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How Ideal Sets Founder Harry Hou Cracked the Code on Affordable Standing Sets


By: Margeaux Sippell | February 27, 2024

<i>A camera operator films actors inside the jail set. Courtesy of Ideal Sets.</i>
A camera operator films actors inside the jail set. Courtesy of Ideal Sets.

When Ideal Sets founder Harry Hou was a working director, he kept facing the same problem over and over again. He needed good quality standing sets to shoot interior scenes without blowing the whole budget on small productions.

But options were scarce.

"They're either way too expensive or way too low quality. There was nothing in between that was an affordable price," Hou tells MovieMaker.

With 10 years of experience directing commercials, music videos, web series, and other small projects, Hou knew exactly what small and midsized productions needed - and he had the perfect solution.

"That's why I was wondering, 'Why not do my own sets?" he says.

From there, Ideal Sets was born.

Located in a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Maywood, just 30 minutes from Hollywood,Ideal Sets offers its clients interiors including a police station, a jail, a courtroom, a bank vault, a coffee shop, a ramen bar, a hospital ward, an office and a classroom. He also offers sets of several kinds of living spaces, including bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms and kitchens. The space also comes with an 11,000 square foot parking lot for crew use, as well as a production office and wardrobe and makeup rooms.

This bedroom set can be personalized to fit each production. Courtesy of Ideal Sets.

This bedroom set can be personalized to fit each production. Courtesy of Ideal Sets.
Ideal Sets has been thriving since it got up and running five years ago. Over 1,000 productions have been filmed there, including web series like the Allblk network's A House Divided and Double Cross, and music videos like Snoop Dogg's "I C Your Bullshit" and Kodak Black's "Calling My Spirit."

Other frequent clients of Hou's are vertical dramas that stream on ReelShort, a streaming platform that offers bite-sized TV series designed to be viewed on your phone in multiple short installments. With help from Ideal Sets, the platform can film an entire 70-minute drama in just a week.

Harry Hou on Helping Midsized Productions With Ideal Sets

"They can film 20 different looks in one day, in one place, without a company move. If they're going to do a company move from one place to another place, they lose money. They lose time," Hou says. "Five of their seven days, they film with Ideal Sets so they can get all the interiors they want. And the last two days, they just go in for exterior scenes."

Big-budget productions can build massive locations, but most productions don't need to go to all that trouble to tell a convincing story.

Also Read: 9 Captivating Netflix True Crime Docuseries You Might Have Missed

"Real hospitals, real courtrooms, do not allow you to film with a small production. And for those Hollywood films, for those big productions, they build their own sets. So my target is only the small and medium productions," Hou says. "They can afford to film in the standing sets, but they cannot afford to build their own sets."

He designed his standing sets to be roomy enough to accommodate dollies, lighting rigs, cameras, and other equipment that needs to be moved quickly and easily.

Convenience store set. Courtesy of Ideal Sets.

Convenience store set. Courtesy of Ideal Sets.
"Hospital rooms, hallways, and the patient rooms, front desks - everything is a little bigger, a little wider, to leave as much space as possible for the lighting. And we don't have a top ceiling, because people always want to light from above, so it's better to leave it open," he says.

Hou also pays very close attention to detail to ensure his sets are true to life.

"I have been pretending that I'm sick and going to different hospitals in Los Angeles to get an idea what a real hospital nowadays is supposed to be," he says. "Because when I go to different standing sets, it's all about blue or greenish colors on the wall. But three of the five hospitals I went to had peachy or pinkish colors. If you don't go yourself, you never know."

Ideal Sets also has partnerships with other locations, like a cowboy ranch, a bubble tent, a desert house with a pool, a tattoo studio, an RV camp, a nightclub, a bar, and multiple modern houses, in case clients want to use them for additional interiors or exteriors.

Hou's next goal is to create a platform on the Ideal Sets website where people can offer up their businesses as potential film sets.

"There are a lot of businesses that don't have any connections with filming crews, but they always have non-business hours. So what I'm doing is helping them to get income during their non-business hours. It's a benefit for them and it's a benefit for me as well," Hou says.

You can learn more at idealsets.com.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Winter 2024 print issue of MovieMaker Magazine.

Main Image: A camera operator films actors inside the jail set. Courtesy of Ideal Sets.




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