Tutorial: How To Create Film Sets From Scratch

If you are just starting out your film making career, you must have notice the issue of locations by now. The big players get to pick a location and rent it, or to rebuild it in a studio. If you only have limited budget, your second best option may be to build a set.

While a lot of times a set may look like the real thing, it is basically a collection of stand-up pieces of wood. A collection of flats standing next to each other to builds a corner of a room or (as the video demonstrates) an elevator. They are also the same panels used in theater. A fancy wall on one side, simple looking construction on the other – movie magic.

Flats are pretty much standardized and usually come in 8′x4′ which, I guess, takes the least amount of cutting to make.

Matt Brown takes you through the process of building a flat, and balancing it so it can freely stand. Now, of course once you’ve built a flat you still need to dress it up to make it look like the set you want, but this is another topic completely.

[Let's Build Some Flats! | Matt Brown via filmmakeriq]

  • MarisolSJohnson

    They are also the same panels used in theater. A fancy wall on one side, simple looking construction on the other – movie magic. http://crazyparts.nl/FQqHiX

  • sircracked

    Erm, sorry, but, one major correction here, possibly brushed over in the video, but definitely misstated in the summary: Film flats and Theatrical flats are not the same. The video above rightly shows what is, or, I’ve heard is most common in Film, and likely what’s appropriate for their use. So far so good! (My background is theatrical, but, I’ve seen the film stuff, and at a minimum can outline the differences from what is shown to what’s common in theater).

    Theatrical flats, on the other hand, unless structural concerns require otherwise (see below) are generally made with the board the “flat” way, rather than the “tall” way. So, constructing the flat, using 1″x3″‘s, you’d lay the 3″ side down rather than the 1″ side on the ground. The corners are butted together and generally attached with a small triangle or square of plywood (rather than nailed to each other), then the flat is covered with muslin, rather than plywood. Finally, the muslin is treated with a substance to cause it to contract, tightening to the flat, and, if you’ve done it right, giving you a tight, flat surface to paint.

    The resulting flat is much more lightweight (due to the muslin covering rather than a full sheet of ply), stores flatter, but, stands up to less abuse and obviously isn’t usable for anything structurally by itself (the plywood itself provides both rigidity and strength, as well as taking more to damage, than muslin). Film flats have more rigidity, and can stand with less bracing, and even support flats on top of each other to some degree.

    Why does this matter, or is it simply pedantry or petty but ultimately meaningless differences? Well, I don’t think so. For one, each technique has it’s own benefits and drawbacks, and for photography one might weigh each differently. Viewing range of theatrical sets renders the texture of muslin invisible. Will the same be true of your photos, either due to set distance or focus? Is cost a concern? Plywood tends to be marginally more expensive than muslin, especially if building a significant number of flats. Will these be retained, either for re-use or repurposing/painting later? if so, Is space a bigger concern, or, durability? Where is your storage? If it’s somewhere elevated, moving a wood flat can get dicey, whereas a muslin flat can often be “floated” down.

    And if you’re in the setting of either film or theater, and you’re building out frames the “other” way, you’re gonna get some odd looks at a minimum. And that’s before you pull out the facing material.