How to Dress a Set

So you’ve found a location to shoot our film but it doesn’t quite look or feel like how you see it in your head.

In order for it to suit the tone of your film you need to add some things, remove some things, and change some things. This week we are talking about set dressing.

Your choice of location is arguably just as important as the actors you cast. The location is an extension of what is happening in the foreground, and dressing the set to match the tone of the film, or a character's persona, will help you get closer to achieving The Film Look.

This is what the location looked like before we dressed the set for our short film Backstage which is set in a locker room at a local wrestling event in the 1980s.


The location we had access to was a boys bathroom in an disused school, and we had a lot of freedom to turn it into the set we wanted. Since the film is about a local wrestling event, the backstage locker needed to look old and dirty.

Our idea was that the event is being held at a rundown community centre ran by Mucky Mickey, who does not do a lot of cleaning. Since the school had been closed for about 6 years, it definitely looked old and we actually had to clean it a little.

If we went for a location that was new, say a gym's locker room, everything would have looked relativity new and it would have cost a lot of money to age it. We blocked out all of the windows to control all of the light.

We also did this to make it look like the windows have been broken and boarded up, further creating the idea that this is not the nicest of places.

You don't see it in the film but we added a sign on one of the cubicle doors that says - ‘Out of order - Broken Window’ to help sell the effect even more.

Since this is a community centre there would be posters, leaflets, and notices for other events that would be happening at the community centre.You can see these on the back of the door and the window boards. You can’t read what these say but it adds colour and depth into the background.


Since this is a wrestling match we added the event posters and flyers all of over the room, again to add depth. Since one of our characters is nervous about wrestling in his first match, we wanted to make sure the event posters are always looking at him.

Finally we added hair gel, deodorant, towels, wrestling costumes, and peoples clothing.

Dressing the backstage set took us about a full day to collect everything we needed, board all of the windows, and actually dress the set. By having such a flexible location we were able to dress and leave the set in a shootable condition a week before we started shooting.

This saved us time on the shooting day as we just needed to turn up and get started. Set dressing, at least from what we’ve achieved, is about telling a story at the location.

You want someone to be able to walk into the room and make a really good guess as to what this film or scene is about by dropping visual hints.

So next time you find a location, ask yourself what the location is currently tell you, and what you can do to make it tell the right story.

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How To Dress a Set


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