The production design department is an integral part of the filmic art, so in order for you to understand what it is and how to showcase it best, let’s examine it piece by piece.
Production design helps ground you in the world of the film; it includes all of the visual elements of the film, like settings, props, and camera angles.
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The lighting and special effects you see in each shot is a product of production design, the color palettes you see are products of production design, and the costumes you see are rooted in the decisions made by production designers.
Each of those elements helps to keep your viewers engaged in your film, therefore, it’s important you are able to identify and optimize these things in your film.
For more information on what production design is, check out one of our previous posts called What is Production Design? which lays out for you what production design itself is and the impact of production designers.
Production Design and the Art Department
A production designer works as a subset of the art department. He or she is responsible for leading the entire art department and making sure that the vision of the director is accurately brought to screen.
If they are working on a piece that takes place in a different time period, it is imperative that not only does the production designer work to achieve the director’s vision, but is also able to accurately depict the time period. This requires research and dedication, but it is essential that things like time periods are depicted with accuracy.
It is also helpful for your production designer to work with a costume designer who can help to achieve time period accuracy and also bring the director’s vision to life through the project’s wardrobe.
Your production designer will work closely with the film’s art director, who is in charge of designing and overseeing the building of sets. These two individuals play a prime role in bringing about the look of the film as a whole.
They will also come together with a set designer and various artists and decorators who will assist in building and designing sets, props, and costumes to help to further cultivate the overall, visual look of the film.
Someone else your production designer will work closely with is your director of photography, or cinematographer. Both your production designer and cinematographer are responsible for achieving a particular visual look to your film, so it is imperative that they are able to work together to achieve these visions.
Production Design Budget
Because the visual elements of a film take up the forefront of the film, much of your budget will inevitably be dedicated to this department, so it will be important to be crafty when laying out your budget.
One tip to start with is the mood board. Since production design is rooted in visual elements, it could be extremely beneficial to use a mood board to begin the planning process.
Not every filmmaker uses a mood board, but because it’s a board composed of visual elements, like images and color palettes, it can help you to get your ideas out on a platform in front of you.
A mood board will not only help you, but it will also help your collaborators since they will be able to concretely see the visual ideas that you have in your head for your film.
For more information on mood boards, check out one of our previous blog posts called What Is A Mood Board and Are They Necessary For My Film? which details the ins and outs of mood boards and how they can help you during production.
Hollywood Set vs. Low Budget Film
Production design will look different on a well funded feature in comparison to a low budget, short film.
For example, on a Hollywood set, because the production designer and art department will have an expansive budget to work with, their resources will be far more grandiose.
They will have access to far more resources than an independent filmmaker will and finding resources will come at more ease than it will for someone who is just starting out.
But this is not means for discouragement.
Let’s go over some tips for achieving stellar production design whilst on a budget.
1. Try to borrow props or costumes if possible
While costumes are important for a movie, they can be costly, as can props.
It could be beneficial for you to try borrowing clothing from people you know, or if you can’t find anybody, try your hand at thrift shopping, where clothing will be far less costly but still good quality.
2. Leave wiggle room in your budget
Try to leave a small sum of your budget for unexpected costs. Like we’ve discussed before, there is great room for error and unexpectedness on film sets that will inevitably cost you money.
Therefore, it would be helpful to already have a sum of money set aside, that way, you’re not struggling to make ends meet in the middle of production.
3. Utilize Mood Boards
As we’ve already discussed, mood boards will be extremely beneficial for your production.
Since everyone will have access to a concrete vision of the ideas you have in your head, it will be extremely helpful when beginning to scout for locations or designing sets.
Even more, if you’re on a budget, it could help to plan to film on locations or sets that you already know exist, and while you may not know if something exists already, your colleagues could, and seeing your mood board could help trigger their memories.
4. Have a clear budget plan
This one is an obvious point, but make sure you have a clear idea of what your budget is going to look like for production, especially if you’re starting with a small one.
It would be extremely unfortunate if you ran out of funds in the middle of production; make sure you know in advance how much you can spend during production and make sure the decisions that you’re making align with that budgetary plan.
If you think you need help making ends meet in the production design department on your film, be sure to look into our contests which could earn you up to $10,000 in funding for your film as well as numerous other prizes as well!