Now, we’re going to take a look at Bong Joon-ho’s script for Parasite and do a deep dive into how you would tag its characteristic set dressing in a real-world production scenario.
You can read and download the entire Parasite script below. Let’s get started.
(Caution: Parasite spoilers ahead)
Watch: Parasite Explained in 15 Story Beats
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The Parasite Script
Click to view and download the entire Parasite script PDF below.
The Meaning of Set Dressing
Defining set dressing
Before we get to our script breakdown for set dressing, let’s go over the meaning of set dressing and what film set dresser jobs actually are. This is also a good time to remember that set dressing is also referred to as set decoration (or “set dec” for short).
Set Dressing Definition
What does a set dresser do?
A set dresser is responsible for the decor and/or furniture which create a believable world for the story. You may find a set dressing definition that includes the clarification that set dressing isn’t specifically mentioned in the script.
Set dressing is not the same as props, which are objects that are handled by the actors and managed by the props department. Remember: with the exception of furniture, it’s only a prop if an actor uses it in the scene. Otherwise it’s set decoration.
Set Dressor Definition
Set Decorator vs. Set Dresser
Set decoration is its own department within the art department, and the head of the department is the set decorator. The set decorator is responsible for sourcing anything to be used for set dressing.
In other words, the set decorator purchases or rents — or has other members of the art department build — whatever is needed to make each set look like a real, inhabited place.
On low-budget independent productions, the set dresser and the set decorator tend to be the same person. But generally, when thinking of set decorator vs set dresser, the set dresser works for the set decorator.
Set Dressor Meaning
Set dresser jobs in action
Set dresser jobs are under the overall supervision of the set decorator, and the immediate supervision of the leadperson. Like a key PA, the leadperson is essentially the key set dresser who coordinates the areas of responsibility for all the other set dressers.
Set dresser jobs on a production include being responsible for cataloguing all set dressing items, transporting needed set dressing items to the set, and storing and securing all set dressing items.
Set dresser jobs may also include upkeep and repair of set decorations, which includes everything from furniture and rugs to wall hangings and books on shelves.
Did You Know?
The term Swing Gang comes from "swing set," a name the art department uses for anything that isn’t a permanent part of the set.
Script Breakdown for Set Dressing
1. Identify set dressing in the script
The line producer or AD will send the set decorator the initial script breakdown, along with several production reports that list the set dressing elements. One of those reports is called a breakdown summary.
We used StudioBinder's script breakdown software to generate a breakdown summary for Parasite. You can click the image below to peruse the full breakdown summary:
The set dressing in the report above is fully populated.
But how do you get there when you first import a script?
We need review the script — scene by scene — and identify every element that is related to set dressing.
In the scene below, you can see a scene in StudioBinder. Notice the only tags are the character names.
But let's say we want to identify the large wooden table in the scene. So we'd simply click-drag and categorize the table in the script like this:
And keep doing this for the rest of the scene. Concentrate on any details of the location the screenwriter might have included. If it's not explicitly written in the script content, manually tag it in the sidebar:
Once we’ve done that, our breakdown for set dressing should look something like this:
In the scene breakdowns above, notice that we’ve tagged not just mentions of the set dressing itself, but also how these living spaces are laid out. This is information we need to have as we consider what objects and decor might furnish those spaces.
We also need to consider any actions that take place around those furnishings. For example, our initial description of the Park family’s living room in Parasite includes a “large wooden table.”
However, this description becomes a lot more meaningful once the script tells us that this same table has to be large enough to hide three adults from anyone sitting right next to it.
How would you draw attention to this element note in your report?
The scene notes.
Just add the must-know details in text area below the script, and it'll appear in your breakdown summary, you can even add images for moodboarding props and set dressing:
Once you have dropped in your images and tags for your scene, you can create a Set Dressing breakdown page. Your production team will immediately understand what decorations are needed for the scene.
For the following Set Dressing breakdown report, we've sampled one scene from Parasite which is why it's repeated for each set element. Take a look at the breakdown below:
So now that we've combed through a scene and identified the more obvious elements, it's time to dig deeper.
It's time to read between the lines.
Script Breakdown for Set Dressing
2. Study the characters for clues
It makes sense that we would look for set dressing descriptions in the script. But you can also find rich details about the space by considering the characters.
Think about the very first time you went to a particular friend’s house. What was the first thing you saw when you walked in? Was it what you had expected?
Did they have pictures of family or friends around? Did they have matching furniture? What was the thing they had in their home that surprised you?
Maybe your friend was given that chair or that TV when they moved in. Maybe one of their nieces made that weird little sculpture, and maybe your friend helped their grandfather build that table.
There is a story behind everything someone owns — even if that story isn’t particularly interesting, or if they don’t remember where they got it from in the first place.
We need to apply this same thought process to what our characters’ homes look like. We do this by looking for clues about who they are in the text of the script.
We’ve uploaded the Parasite script to StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to tag character information as notes using its breakdown function. That way, we have a separate element report we can refer to that helps us think about who these people are.
We also get clues from Parasite’s dialogue. The things the Kim family say about themselves or about their apartment provide valuable insights into their characters.
This comment from Chung-Sook (Jang Hye-jin), for instance, lets us know from the outset that the Kims are dead broke. And without a phone, there’s very little chance they will be able to change their circumstances. When Ki-Taek (Song Kang-ho) mentions a cricket infestation, we learn more about the state of their apartment.
We’re starting to get a clearer picture of what their tiny apartment looks like. Because the one thing the script makes clear about the Kims is this:
Bong Joon-ho illustrates the family’s poverty in the way he describes their tiny apartment, too: He uses words like “dank” and “semi-dark,” and he makes a point of showing us that their refrigerator is empty.
The Park’s, by contrast, live in a “mansion” where “the furniture and decorations are all tasteful.” It has a “gorgeously manicured lawn with majestic trees.”
Now that we’ve tagged all the clues we can get from the script, it’s time to start compiling references for the kinds of set dressing we might find in both the Kims’ tiny apartment and the Park’s lavish house.
Set Dressing Ideas
3. Create mood boards
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. References are essential for relaying ideas between crew members and departments.
In the entertainment industry, departments compile references into a lookbook bible or mood board. Lookbooks are just what they sound like: They’re a binder full of individual images that express the specific ideas we want to execute, in our case, as set dressing.
Mood boards are slightly different in that they are a collection of images with a cohesive theme. That theme could be simple, like a color scheme, or more complex, like a character’s social status.
Our mood board for the Park’s house, for example, would probably contain images of oversized furniture that could fill the tremendous open space of the rooms.
The script also makes a lot of references to the trees and the open “nature space” surrounding the house. So, we could add high quality, natural materials to our Park mood board as well, such as granite, redwood, or bamboo.
In contrast, for the Kim’s tiny apartment, our mood board might have a lot of disposable items. We might also include images of cluttered spaces and cheap furniture.
Where do we get these images? Of course, Google is your friend. But we can also take inspiration from shots in other films, advertising in magazines, or even a real-world home or other building.
Wherever our lookbook and mood board images come from, they’re only a tool for communicating our ideas. The director will have the final say.
If you're using script breakdown software, you can create moodboards for every scene in the scene notes. It can also be helpful to embed video clips to demonstrate a look and feel in motion (something you can't get with a PDF):
Once the director signs off, we can start getting our set dressing together so we’re ready on the first day to dress the set. To dress a set means to put all the decoration items designated for that set in place.
In other words, to dress a set means to put books on shelves, cushions on sofas, vases on tables, dishes in the dishwasher, curtains on windows, etc. To dress a set means to make the set look like someone lives there.
Hidden elements in a script
The process of breaking down a script is critical in determining what a scene needs. Next, we’ll look at how to read between the lines, with an example from one of Game of Thrones’ most celebrated episodes.