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


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

        Kenna McHugh 

        5 hours ago from Northern California

        In my article is an example of Steve. He knew someone who worked in film, so that was helpful for him. That is networking. Contacting videographers helps because they contract out to other production companies and can let you know when a major production is happening in your town. They might know someone who needs a painter to help paint a set and refer you. Oakland is a union town, which means the good jobs are through the union. But, you can work your way in by working on non-union films. The pay is not as good. If you are passionate about working in the movies, that shouldn't matter at first, you can work your way into the union.

      • profile image


        6 hours ago

        What do you mean by networking? How does contacting videographers help a painter get a job on the set. BTW: I live and work in Oakland, CA.

      • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

        Kenna McHugh 

        12 hours ago from Northern California

        Hi Larry, Thank you for reaching out. I rather respond here if that is okay with you because it might help others who aspire to work in film. First, where do you live? Do you live in a major city where there is a lot of film production? If so, start locally and make contacts at local production houses or videographers and network. Let me know if this helps.

      • profile image

        Larry Shakir 

        14 hours ago

        I been painting for 20years,I am interested in being a set painter how can I get involved in doing this.larryshakir1@yahoo. come is my contract.

      • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

        Kenna McHugh 

        9 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 

        9 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 imageAUTHOR

        Kenna McHugh 

        10 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 

        10 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.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)