Exciting Film Career as a Professional Set Painter
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 supplies ready to 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 exceptional, the benefits are excellent, and you are working in a very creative environment.
Painting Imaginary Places
Listening to her talk in the video about being creative on the set of Peter Jackson's movie Mortal Engines is an inspiration. She mentions working for hours, and not noticing you've worked for hours is the kind of job to aspire to occupy.
Mortal Engines: Painting Sets
“Runaway productions” is a term used to describe films produced outside of Hollywood on location. The words coined from the idea that the production runs away from Hollywood to make more money. It is not profitable for Hollywood, but it is excellent for you if you live outside of Hollywood and want to get a job in film production as a set painter.
Certain cities invite runaway productions to film in their area because they want the money, like Seattle or San Francisco. Some, including states, offer credit or tax incentives, like Massachusetts or Georgia, to save the film production money.
Cold Call Film Offices
How Do You Get Hired onto a Film Set?
Pull out your yellow pages phone book and call film commission offices to see if they can add you 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—use business cards—to procure more work after the film wraps.
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 film production. Say something like, and mean it, “I want to work with you again.” It can escalate from there.
Carve a little niche for yourself as the only painter in a 100-mile radius who works for films, television, and commercials.
Work Within a 100-mile Radius
Establish yourself as the lead painter in this 100-mile radius. That way, your reputation leads you to more work. One production designer will tell another production designer, who will tell another, and well, you do the math—that’s a lot of painting gigs.
Keep in mind that word of mouth is the best impression on whether you work or not in this industry.
Steve is a scenic artist, head painter, and he paints movie sets. He makes the wood look like metal, metal look like wood, and the old look new, and so on.
On the movie production of Don Juan Demarco, the crew painted the whole town while Steve put moss in the fountains, using dark green auto paint on water.
How did Steve get his first job? He told a carpenter who he worked with, who was going on to a TV series production, that if they needed any painters, to have them give him a call. They did, and he went to work in the paint department.
Steve studied art in high school and worked as a construction draftsman and illustrator in the Army. He went to the Art Institute in Chicago for a year. For over fifteen years, he has been designing and painting sets for television.
He joined the union by getting into the Seattle IA local 15. But, it was not doing what the members needed to find work in the film. So, Steve pitched in and helped form Local 488, a studio mechanics local union. After he moved to L.A., he joined 729 the painters local but kept his membership in 488.
How Much are Union Fees?
Fees vary by location of each local union in each city. The LA Local 729 is the best union to contact for more information.
Steve says working in films is a team project. If you get the reputation of being hard to work with or self-centered, the word gets around. It is essential to be able to deal with high pressure, short time frames, and last-minute changes.
Feature Films in Various Cities
Steve says the union has helped him get work for just being a member. "But, those in my position, a seasoned set painter, at my level get jobs on our own."
Besides working in Seattle and Portland, Steve worked on features in Minneapolis, Memphis, Cincinnati, Salt Lake, Hong Kong, and Twin Falls.
Then, of course, he worked on shows in Hollywood the whole time even before he moved to Los Angeles, the heartland of the making movies.
Questions & Answers
How much does it cost to join the union?
Local #729 requires an overall membership fee ($4500), application fee ($100), and first quarter dues ($280.00). The cost is roughly $5000. There are several speculations that allow someone to join the union. The main speculation is 30 days of work on a film production on one given year. Local #729 is transparent and available to answer anyone's questions. I recommend, if you are serious about joining the union, to call them and get all the details on how to become a member of the union.Helpful 5
I have been painting residential interiors for years and have been searching for a change. I would love to do this. Are you required to have art/design credentials versus house painting experience (with a creative, somewhat artistic nature)?
The artistic side of the sets is the responsibility of the art director and production designer. As a set painter, you would be working under them. Their creative knowledge would influence your career as a set designer. Credentials are nice to have, but passion wins every time.Helpful 1
© 2017 Kenna McHugh