The art department in film is often the largest department in production, consisting of a hierarchy of job positions overseen by the production designer. In this post I will breakdown the art department job roles, explain how to find art department work and salary expectations.
Art Department Hierarchy breakdown
This is a breakdown of the art department job roles from top to bottom. These roles will vary depending on the size and scale of a production. A low budget may only have handful of art department team members whilst a major fantasy film might have an art department of hundreds.
Production Designer - They are the head of the Art Department, hired at the early stages of pre-production. They are responsible for the visuals in the film working closely with the director of photography.
Interview with a Production Designer - Coming Soon
Art Director - They responsible for breaking down the scripts props and coming up with creative solutions on how to construct sets and create the films visuals. (I found lower budget films to not have a Production Designer but only an Art Director)
On larger film sets there will also be a supervising Art Director and a stand-by Art Director both of whom will have many assistants. Find a full breakdown of these roles here.
Set Decorator - They decorate the film sets, working with the production buyer to source props, objects and furnishings.
Production Buyer - Sometimes referred to as pretty cash buyer, are responsible for all of the art departments purchases. On larger film sets they will have several assistants.
Art Department Coordinator - They work from pre-production to wrap, writing schedules, organising art department meetings and helping with the budget.
Props Master - Buys, hires or creates props for the film. They are responsible for the maintenance of props and ensuring that all props are ready to be placed in every scene. A more detailed breakdown of the props department can be found here
Concept Artist - Big budgets (especially fantasy and sci-fi) will hire a team of concept artists to illustrate the films visuals.
Set Designer - also called draughtsmen, are responsible for constructing the film sets, a breakdown of the construction and carpentry department in film can be found here
Art Department Assistants - also called art department Runners, can work throughout pre-production helping create props and set dressing to production assisting the art director and set decorator. This is the initial rung in the career ladder before progressing through the art department.
How to get a job in the art department
Like all industry job roles you can either start out at the bottom of the department (as an art department assistant) or work as an art director from the start (progressing from independent films until being trusted on higher budgets).
Unlike some head of department job roles there is a clear career ladder route from assistant to production designer. It would be beneficial if pursuing this role to work as an assistant to other production designers first.
All art department job roles in feature film making are filled by self employed freelancers. However you may find full-time work in TV and within some commercial production companies.
Entry Level Jobs - There may be trainee placements or apprenticeships available in your country, these would be provided by government schemes or production companies themselves. Find these by searching through google, find your local film council and look on companies own career pages.
I had a look to see what I could find local in the UK -
Screen Skills UK - Trainee Finder
Royal Television Society UK - Entry Level Training List
Mama Youth Project UK - Training Opportunities
Freelance Work - Like all freelance work you need to build up your industry contacts. You may need to work a few free jobs at first for experience, then in time you will start to find consistent paid work. This can take a couple of years so a part-time flexible job could be useful. Be sure to follow my advice on creating your Filmmaker CV.
Major Budget Work - To work on major budget film and television sets you will need to build up your experience, meet many production designers and art department crew, as well as developing your talent. Consider creating a portfolio of your work. I have a post on how to do this too - Read Here.
I also have an E-book ‘Find Work In Film’ that looks into more detail on how to create a career in film.
Skills Needed for art department work
The art department could suit any creative person. The art department hires a variety of skilled people, from graphic designers, painters to builders. You can learn how to do the job on the job through practice by becoming an assistant.
The job will require you to work under pressure at times, you will mainly be working as part of a team and have to work long irregular hours. The willingness to learn a variety of skills from computer graphic design to set building will be in your favour.
If you uncertain if the art department is a good fit for you, find some work experience as an assistant or runner to begin with.
Like all creative job roles you might have to do some free work experience at first. Art Department Assistants can expect to be paid minimum wage.Your salary will increase as you become more experienced and your job role more higher ranked. Production designers and art directors will get paid the most on high end feature films up to $1,000 a day. Although this depends on how your rate is negotiated at the start.
You can find a list of recommended work rates for the UK art department here - BECTU Rates | USA - United Scenic Artists Your rate will differ based on your country / location, union and how experienced you are.
If you wish to share your own experiences of working in the art department I will leave the comments section open this week.