like Open Doors to meet people working in art departments. Show them your portfolio and give them your number. Network on the web.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there’s a Facebook page or other social media group for people making films or videos in your area. Join it. Create a ScreenSkills profile.

Become a trainee:
Get onto ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme. Get the skills, make contacts and start working in an art department.

You might also be interested in…

Being a production designer in TV documentaries, working as a production designer in theatre, or working in the art department of games, VFX or animation. Alternatively, you could consider being a production designer or costume designer in the unscripted TV industry.

Further resources