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Production Designer (TV, Film, Video)

Designers are responsible for the visual concept of a film, TV or theatre production. They work closely with the director to help them achieve their interpretation; considering sets, locations, graphics, props, lighting, camera angles and costumes.
Once the concept is decided, designers manage the work of the design team and those responsible for set construction. Designers tend to specialise in film, TV or theatre, although there can be some overlap. They often form a strong partnership with a particular director and work together on many productions.
The terms stage designer (theatre), production designer, set designer or art director (TV and film) are also in use.
Typical work activities
As most designers work as freelancers, an important work activity is to market their skills and experience by:
  • making contacts;
  • briefing agents;
  • setting up a website.
When work is offered, the first task is, therefore, to clarify the brief and agree a suitable fee and timescale (sometimes done by an agent). Having done this, work activities might then include:
  • reading scripts to identify factors which signal a particular visual style;
  • considering the production brief (written or oral);
  • meeting the producer and director to discuss concepts and production requirements;
  • planning and monitoring the design budget;
  • providing scale drawings or models for studio or theatre sets;
  • producing design ideas for costumes, wigs, props, special effects or graphics;
  • identifying and assessing potential studios and locations;
  • sourcing appropriate materials and researching effects;
  • presenting ideas to others (eg actors, camera operators);
  • researching, estimating and preparing a property list;
  • instructing the set construction company, scenic artists, special effects etc and monitoring their work;
  • liaising with the costume designer, director of photography, props, lighting and sound directors;
  • being present during rehearsals and at filming to advise on visual presentation
Range of typical starting salaries: £10,000 - £15,000 (salary data collected Oct 03). The current minimum freelance weekly rate in the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematographic and Theatre Union (BECTU)/Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT) agreement for an art department assistant is £251.
Range of typical salaries at age 40: £17,000 - £70,000 (salary data collected Oct 03). The current minimum freelance weekly rate in the BECTU/PACT agreement for an art director is £570. Fees for production designers are individually negotiated.
Salary can vary a great deal from one production to the next and income depends on the nature and number of contracts. Negotiating a weekly or daily rate is common. Those on low incomes may supplement their earnings with other activities, eg teaching, model making, exhibition design. Only very few designers will command the highest salaries. Those fortunate enough to work on West End productions may receive a percentage of box office takings.
  • Working hours can be very long and typically include regular unsocial hours and weekends.
  • The nature of contract work often means intensely busy periods interspersed with inactivity if no work comes in.
  • The working environment varies from theatre workshop to TV/film studio to design office (home) to away on location.
  • Part-time work is unlikely, although freelancers control their workload through the number of contracts they accept. For example, a typical contract for design of a TV light entertainment production might be 10-15 days over a few months. Contracts for film and theatre productions will vary according to budget. A career break is possible.
  • Approximately 50% of entrants are women.
  • Most of the work for designers is where studios and theatres are located, eg London, Glasgow, Dublin, Manchester, although location work means that you must be prepared to be away from home at short notice for long periods of time.
  • The work can be fairly precarious and demands flexibility.
  • The work can be stressful mainly due to time, budgets and personalities, but it can also be very stimulating and exciting.
  • Travel within a working day, absence from home at night and overseas work or travel are frequent.
Information taken from Prospects www.prospects.ac.uk for more information


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