Set Buyer

  • Set Buyer

Treasure hunters and shopping mavens searching for their ideal career in entertainment should consider the job of set buyer. As the title states, the set buyer is a professional shopper tasked with searching antique shops and rental houses and scouring yard sales and online auction sites for the props and set dressings that transform a bare set into a convincing environment. 


The set buyer works under the direction of the set decorator, and is brought on board during preproduction. This person’s first task is to carefully review the script to identify all action props (objects specifically mentioned in the script) and dressing required. After the set decorator approves this list, the buyer contacts prop houses and other vendors to check on the availability and cost of each item. This can be a time-consuming process, especially difficult when unusual or specific antique items are needed. Buyers bring in props from all over the world to satisfy a shopping list that could include thousands of individual pieces.

With the information gathered from the fact-finding stage, the set buyer meticulously calculates a budget based on the shooting schedule, rental periods, and purchases. Great care must be taken to plan delivery and return dates to ensure that no props are kept longer than necessary, thereby minimizing expenses. A weekly itemized budget is given to the production accountant. During principal photography, the set buyer spends most of his or her time in the production office checking up on deliveries, confirming returns, and hunting down last-minute additions. This position is also responsible for the art department’s petty cash fund, and must reconcile all spending after production has wrapped. On a low-budget project, the set buyer may also serve as the assistant set decorator. 

Skills & Education

There is no standard training for this position, but a set buyer should have an education in film and television production, theater, or art history; coursework in basic accounting and asset management may also be helpful. Experience in one or more areas of a production art department is required. The person in this role should have excellent organizational skills and a keen attention to detail. Also crucial is the ability to methodically maintain strict schedules and budgets involving large inventories. Aside from the process-oriented side of the job, it’s a good idea to develop your knowledge of design and décor by taking classes in art history or interior decoration, studying art and design books in the library, and poring over shelter magazines and interior design blogs.

What to Expect

The set buyer’s value is measured in his or her ability to locate the hard-to-find items and perfect pieces that enhance a set’s realism. When this person signs on to a production, he or she makes a promise to deliver on every prop the production needs. There is no excuse for coming up short. The pressure can be high, hours long, and travel frequent. You will rely on a hefty list of contacts at antique shops, prop houses, and other retailers to meet the production’s inventory needs; be sure to cultivate relationships with dealers, and they’ll be sure to set aside that perfect Danish Modern credenza or set of Georgian silver candlesticks for you. Staying organized is key. At any given moment you may have hundreds of shipments coming in and out of the office. The set buyer is ultimately responsible for making sure that all props and dressings arrive on time, to the right location, and are returned as scheduled. With experience you can advance to the role of set decorator, or other positions under the production designer’s aegis.


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