Lead Painter

  • Lead Painter

Hired during pre-production by the paint coordinator or paint foreman on a film or television set, the lead painter is a senior member of the crew who shall take on the greatest responsibility for mentoring the staff at large and for setting the example for artistic quality.


The lead painter works under the supervision of the paint foreman and paint coordinator; this person should be capable of taking on the duties of the foreman in his or her absence and able to perform those tasks as delegated by the same. His or her primary responsibilities include painting set pieces, props, backdrops, cutouts, and permanent structures. In the event that a key scenic artist is not employed on the production, this person may also be charged with applying faux treatments to scenery, such as wood grain, aging, or breakdown. Typically, the lead painter is given the most complicated or intricate assignments that require the most skill and attention to detail. He or she may benefit from the help of an assistant who will perform preparation work, like sanding, filling, priming, and undercoating. Common jobs associated with the lead painter’s duties are spray painting, plastering, varnishing, and the application of materials like faux cement. On a large-scale production, the lead painter may be given the responsibility for supervising a small crew of painters in the completion of assigned projects. At all times, this person will adhere to established safety protocols and enforce department policies on behalf of department heads.

Skills & Education

A college degree in film and television production with an emphasis on scenic design is recommended, though majors in fine art or theatrical design are applicable to this career. The lead artist should display significant artistic talent, accompanied by an education in traditional drawing, painting, sculpture, and art history. He or she should be familiar with the common techniques of scenic painting and be familiar with the proper use of industry standard materials. Additionally, the lead painter must understand the procedures for appropriate storage and disposal of hazardous substances in the work location. The individual in the position must be willing to mentor junior painters and provide leadership within the department.

What to Expect

As a veteran of the paint department, the lead painter should have extensive professional experience, including work as a junior-level scenic painter, key scenic artist, and sign painter. Theatrical credits as a scenic charge artist or scenic artist are also applicable to a career in film and television production. Freelancers may work for a day rate, weekly salary, or hourly rate depending on the specific contract. Artists who are employed full-time with a scenic shop typically receive an hourly rate. Individuals within this craft are eligible for membership in IATSE, the union that represents artists and technicians within the entertainment industry. Union rates vary, but in 2011, typical hourly rates within the paint department were between $24.04 and $38.41 per hour.


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