Filmmaking Location

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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How to scout a location for filmmaking

The location you choose to shoot your film helps to create the world your film is set in, and it’s just as important as casting the right actor.

So how do you know if a location is the right one for your film?

Once your script is complete go through and break it down. Make a list of all the locations that you need - in fact, make a list of everything you need to make your film.

We made a video about breaking down your script which goes into more detail if you want to check out that video after this one.

Now you have written down all of the locations you need, ask yourself how you want each location to look and how much access you need to shoot the scenes in that location.

How do you need it to look?

The main location in the script for our short film Backstage is set in the locker room at a local community centre or boxing gym.

This is how we describe the location in the script -


The backstage toilet has been used by many performers over the years, but from the graffiti on the walls and the flicking of the neon lights, this is not a classy venue.

When looking for this location we thought about contacting local gyms and sports centers as they would have locker rooms which are already set up.

The first problem we had with these types of locations is that they do not look run down, and it would be very difficult to make them fit the mood we needed for the film.


The reason we could not change the look of these locations is the second problem we had which is access.

Access is very important when making low budget films as you are normally asking to use the location for free, and have to work around external time restrictions.

Local gyms and sport centres are normally used on a 24 hour basis, and if they are closed it’s during the night.

Our access would be very limited, before and during the shoot. If we needed to dress and undress the location after each shooting day, keeping the look of the set consistent would have been very difficult.

Don’t just use the first location that comes to mind, spend a little time searching for alternative locations.

If you need a living room, a friends or parents living room would be the quick and easy option, but if you need the location to look run down you need the time to make it look that way.

Can you set up the room, shoot everything you need, and return the location to its original state in the same day?


The location we used for our short film Backstage was in a old school which now gets used by a church, they never use the area we wanted to use which was a boys bathroom, and we could get access to the location as many days as we needed before the shoot.

This was the 3rd location we looked at. The first was too small, the second was too new, and it might not look like it, but the 3rd was perfect.

Having these extra days before the shoot allowed us to clean, dress the set, test the lighting, and block the scene a few weeks before we shot the film.

This meant on the first day of principal photography we only needed to turn up with the camera and shooting schedule, giving us more time to work with the actors and start shooting on time.

We found the location by putting a call out on different local Facebook filmmaking groups.

Emily, the producer of the film, posted out to a bunch of pages and someone she knows, knew someone else, who knew of a place that might suit what we needed.This is why it is so important to collaborate with others as a filmmaker - you never know who knows someone that can help.

Location Scouting

The look of the location and available access are just two of the main things you need to think about when scouting locations for your film.

In the description below you will find a location checklist that has other things you should check when scouting your next filming location. Let’s film in the form.

Location Scounting Form 1.jpg

Script Location - For us it is Locker Room

It’s Scene - 1 of the film which is set at night and it is an interior. The actual Location was an old school and then we add the address which will come in handy later on.

Add the time of when you visited the location as at different times of the day the look and sound of the location may change.And finally add the contact details of the person that give you access to the location.

Next work out the dates you would like to use the location, this includes the number of preperation, shoot and how many days it will take you to reset the location. You can use this information to compare what access is available at the location.Make a note of how far away it is from our production office from the address you wrote down, for most people this is their home.

Location Scounting Form 2.jpg

When at the location draw a rough floor plan of the room and then make a note of what the room looks like.

Also, take photos of the room.

Does the room fit the tone of the film? This question maybe yes or no, but you should always be thinking about how much set dressing you need to do to make it match the tone of the film.

Location Scounting Form 3.jpg

Then work out do you have enough time to dress the set with the information you know from how much access you have.

Listen to the sounds that are in the location. Will you be able to record clean dialogue?

If not can you turn off anything that is making a noise like a clock or a fridge. If there are noises you can not get rid off can like cars going by, can you record your film at this location.

Finally make a note if there are places for people to park at the location. Is there enough room for you to store equipment, makeup artist, and are there bathrooms. This one is very important.

Location Scounting Form 4.jpg

So when you are scouting your next film location, use this checklist to evaluate whether the location is the right one for your film. Ask yourself what you need it to look like, how much access you’ll need, and be open to different places.

You never know, a disused boys bathroom might be the perfect setting for your film, it was for us.


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Location Scouting The Film Look


Some of these links are affiliate links, if you purchase gear via these links The Film Look will receive a small commission, but there will be no additional cost to you. Thank you!