Film Career as a Set Painter

Updated on January 31, 2018
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna worked on many productions as PA, Craft Services, Talent Scout, Grip, and Producer. Credits include Bowling for Columbine, Wallace.

Set Painter Jobs

Being a set painter is not being a painter of army paint sets. Though kids young and old enjoy the hobby of painting a whole regiment of army paint battlefields set, this is a real job on a film set design. When hired, you arrive with your paint set and paint the set or standby in case they need a quick touch up while filming a scene.

Consider Being a Set Painter

If you are a professional painter or you like to paint houses, buildings, fences and want to branch out career-wise, consider being a set painter for the film industry. You meet talented people from all over the world. Not to mention the pay is great, the benefits are great, and you are working in a very creative environment.

Runaway Productions

“Runaway productions” is a term used to describe films produced outside of Hollywood on location. It’s coined from the idea that the production ran away from Hollywood to be produced outside of the big studios to save money. This is not good for Hollywood but it is good for you if you live outside of Hollywood and want to get a job in a film production as a set painter.

Certain cities encourage runaway productions because the city is beautiful, like Seattle or San Francisco, or because the state or city offer credit or tax incentives, like Massachusetts or Georgia, to save the film production money.

Cold Call Film Offices

Pull out your yellow pages phone book and start calling film commission offices to see if you can be added to their list of set painters available for work. The idea is to get a set painter job on a film production that comes to town or within a 100-mile radius. Work the production to start developing your resume—film credit.

Start as a set painter on a film as a non-union member. Build your contacts—have business cards—to procure more work after the film is a wrap.

Become the Lead Painter

Discover how quickly you will advance to another production. You might even get a gig as the head painter or standby painter. The secret to doing this is getting to know the production designer of each job you get on a film production. Say something like, and mean it, “I really want to work with you again.” It can escalate from there.

Carve a little niche for yourself as the only painter in 100-mile radius who works for films, television, and commercials.

Work within 100-mile Radius

Establish yourself as the lead painter in this 100-mile radius. What will happen is your reputation will lead you to more work. One production designer will tell another production designer who will tell another production designer and well you do the math—that’s a lot of painting gigs.

Keep in mind that word of mouth has a great deal of impact on whether you work or not in this industry.

Success Story

Steve is a scenic artist and head painter. He paints movie sets. He makes wood look like metal, metal looks like wood and the old look new, and so on. On Don Juan Demarco the crew painted the whole town while he put moss in the fountains with dark green auto paint on water.

How did Steve get his first job? He told a carpenter that he was working with who was going on to a show that if they needed any painters have them give him a call. They did and he went to work in the paint department.


Steve says that films are a team project. If you get the reputation of being hard to work with or self-centered, the word will get around. It is most important to be able to deal with high pressure, short time frames and last-minute changes.

Steve studied art in high school. He worked as a construction draftsman and illustrator in the Army. Went to the Art Institute in Chicago for a year. He has been working in television designing and painting sets for fifteen years.

He joined the union in 1988. He got into the Seattle IA local 15. It was not doing what the members needed for working in film. So, Steve pitched in and helped form Local 488, a studio mechanics local. After he moved to L.A. he joined 729 the painters local but kept his membership in 488.

Feature Films in Various Cities

Steve says the union has helped him get work for just being a member. But those in my position at my level get our own jobs.

Besides working in Seattle and Portland. Steve has done features in Minneapolis, Memphis, Cincinnati, Salt Lake, Hong Kong, and Twin Falls. Then, of course, there are the shows that he has done in Los Angeles the whole time even before he moved there.

Questions & Answers


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      • Kenna McHugh profile image

        Kenna McHugh 3 months ago from Northern California


        Thanks for reading my article. Good point. There are so many different types of jobs in the movie business. That is why countries, states, and even cities offer incentives to draw production companies to their region.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 3 months ago from Houston, Texas

        There are so many jobs out there that few people would think of as a career or even part time job. This one sounds interesting. Thanks for showcasing it.

      • Kenna McHugh profile image

        Kenna McHugh 4 months ago from Northern California


        It is interesting and varied. If you are not assigned to one show, you can work for various production companies and meet different and creative people.

      • Coffeequeeen profile image

        Louise Powles 4 months ago from Norfolk, England

        I bet being a set painter is an interesting and varied job. I'd love to be able to do something like this.