Set Dressing Tips for PSA Videos


January 24, 2021

A guest blog by Jack Vale from HappyWriters.Co

The phrase ‘set dressing’ might conjure up thoughts of an actor’s studio, complete with elaborate backdrops and complex designs. However, your set is capable of communicating a message no matter the context.

If filming a public service announcement (PSA) to deliver important information to your audience, you would be forgiven for thinking that the most important part of the content is the words you use. After all, viewers will be hanging on your every word to pick up all the details, right? The truth is that your ‘set’ could be more important than you realize.

When we talk about ‘sets’, we don’t necessarily mean that you need to spend days designing a compelling backdrop for your PSA. You simply need to consider what the viewer will see in the video, and whether it matches the message you are aiming to communicate. 

Think about the tone of your video and the kind of vibe you want to get across to your viewers. You should aim for congruence with your backdrop and ‘set’ design. For example, if filming a video about the latest COVID-19 guidance in your area, you might not want to film in a crowded area. Similarly, a colorful setting with playful decorations might make viewers take your important message less seriously.

What is set dressing?

People might often use the term ‘props’ in conjunction with ‘set dressing’. However, an object should only be considered a prop if an actor interacts with that object. If something is included on set to contribute to a particular desired ‘ambience’, it can be considered part of the set dressing.

You should consider that any people involved in shooting your PSA should still be considered actors. They are attempting to speak in front of a camera in a way that provides serious information to an expectant audience. This is not a normal part of everyday life, so the way your set looks can help them to achieve this goal. 

As mentioned, set dressing is an important way for you to communicate your desired message in any PSA. 

Tips for successful set dressing

1. Ask yourself questions. 

Consider the following: how would you like your message to be received?

  • Would you like to appear fun or more serious? Is this an announcement about a worrying topic or a piece of positive news?
  • Do you want to be considered part of a modern, progressive organization, or more traditional?
  • Do you want viewers to see your organization as having everything under control at all times or being open to some spontaneity?

It is important to ask yourself these questions and many other similar ones. You will start to form stronger ideas about the best locations and backdrops to use in your PSA.

2. Don’t be too distracting. 

The last thing you want is for your set to take attention away from the actual content of your video – the words you say. It is important to strike a healthy balance between giving the viewer something meaningful to look at, as well as keeping their attention on your message.

Think twice about using green screens or simply adding too many distractions in your backdrop. This will only make your video feel forced and detract from the message you are trying to get across. 

3. Show off your credibility.

Don’t be afraid to back your words up with your achievements. If you have a collection of awards or a plaque on the wall, it can be a boost to your profile to include them in the video. 

Your words will be taken more seriously as your credibility will be increased. 

In addition to awards and other considerably ‘dull’ things, consider including some of your favorite spots around your home or workplace. Do you have a reading corner? A pool table? Things like this are sure to capture the imagination of viewers and keep them hanging on every word of your PSA. However, do be careful with this if your message is on a serious topic! 

4. Look presentable, always!

Avoid using the flat bare walls of the interior space or other undesirable backdrops. When shooting office space interiors, furniture should always be presentable and surfaces should be absent of untidy plates of food or visible stains.

At the end of the day, it is all about using your environment and adapting your set to create the maximum connection with your viewers.

Check out some examples of MAKE/’s PSA’s:

Interested in creating an impactful PSA? Let’s chat!