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Top 5 Tips for Breaking into the “Business” and Becoming a Successful Set Decorator

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

Ah, welcome my loyal listeners, to a very special blog post, where I am prepared to give away my top 5 tips for breaking into the “business” and becoming a successful Set Decorator. Like all things in life, there is no magic wand or special cheat code to give you all the experience and skill sets you need to take on a niche job like this. No, you need patience, perseverance, passion, and persistence to achieve your goals in this industry. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t possible!

Over my years in the industry, hands down the most common question I am asked is “how can I get into the industry?” or “how do I get started as a Set Decorator” and the likes thereof, and after years of emails, telling my story, and sharing tips with individuals, I’ve felt inspired to share my story and the tips I have learned through my experiences with you all.

Back in December 2020, at the height of Covid, I wrapped up my season with a special podcast sharing my Top 5 Tips. Fast forward to July 2022 and these tips remain as relevant and important as ever! Please enjoy reading my Top 5 Tips for breaking into the “business” and becoming a successful Set Decorator in Hollywood. While you’re here, and I’ve piqued your interest, check out the Full Podcast Episode for a more in-depth dive.

Be Persistent

Nothing worthwhile comes easy, and that same theory applies to getting your first entry-level job as a Set Decorator. Take as many jobs as you can, apply to internships, network with important people in the industry and build out your contacts. Keep at it, send out those resumes, look at who is crewing up, and follow up as needed. If this job is truly what you want, then that persistence and dedication will ultimately take you to where you want to be – as a successful Set Decorator in Hollywood!

Always Be Networking

Network, network, network! I can’t say it enough! There is huge value in the saying of “it’s all about who you know” – because it’s TRUE! Join the SDSA, ADG (Art Directors Guild) has a fantastic internship as does The Television Academy! FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) has a production design program and so does AFI (American Film Institute)! You never know who you could be standing next to at a party, at an event, or at dinner… heck, you might even meet someone running to pick up coffee and bagels for the team as part of your new PA job! Don’t be afraid to make a friend or make contact with someone who piques your interest – 10 years later you could be working on the same show!

(Lightly) Stalk Your Goal Jobs

Now, don’t go taking this tip to extremes. What I mean by “stalk” is taking the time to do your research. Brush up on at least 5 people in the industry who inspire you, who you aspire to be, or perhaps if there is a tv show or film you know you want to work on, by all means, stalk away! Look up members of production! Be persistent, start networking (referencing tips #1 & #2), start introducing yourself, and get your resume and your contact information in the hands of the people who you want to see you. Be inquisitive, and ask questions. On my journey toward becoming a Set Decorator, I did this many times. Take the time to do your research and become an expert on the people, and the jobs, with whom you wish to work the most! Be bold, yet respectful, and this will take you places.

Accept Any Job

Yes, I said it correctly, accept any job! Don’t ever think of yourself as so high and mighty that you aren’t willing to start from the ground up. Because trust me, I can assure you through proven experience of not only myself, but of my colleagues, that starting from the bottom is where you learn your most valuable lessons in becoming a Set Decorator. Take a PA (Personal Assistant) job on set, take a PA job in the office. You will undoubtedly learn who does what, and why, and that information is invaluable! Learn what other people do so that in the whole grand scheme of things, you know how the wheel turns, and who places what role in the wheel turning. Having a thorough grasp on what your department does and what other departments do gives you a well-rounded scope of how successful projects come to life. Teamwork makes the dream work, and having the opportunity to wear different shoes and gain various experiences throughout departments is a strength in itself. You have to start at the bottom so that you can learn, that’s just how it is. Become an intern, ask to sit in on a production or art department meeting, accept any job and grow from it!

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

One of my most important observations and pieces of advice that I’ve learned is this – people want to work with confident and competent people. I cannot stress this enough! Sometimes, well, we just have to fake our confidence or fake like we know exactly what someone is talking about, even if that means you have to turn around and figure it out on your own. Proving your resourcefulness is so important when becoming a Set Decorator because there are often times when you do have to figure things out on the fly, and sometimes those things you have to figure out can be things you’ve never dealt with before, but you figure it out! It’s all part of the process and teaches invaluable lessons. When I see fear in someone’s eyes, I’m out. But when I see a readiness to take on tasks and come up with creative solutions, then that is where I see huge potential. So moral of the story here is this – be resourceful and problem solve, be a self-starter, and be self-sufficient because confidence and competence are key to success in all things in life.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my Top 5 Tips for breaking into the “business” and becoming a successful Set Decorator in Hollywood. For a more in-depth dive into my industry tips, listen to the Full Podcast Episode.

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