Smart Ways to Add Production Value Through Your Production Design

Even though the sun’s out, we know that all you guys want to be doing is planning & making your next film. So, if you’re on a budget like us, you need to make the most of wherever you’re shooting and create an effective environment whilst not breaking the bank. Production design is a key way of telling your story visually and making the most of the tools available to you as a filmmaker to help aid your storytelling, but it’s importance can be easily forgotten when there’s so much more to spend your budget on. Never fear, filmmakers, Kat and Dusan are here to discuss some ideas for how you can create an effective atmosphere and look for your film whilst being super thrifty.

1) Make the best of your location

Whether you’re shooting on location or in your own house, there’s always things you can do to create an atmosphere and unique look for your film. Often white walls can be difficult for lighting, and let’s face it, a lot of locations that are readily available to you will have neutral coloured walls. To combat this, why not grab some cheap wallpaper and use masking tape to change the colour of your walls. It’ll be easier for your DOP to light the scene without it being over exposed and you can determine the mood of the scene through your choice of wallpaper. Plus, once you’re done you can whip it off the wall without having to repaint etc. – score!

Let’s talk props for a second: make sure that everything that is in your scene is there for a reason. You may be in a location that is filled with personal items or memorabilia, and it’s important that you consider what relevance they have in your shot. The environment you create is one that both your characters and your audience will inhabit throughout the film, so you need to ensure you’re using every part of the space to help tell your story visually.

2) Costume doesn’t have to break the bank

It’s always useful to bear in mind common items of clothing that your actor may be able to bring with them to save you some of your budget. However, to keep full control over how you want your character to look it’s worth spending some extra money and ensuring that their costume really reflects the character. This doesn’t always have to be super expensive though – we have some nifty hacks. If you’re a film student, bear in mind a lot of high street shops will let you use student discount. Don’t discount charity shops too, especially if you’re looking for a super niche item or something that looks well worn. We opted for the Primark option and, as our shoot was only one day, we were able to return most of the clothing and save £70. #ThinkThrifty


Make sure the style and colours you select are able to translate traits about your character to the audience. Especially on short films, you don’t have the luxury of time to explain your character in depth, so use the tools you do have (such as costume & make-up) to illustrate that for you. We also used a great make-up artist on our film, and even added tattoos to main character t help get across his persona.

3) Remember continuity in your production design

Who can forget the infamous Downton Abbey water bottle fiasco?! Always remember what place/time your film is set in and ensure that your production design reflects that. It helps to ensure suspension of disbelief, and anything that doesn’t fit could be jarring to your audience. Just because Baz Luhrmann can get away with inflatable zebras in The Great Gatsby doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone…

the great gatsby

If you’re on a short shoot on a single location, you would think this might be easy to do, however, don’t take continuity for granted. If you find a fatal flaw between your shots maybe before and after lunchtime and only discover them in the edit, it’s almost impossible for you to fix. Why not consider having a script supervisor, not just to ensure you have coverage of all the lines, but also to keep track of props, costume and character movements. When it gets to the edit, it’ll be a lot easier for you to stitch together your shots if everything matches. If you need more advice on continuity, check out our article/video on continuity here.

For more tips on visual storytelling, here’s a review of our Book of the Week: Visual Storytelling by Morgan Sandler.



Kathryn is an MA graduate in Film and Television from The University of Bristol. After moving from the depths of the countryside, Kathryn has swapped fields for filmmaking and has recently worked as a Production Assistant for Baby Cow. Kathryn continues to make informative (read: hilarious) videos with fellow Raindancer Dusan, and hopes to pursue a career in the film industry to financially support her cat.

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