8 Questions to Ask Set Design Agencies Before Hiring

8 Questions to Ask Set Design Agencies Before Hiring
by Adam Fabianski / October 25, 2021

Set design agencies – also known as scenic design companies – produce immersive environments for commercial television, film, and theater. In recent years, their services have grown to include consumer brands, architects, museums, public spaces, and more. 

Set design requires extensive knowledge of drafting, modeling, fabricating and installing to produce scenery. To help you hire the best scenic design company for your next project, we’ve compiled a list of questions that will reveal a set designer’s level of proficiency in each of these areas. 

When listening to a set designer’s responses, note any mention of these essential skill sets:

  • Architectural design
  • Budgeting
  • Carpentry/millwork
  • CNC machining
  • Drafting
  • Digital fabrication
  • Maquette sculpting
  • Prop mold making
  • 3D modeling
  • Theme design
  • Stage lighting integration



1. What was the most interesting set your agency has ever designed?

Asking a set design agency to describe their most interesting scene reveals a lot about the designer’s passions, interests and strengths. Ask them how they communicated with directors, producers, costume designers, sound technicians, music directors, playwrights, and other core members on this project to make it a success. This will allow you to better assess the interpersonal skills of the designer as well as their technical expertise.



2. Has there been a film set you’ve designed on a tight deadline? If so, how did your agency manage the limited time?

Asking the set designer when their agency has been in a time crunch is a test to see how well they plan, organize, and focus while under pressure. You may also want to casually ask if they have ever needed to outsource to other scenic design companies to complete a project. When possible, outsourcing should be avoided because it can lead to unplanned problems that have a negative impact on project time, quality and budget.


3. How would your agency design a set for a movie scene that’s suspenseful and mysterious?

Learning how scenic design companies approach a set is important. Their answer should always mention reading the script multiple times to get a better understanding of the narrative, tone, props needed, and other details. Beyond that, an experienced set agency with a plan for success should be shortlisted over a company without one.



4. What do you do if a film director is not satisfied with your set design?

A set designer needs to be able to process constructive feedback and creative criticisms from the director and their team. Asking this question gives the set designer a chance to share a time when they changed their design style to adapt to the creative instructions of the director, or a moment when they were able to “win” over a director with the perfect set suggestion, which shows determination.



5. Does your studio use CNC equipment?

A set design agency with a CNC machining studio will be able to quickly design and fabricate 3D set pieces as needed to make a scene. CNC services often save time and money – because there is less labor involved, and the machines are fast, offering a higher degree of precision than by hand.



6. What is your process for location scouting and site surveying?

If you have not decided on a location for your set, the best scenic design companies will know how to scout a location and survey sites. Their answers should include scouting a location that’s close to your production center, doesn’t require much permitting, has no noisy distractions, and provides access to bathrooms, parking, and other facilities. They should also consider the distance to other set locations.   



7. What is an effective way to prepare scale set drawings and models?

Let the set designer talk about how they create 3D models of the set, props, and other objects. They may have a “White Model” process that focuses less on finalized details and more on the five elements of scene design – lines, composition, color, mass and texture. Their scale drawings should clearly outline all entrances and exits, furnishings, and any objects requiring fabrication.  



8. If you could go back, what would you have changed about a previous set you worked on?

You will discover a lot from this answer because it is a way to talk about weaknesses. Most set designers will always feel like they could have done more, but the real question is why?

Budget? Time management? This may also tell you what the set designer finds least important about a scene, and what they consider to be top priorities.



Evaluating the Set Design Agency’s Answers

Ask scenic design companies these questions and you'll understand where designers find their inspiration, what skills they possess, how they deal with feedback, and what kinds of sets they have worked on in the past. After you are finished evaluating their answers, ask to speak with a previous client who is satisfied with their work. The best scenic design studios will have plenty of good experiences to share, as will their clients.


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