9 Random Set Design Tips 

I always prefer working with physical sets than a greenscreen. But building sets is hard. You’re an interior designer and a filmmaker. What do you do? 

I’ve gotten to be involved in the creative process for a number of sets. Here are a few tips from my experience with sets and set design: 

1. Carve out space for the actor in every shot

Too often I’ve setup shots that worked well in a wide shot but didn’t work well in a medium close shot. Especially if you’re putting together a hosted show or a talk show, you need to leave space for the actor(s) without props or objects intersecting with the actor’s body.

This is easy when you have the initial concept for a set, but as you source props to decorate your scene, more and more objects start creeping in. Clearly, you don't need so many props. But you'll want some of them. Be judicious. Less is more. 

2. You should be able to tell what the show is about without anyone in the shot

If a set is a location you control, you should spend some time controlling it. If you’re shooting an interview with someone that worships water – you’ll want to find a way to get water in every shot. 

3. Minimize the Number of Heavy set pieces
Every prop in a physical set will need to be moved at some point. If you’re working with a physical set, you want to avoid heavy set pieces. 

4. No logos on set
A lot of people think they need logos in the shot, but you don’t. It’s tacky. 

5. No moving clocks
People think clocks look cool and want to put them on sets sometimes. Clocks do look cool, but they create continuity problems.

6. Finding a ‘set designer’ outside of LA is hard
If you’re working with contractors, you aren’t going to find someone who designs sets for shows. I’ve worked with great people to figure out sets, some people who worked on classic Nickelodeon shows, Theme Parks, and other teams who were professional interior designers. None of them identified as a set designer.

7. Don't use reflective surfaces
This is probably the 'realest' set design tip. Use as little glass as possible in your set. Glass reflects light. You will need to light your set. If you have pictures on your set walls, remove the glass. 

8. Cover up the logos of any TVs
Consider building a case/housing for any TV in your shot OR finding another clever way to remove the logo. There's no reason to advertise for Vizio or Samsung on your show if you're not being paid. 

9. Less is More
A physical set that looks like an interior room of a house is a hard thing to create. You will be building 1 room in a house. Whatever you're doing might have been easier with a white paper background or a greenscreen.

If you don't have the space, don't try to fake it. We all want to host the late show, but maybe there's a room in your house that already looks enough like the show you want.