Production design is going to define the visual style of your project. Don't skimp on it.
Even before a camera is turned on, it is the production design that defines the visual voice of a film. It's a topic No Film School explores frequently because of its importance in storytelling. Indy Mogul recently dove into the subject with production designer Sam Lisenco, whose work includes the Safdie's Uncut Gems and Noah Baumbauch's Frances Ha, sharing how to detail the look of your film through production design.
So, what is a production designer?
A production designer is responsible for the overall look of the film. They carry out the director's vision and what will ultimately be seen in the frame on production day. Lisenco points out that the production designer is the verbal presence of what the movie should look like and is the voice for other creative persons. If the different parts of the film production were a pizza, production design would be the crust, sauce, and cheese. It's that important.
Location managers are muy importante
Finding the right location is key as it sets the tone for what will ultimately become the final look of a scene. A good production designer knows how to transform an existing location or build one from the ground up that visually supports the story. Lisenco suggests approaching a project by trying to find the real thing first, and if it doesn't exist, try to build it.
Set design should be an extension of the story and character(s)
If you wanted to show someone in jail, you could simply put them in a cell and think nothing of it. It could easily be believable to the audience, but what if you considered how the set relates to the story. Where the cell is located? What city? What kind of metal would those bars be? What color would they be? Is there a patina to them? What's in the room? What era is it? How do the cell door sound when they close?
Imagine if prison in The Shawshank Redemption looked pristine instead of dilapidated. It would have evoked an entirely different tone. The decisions the late Terence Marsh created in the production design subliminally added to the tonality of the story's aesthetics. When you find a space or architecture that shares a similar emotion or feeling the story is trying to put across, what's in that space doesn't has to stay that exact same way. It can be re-imagined to further fit the script. In shorter words, don't settle for what's presented in front of you.
Do you have any production design tips? Share them in the comments below.