Looking for a fun and fulfilling career in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry? Maybe it’s finally time to follow your dreams and book that flight to Hollywood.
Theater, television, and film have a unique power to transport audiences to other worlds. Those worlds don't appear out of thin air, they need to be constructed. Directors and performers often receive the most credit, but behind the celebrity-centric glitz and glam is a world of unsung workers whose collective labor brings every production to life-- the builders, makers, and skilled tradespeople who create the physical sceneries and accoutrements within which our favorite stories of the stage and screen unfold.
Let’s take a look at 10 career paths in film, TV, and theater that call out to the craftier among us.
- Scenic Carpenter
- Master Scenic Carpenter
- Production Designer
- Prop Maker
- Matte Painter
- Safety Officer
- Model Maker
- Practical Special Effects Artist
- Asset Manager
Where to Apply for Construction Jobs in Theater, TV, and Film
Before you can sashay into your new life as a builder of dreams, you need to know where to look and apply for jobs.
Here are a three good starting points that regularly list all kinds of openings in show business, including in many of the career fields we’re about to explore.
Now let’s dive in.
Average Salary: $39,982 (source: ZipRecruiter)
Outlook: Slow—2% projected growth rate between now and 2031 ( (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Job Description: Harrison Ford was famously working as a carpenter in Hollywood when George Lucas hired him to play Han Solo in Star Wars. Scenic carpenters—alternatively referred to as “stage carpenters”, “charge hand carpenters”, or “production carpenters”— are responsible for building the stages and various set elements that make up the physical scenery of either a film, TV, or stage production, whether in a lush Roman coliseum or aboard a grimy interstellar star cruiser. Sure, computer graphics do a lot of the heavy lifting these days, but many of the most immersive settings are still the ones that are real—built from solid materials and props that the characters can reach out and actually touch. In building these imaginary worlds, scenic carpenters must be just as adept at assisting in the assembly of the riggings and mountings for overhead lighting, sound, and other behind the scenes fixtures as they are at erecting and tearing down the sets and scenery in which the action takes place.
Skills: Stage carpenters need to be skilled builders and competent wielders of construction equipment and power tools. They me be called upon to perform a variety of tasks related to the assembly and disassembly of sets and scenery, so knowledge of various building techniques and an ability to perform relevant duties (heavy lifting, measuring, working at tall heights, etc.) are a must.
Education: High school diploma minimum, though a completed carpenter apprenticeship in addition to a post-secondary degree in theater or construction would be a plus.
Master Scenic Carpenter
Average Salary: $55,907 (source: ZipRecruiter)
Job Outlook: Slow—2% projected growth rate between now and 2031 (source: BLS).
Job Description: Much like a construction manager, master carpenters—in the context of show business—manage a crew of scenic carpenters and other skilled laborers tasked with rigging, building, and tearing down the physical settings of productions. Master carpenters handle everything from payroll and scheduling to interpreting blueprints and ordering materials for set construction. They also communicate regularly with producers and directors, helping translate their artistic vision into reality.
Skills: To be a master scenic carpenter, you must be both a competent builder and a skilled communicator, capable of executing administrative and supervisory tasks as well as technical and construction related duties.
Education: High school diploma minimum, though a completed carpenter apprenticeship, in addition to a post-secondary degree in theater, business management, or construction would be a plus.
Average Salary: $62,960 (source: BLS)
Job Outlook: Average—4.46% growth rate projected over next few years. (Source: Recruiter.com)
Job Description: Like architects of the theatrical world, production designers are responsible for designing the aesthetic appearance of everything that’s visible within the environments of film, television, and stage productions. This may include landscapes as well as the interiors and exteriors of buildings. As with many of the jobs listed here, the demands of a production designer can swing wildly between projects. If you’re good at the job, you might go from working on a romcom set in contemporary times in one moment to a period piece set hundreds of years in the past in the next, each requiring radically different expertise and tools to execute. For a recent example of the immersive transformations that a skilled production designer can pull off, check out Niamh Coulter’s work on the historically accurate Viking sets of the Northman by director Robert Eggers.
Skills: Production designers should have an eye for color, style, light, darkness, and texture. They should also be highly adaptable, well-versed in the design sensibilities of different historical eras, yet creative enough to develop their own design vocabulary when history doesn’t apply. Production designers are often part of the core creative team, so they must also be good at communicating with producers and directors.
Education: No formal education is required to become a production designer, though a higher degree in cinema, design, or theater would give you a leg up.
Average Salary: $46,304 (source: glassdoor.com)
Job Outlook: Positive—8% growth rate projected between now and 2028 (source: Zippia.com)
Job Description: This one’s for all the tinkerers and DIY makers out there.
Great films have great props, imaginary objects made solid that in some cases go on to become the most iconic elements of the legendary worlds they are a part of. Think Luke’s lightsaber in Star Wars (fashioned out of an antique camera flash), Deckard’s PKD blaster pistol in Blade Runner (a combination of a Bulldog .44 revolver, bolt-action rifle parts, and some spiffy sci-fi elements), or the incredible swords from Lord of the Rings (just…good old-fashioned metalworking).
It’s the prop maker’s job to design and render each item on the screen or stage in lifelike detail. Great props tell us so much about the characters in our stories and the worlds they inhabit. For a masterclass in how this craft can enhance cinematic worldbuilding, check out the incredible props created by the Seattle-based TAKA Collective for the 2018 indie sci-fi film Prospect, starring Sophie Thatcher and Pedro Pascal.
Skills: As a prop builder, you must be a creative craftsperson, able to work well with your hands, and skilled in the tools of the trades like metal and woodworking, 3D printing, electronics and textiles—anything that can help you create fantastic objects that seem real and part of the depicted world.
Education: As with many of the professions listed here, you don’t technically require a formal education to become a prop maker. All you need is skills and a solid portfolio to showcase your work. That said, a post-secondary degree in a skilled trade or fine arts couldn’t hurt.
Average Salary: $45,887 (source: salary.com)
Job Outlook: Positive—6% growth rate projected until 2031(source: BLS)
Job Description: If you’re technically savvy and artistically inclined but don’t have the knack for full-blown CGI wizardry, consider a career as a matte painter. The job of a matte painter is deceptively simple: to paint photorealistic landscapes and scenery elements for use in film and television. Pulling this trick off, however, requires a master’s brushstroke—on both the physical canvas and within a digital design studio.
Matte paintings are one of cinema’s oldest and, to this day, most stunning visual effects. In his classic 1936 film Modern Times, a roller-skating Charlie Chaplin appears to defy death as he teeters on the edge of an abyss, an illusion created by the clever positioning of a matte painting in the foreground of the camera’s view finder. Matte paintings are behind some of the most iconic movie images, from the half-buried Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes (by Albert Whitlock) to the sprawling warehouse in the closing shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark (by Michael Pangrazio). Associated as they are with a bygone age of cinema, you might be surprised to learn that matte paintings live on in some of the most visually advanced films and TV shows of the modern digital era, creating jaw-dropping scenery in everything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian.
Skills: Matte painters must be highly skilled artists with an ability to create photorealistic images using a variety of techniques. Most modern matte painters use digital design tools to pull off their creations, so you should also be adept at using digital design software.
Education: Matte painters typically have a post-secondary degree in art and illustration. That said, nothing speaks louder when applying for jobs than a strong portfolio.
Average Salary: $52,100 (source: BLS)
Job Outlook: Average
Job Description: Riggers are responsible for installing, operating, and dismantling a variety of loadbearing infrastructure—working with ropes, cables, wires, harnesses, pulleys, booms, hoists, and other gear that are essential to the execution of film, TV, film, and stage productions.
In theatrical productions or concerts, a rigger might be responsible for mounting curtains, movable set elements, light, and sound equipment, or for the behind-scenes manipulation of performers on wires as they “fly” across the stage. Wire work is a common special effect in films, the famous bullet time sequence in The Matrix being a prime example. This job is a natural fit for construction riggers, solar photovoltaic installers or wind turbine technicians, as they already have many of the requisite skills working with cables and harnesses at high heights.
Skills: Riggers must be technically skilled at working with wires, mountings, and other gear related to the construction of behind-the-scenes infrastructure. They must have a strong understanding of load capacities, material strengths, and physics.
Education: Riggers may be required to have a number of credentials, including a certification through the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators. A technical post-secondary degree and extensive experience with stagecraft are a plus.
Average Salary: $74,870 (source: BLS)
Job Outlook: Average—5% growth rate projected until 2031 (source: BLS)
Job Description: Safety must always be the top priority, whether on a film set or construction site. A safety officer ensures that the workplace is a safe and healthy environment, both on and off set. Similar to the role of a safety manager on construction sites, safety officers may be responsible for a wide range of duties, from drafting safety plans, securing rigging, providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPI), and making sure performers are adequately protected during the execution of stunts. Though not a required role on every production, safety officers have become more common since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the wake of the tragic shooting on the set of the film Rust, and as the result of an averted nationwide strike by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in 2021.
Skills: Safety officers should be current on the best practices and safety standards laid out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Safety officers must be ever vigilant for hazards in the workplace and have the material and mental resources to swiftly address them before harm is caused. Safety officers must also be strong communicators capable of drafting safety plans and providing trainings to personnel.
Education: A post-secondary degree in fields like public health or industrial hygiene are a plus.
Safety officers can also receive certification via the OSHA Training Institute Education Center or through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.
Practical Special Effects Artist
Average Salary: $86,220 (source: BLS)
Job Outlook: Average—5% growth rate projected between now and 2031 (source: BLS)
Job Description: Whereas CGI is used to create 3D simulations, practical special effects artists design and create complex visual effects using real world materials and elements.
When it comes to movie magic, there’s simply no substitute for practical effects. Practical special effects gave us the terrifying shapeshifter in John Carpenter’s The Thing (by SFX artist Rob Bottin), the acid dripping xenomorphs in James Cameron’s Aliens (by Stan Winston), and...well, pretty much everything on screen in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Once again, computerized graphics have reduced the use of practical effects in Hollywood, as they’re cheaper and relatively easier to produce. Still, practical effects remain a hallowed and skillfully deployed technique in many contemporary films.
Skills: You need to be able to build things—pretty much anything and everything—if you want to be a practical special effects artist. Who knows what special effect you’ll be called upon to create, or what budgetary constraints you might be operating under. Practical effects artists must therefore be highly creative, adaptable, and resourceful, able to conceptualize and manufacture a wide array of compelling creations in the realms of pyrotechnics, puppetry, animatronics, and everything in between.
Education: There is no formal education requirement, although an apprenticeship or internship at an FX studio that specializes in practical effects would be a major plus.
Average Salary: $75,630 (source: CHRON)
Job Outlook: Slow
Job Description: Another old school showbiz job that continues to survive in the age of computerized graphics is model making. Model makers are responsible for building miniature, physical, at-scale representations of onscreen objects, be they characters, vehicles, landscapes, or even entire planetary bodies. Some famous examples of films that used models to create their cutting-edge special effects include the original Star Wars trilogy (the Death Star, spaceships, AT-AT walkers, and so on), the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Helm’s Deep, Isengard, Minas Tirith, to name a few) and more recently, The Dark Knight (see the bat tumbler chase scene on Lower Wacker Drive).
CGI has certainly reduced the use of models in the modern era, but they are still deployed to great effect to this day, particularly in full-length stop motion animation films like Nightmare Before Christmas, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, or Mad God, a masterpiece that took industry legend Phil Tippets 30 years to complete.
Skills: Model makers need a broad range of technical, mechanical, and anatomical knowledge to build miniatures that convincingly appear and behave as if they were alive or animate. They must be creative problem solvers with a DIY mindset and be highly skilled with a wide array of tools, building techniques, and materials, from clay and foam to metal and electronics. While they must have a clear artistic vision, model builders often work closely with directors and production designers, so they must also be capable of collaborating closely with others.
Education: No formal education required, although a post-secondary degree in the skilled trades and an apprenticeship with a seasoned special effects studio are a plus.
Average Salary: $77,030 (source: BLS)
Job Outlook: Extremely Positive—28% growth rate projected between now and 2031 (source: BLS)
Job Description: Entertainment productions have a lot of moving parts. Massive inventories of costumes, props, cameras, microphones, rigging, lighting equipment, and many other mission critical assets are constantly flowing in and out of movie sets, stages, and on-site locations, each object changing hands multiple times from one moment to the next. It’s an asset manager’s job to keep track of all these items, ensuring that everything is always exactly right where and when it needs to be.
Skills: Asset managers should be highly-organized and detail-oriented. They should also be highly proficient in the use of digital inventory management software like One-Key™, our free-to-use asset tracking app that uses IoT technology, machine learning, and Bluetooth tags to monitor the locations of tools and equipment .
Education: No formal education is required, although many inventory managers do have some college education, either in the form of an Associate’s or Bachelor’sDegree in mathematics, finance, logistics, supply chain management, or business administration.
It's never too late to chase after your dreams. There are so many great careers in theater, film, and TV that you can pursue if you're a designer, builder, maker, or skilled tradesperson.