Interview with Set Decorator William DeBiasio

We caught up with accomplished set decorator William DeBiasio to talk about his profession and some of the wonderful productions he has worked on over the last 20 years.

Interview with Set Decorator William DeBiasio
Pretty Little Liars © ABC Family / Alloy Entertainment / Warner Horizon Television

We are not going to lie, William is one of our favorite set decorators working in the industry today. He has one of the best eyes for set décor in the business and his impressive CV can attest to that. William is now an executive board member of the Set Decorators Society of America (SDSA) and has worked on a diverse range of TV shows from Chuck to Pretty Little Liars. It is quite apparent that he loves his work, so getting to pick his brain on all things set decoration was a real treat for us.

William DeBiasio William DeBiasio (Courtesy of William DeBiasio)

Seen On Set: When you first got into the business you worked as a buyer and set dresser. This seems to be a common progression route for aspiring set decorators. Was your aim always to be a set decorator?

William DeBiasio: Yes! The aim was to become a Set Decorator when I made the decision to become a part of the entertainment industry. Once I got my feet wet and learned what the responsibilities entailed, I backed away from this decision and was very content to be a set dresser or shopper on a production for several years. Each decorator arrives with their own personal life and work experiences.

SOS: In those early years you worked on some really big shows, such as The West Wing and Alias. Productions like these must be a great place learn your trade and understand the mechanics of network television design?

WDB: Larger productions like the two shows you mentioned can absolutely provide the hands on training you need to do the job. Sometimes they show you how to do the job, and sometimes they show you how not to do the job! Everything is a life lesson. Your willingness to pay attention to the experiences around you and learn from them so you never make that mistake again or you learn how something worked well and repeat that experience again. Life is always teaching you something, your willingness to learn from the experience is what makes it a teachable moment.

The West Wing - Seen On Set The West Wing © Warner Bros. Television / John Wells Productions

SOS: One of your first jobs as a set decorator was the TV show Chuck. This is definitely a favorite of ours here at Seen On Set. Chuck had such a diverse range of sets and locations, from the outside looking in it looks like it would be a fun show to work on. Please tell us it was?

Chuck - Seen On Set Chuck © Warner Bros. Television / College Hill Pictures Inc.

WDB: Chuck was indeed a great experience. Some of the people I work with today are the same people I worked with on Chuck. Here was an experience on a larger budget show where you had set dressing involved in the creation of many of the stunts that Chuck and Sarah were involved in. Creating the Buy More was something I was familiar with, coming from a retail background but the experience was completely different because the set was not real but needed to look and feel real. The functionality of the set is paramount. Part of the set decorators responsibilities are to make sure the set is as camera friendly as possible. Set pieces on casters or wall fixtures that break in the same spot as the wall so both wall and set piece can move concurrently makes the on-set dressers job easier and faster. Every decision is a balance between creative and pragmatic. One part is what you see and the other is how fast the set piece can be moved for the shooting company. Time is money!

Chuck Yogurt Bar - Seen on Set Chuck © Warner Bros. Television / College Hill Pictures Inc.
Chuck Buy More - Seen on Set Buy More set (Courtesy of William DeBiasio)

SOS: Since 2011 you have been set decorator on the hugely popular Pretty Little Liars. When you start on a production like this what is the process a set decorator must go through?

WDB: When I started on the show, half way thru the first season, PLL was not the international hit it is today. We were still building our fan base. We always treated this show as the little show that can. Taking over for another set decorator provided me the opportunity to build on the work of the previous set decorator while adding my own style to the show.

SOS: As PLL hit a cord with audiences and subsequently has had amazing seven season run, I presume that through the years the art department must also grow and change with the characters and adapt to new characters coming in?

WDB: The set dressing department has been the same size since we began. I have two buyers who assist me with the day to day running of the production and a lead man who handles the crew labor schedule. We added more set dressers as we needed them to animate the larger swing sets but the core crew has been steady from the beginning.

SOS: PLL is nearing the end and I understand you are currently working on the final episode. Is it a sad time around the set?

WDB: Ending PLL in hindsight was a much more emotional experience than any of us believed it would be. Not only did I work alongside these people for seven years, we celebrated and mourned with each other just like a family. So saying good-bye to the job and the people was emotional! Everything in life has a beginning, middle and end. That is the flow of life. PLL will always have a special place in my heart.

As we mentioned, William has a great eye for set décor. Below are some of our favorite pieces seen on the set of this beautifully designed and decorated mystery laden show.

Campaign Leather Folding Chair - Seen on Set
Campaign Leather Folding Chair - Seen on Set

Campaign Leather Folding Chair as seen on Pretty Little Liars

Ceiling Pendant - Seen on Set
Pelham Pendant Light - Seen on Set

Pelham Pendant Light as seen on Pretty Little Liars

Poster - Seen on Set
Lignes Aeriennes Latecoere Poster - Seen on Set

Lignes Aeriennes Latecoere Poster as seen on Pretty Little Liars

SOS: Dismantling the sets must be a tough part of the job, particularly if it has been a fun a job to work on? What happens to all of the furniture, décor and props?

WDB: Dismantling the sets started early in the process of ending the show. PLL was always a show about flashbacks and flash forwards to provide the moments before or after a scene you had already seen to flesh out the story even more. So to end the show we needed to go back to many sets we had not seen in a while. Well that means you need stage space to re-create the sets which means something has to go. So we were saying good-bye to sets we had standing on stages for 7 years to put something else in its place as we were saying good-bye to the show. It was very emotional. Once filming was complete, then the task of returning everything to Warner Brothers Prop House began. The majority of props were assets of the Studio, they get returned, then we sort thru the purchases. Ultimately everything is an asset of the Studio and goes back into the Prop House. I actually walked thru the Prop House last week and saw Aria’s dresser sitting back in the Prop House. Everything in there has a story. That particular piece of furniture will always be Aria Montgomery’s bedroom dresser, now it will become someone else’s dresser in a future show.

SOS: Is there anything from the sets of PLL you would like to keep?

WDB: I have two things I opted to retain. The set dressing dept used to hide “A’s” on the set, purely as a game for the cast and crew. They were made of different materials so they could hide in plain sight. So I kept on of the “A’s” and I kept the Concierge sign from The Radley Hotel lobby.

SOS: Even though PLL is ending you have already begun work on Famous in Love which airs April next year. Much of the same PLL crew is working on this production, this must make the transition a bit easier?

WDB: Yes, it does. But we did have to say good-bye to the cast of PLL so there is that good-bye! Change is change. Nothing stays the same in life.

Pretty Little Liars - Seen On Set Pretty Little Liars © ABC Family / Alloy Entertainment / Warner Horizon Television
Pretty Little Liars - Seen On Set Pretty Little Liars © ABC Family / Alloy Entertainment / Warner Horizon Television
Pretty Little Liars - Seen On Set Pretty Little Liars © ABC Family / Alloy Entertainment / Warner Horizon Television

SOS: As you’re nearing ten years working as a set decorator is there a set that is a favorite of yours? And of all the movies and TV shows you have worked on, is there one that stands out as a great experience that will stay with you?

WDB: I loved working on The West Wing. I am a huge fan of White House History so the experience was one I will always cherish. I got to work in a re-creation of the Oval Office and the private residence of the White House. For me that was a pretty cool experience. But as a Set Decorator I got to use the chandelier that hung over Audrey Hepburn’s head in My Fair Lady on a prom set for PLL and I got to create a creepy doll hospital basement. There are the highlights! More to come, I’m sure of that!

Doll Hospital set Doll Hospital set (Courtesy of William DeBiasio)

SOS: Finally William, as an accomplished set decorator and as an Executive Board member of the Set Decorators Society of America (SDSA) what advice would have for an aspiring set decorator?

WDB: Firstly, I would say if you are interested in a career in Set Decorating, then join the SDSA in whatever capacity you can. There are several different categories available. Become involved in whatever you have time for and be polite and courteous to all you come in contact with. You may be looking for a job and need that person or they may be your next boss. It is a small, tight knit community. Also, be aware of your surroundings. Life can assist a Set Decorator, you are re-creating actual spaces for the most part. Pay attention to your surroundings! It’s all in the details!

You can find William DeBiasio on IMDB or tweet him @WilliamDebiasio

Learn more about the Set Decorators Society of America (SDSA)

Written by Published on 1st December 2016

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