Production Buyers provide administrative support to Set Decorators, and carefully monitor and control the set decorating budget to avoid overspending. Even on small budget films, there are a plethora of objects that must be seen and/or used in order to make the story convincing: a scene shot in a house requires objects contained in a real house, e.g., furniture, pictures, books, etc., in order to appear realistic; similarly, street scenes without cars or street-signs would not be believable.
There are two types of props: action props, or all props that are described in the shooting script; and dressing props, or items that help to bring characters to life or to give a certain atmosphere and sense of period to a place. Ensuring that these essential action and set dressing props are available when required during the shoot is largely the responsibility of Production Buyers. They are requested by the Production Designer or Set Decorator, and work on a freelance basis, usually on both television and film productions. The hours are long and the job can involve long periods working away from home.
What is the job?
Production Buyers usually start work on productions approximately two weeks after the Set Decorator, and begin by marking up the script and listing details of all action and dressing props required. Once this list has been checked with the Set Decorator, together they visit or contact various Prop Houses to make provisional bookings of both action and dressing props. Closer to the start of shooting, once the schedule is fixed, Production Buyers begin an intense period of work preparing orders for thousands of props, carefully calculating dates and durations of hires to minimise costs, and confirming precise collection and return dates with the Props Master. Using Excel spreadsheets, Production Buyers produce weekly budgets for the Production Accountant, so that all spending can be closely monitored.
Where no Assistant Set Decorator is employed, on low to moderate budget period dramas, Production Buyers may also help with some Art Department research, using books, magazines and the internet to assist the Set Decorator in the selection of suitable props. While sets are being decorated, Production Buyers work at the studio or on location, helping with any last minute requests from the Set Decorator, using their expert knowledge of suppliers and hire companies to locate specific items and ensuring that they are delivered to the set in time for the shoot. Throughout the shoot, Production Buyers requisition any further props required, and oversee all collections and returns. They are also responsible for the Art Department petty cash, which must be carefully monitored, and reconciled at the end of each production.
Typical career routes
Production Buyers may start their careers in the theatre, as Trainees at the BBC, or as Art Department Runners or Assistants, progressing to Assistant Production Buyers on big budget films. Progression from working as an Assistant Production Buyer in television is also possible, although this work is more office based.
Essential knowledge and skills
Production Buyers need a wide network of useful contacts with Prop Houses, Suppliers and Specialist Manufacturers. They must also be computer literate and conversant with spreadsheets and film budgeting software.
Key Skills include:
Training and qualifications
Although there is no formal training or qualification for this role, most Production Buyers have some Higher Education qualifications, e.g., Fine Art at foundation or degree level. Hands-on experience of working at junior levels helps to provide a good understanding of how Art Departments work, the different roles involved, and crucially provides the introductions to contacts within Prop Houses and Suppliers which are vital for effective Production Buyers.
Individual course accreditation in certain subject areas is currently being piloted. As part of Creative Skillset's and the UK Film Council's Film Skills Strategy, A Bigger Future, a network of Screen Academies and a Film Business Academy have been approved as centres of excellence in education and training for film.
Where to go for more information
Creative Skillset is the Creative Industries' Sector Skills Council. The first sources of information for all jobs in the industry are the National Occupational Standards. Browse Creative Skillset's website for links to our network of training partners, information about training and access to the comprehensive Creative Skillset/BFI course database. Finally, Creative Skillset Careers is UK's creative careers advice service; for detailed careers information and advice, visit www.creativeskillset.org/careers.
- British Film Designers Guild
- American Cinematographer has regular features on film design and digital production techniques.
- Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design (Faber and Faber) by Christopher Frayling
- Production Design and Art Direction (Focal Press) by Peter Ettedgui
- By Design: Interviews with Film Production Designers (Greenwood Press) by Vincent LoBrutto
- Film Architecture: From Metropolis to Blade Runner (Prestel Publishing Ltd). Edited by D. Neumann 2001
- Filming the Future (Aurum Press Ltd) by Piers Bizony
- The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matt Painting (Chronicle Books) by M. Cotta Vaz and C. Barron
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