What does a scene hand do?
Scene hands are part of the team that sets in the scenery for a production in a studio or on an outside broadcast. They work to the production designer.
In studio productions, a schedule is created for the build, to take in the needs of camera, lighting, sound and scenery. On a big Saturday night entertainment programme, for example, a lot of technology will need to be integrated into the set, so it must be constructed to take the weight of lamps, hold large monitor screens, hide PA speakers or conceal microphones. Normally the lighting department is first in to set the top rig. Then the scene crew comes in to build the set, which is made up of ‘flats’ (panels) that have been prepared off-site. Scene hands set in these panels.
The most important consideration in set construction is health and safety. A set might need to support a full concert orchestra, for example, so care needs to be taken both constructing and setting in to make sure it will bear the heavy weight with a good safety margin.
Once the set is built in a studio, a small number of scene hands stay during the recording to move flats around for the different sequences. They are on standby if any part of the set needs to be repaired or adjusted. Finally, the scene crew need to be there at the end of the production to de-rig. Sometimes the set is broken down and recycled. Other times, it’s stored for another series, in which case the ‘get-out’ needs to be far more careful.
On an outside broadcast, even though it might be in a theatre, at a race track or in a cathedral, there will still be the need for scenery. In these circumstances, the scene crew will have to be aware of the environment they are working in and take extra care. For example, they must be sure not to damage valuable carpets or fabrics in a stately home. The scene crew will often be required to liaise closely with the event organisers, such as at a major rock festival, but on many occasions they are on their own, building a commentary box or perhaps a small stage for an antiques programme.
One other role for the scene crew is to build scenery that is designed to be invisible. This could mean providing cladding around a camera tower so it will vanish into the background if caught in shot. It has been known for scenery to be built to hide a full-sized outside broadcast vehicle!
What’s a scene hand good at?
• Carpentry and metal work: have good craft skills, be able to read plans and produce a variety of structures
• Organisation: be proactive, think about what you will need in advance, plan the materials needed for construction and the order in which things need to be built
• Problem solving: construct sets in short amounts of time, deal with the unexpected, find ingenious solutions to problems as they arise
• Tact: deal with occasional problems by talking through issues, liaise with event organisers to find help them achieve their vision safely, work as part of a team, sense the right time to fix a ‘flat’ or set in a piece of scenery so it doesn’t disturb the production
• Health and safety: know the health and safety legislation, follow the correct manual handling procedures, wear the right protective equipment, be responsible for your own safety and the safety of the public