10 Production Design Tips for Independent Filmmakers on a Shoestring Budget

If you are committed to your film and want it to be a success, do not deprive your viewers of aesthetics by ignoring the relevance of production design. This is my first bit of advice to anyone who is feeling this way. Production design is an important part of your film since it helps tell the story, defines the mood, and contributes to the overall aesthetic. A professional production designer is someone who is in charge of both the artistic concept and the visual presentation of a film. This is the type of player that, in an ideal world, would be useful to have on your team. They will add an aesthetic touch that will give a production consistency, making your film into one that is memorable and influential. But what if you don’t have the necessary resources right now? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are some ideas to help you save money on production design.

1. Reconnaissance of the surroundings

When working with a tight budget, the first natural place to explore is for sites where you can film for little to no cost, if not for free. Find locations inside your city to cut costs and save money on gas by avoiding long journeys. It is more vital to focus on choosing the appropriate place that will bring your ideas to life than it is on locating a well-known and well-recognized area. You’d be surprised at how many amazing places are within short driving distance of you. If you need to film any scenes in flats, be sure to rent out apartments for the duration of your production! You could keep your equipment there, and it may also be a comfy place for you to nap. During the Anna Karenina filming, production designer Sarah Greenwood converted a single building into dozens of diverse locales. This resulted in considerable cost savings during the film’s production because another option would have been to transport the team to the other side of the earth to film there.

2. Seek the guidance of knowledgeable people

The difficulty of your project will be determined by the completeness of the set that you require. There is no way to determine the cost of your production design without the assistance of a production design professional. For example, you may hire interior designers and discuss the type of mood you want to create with them. They will be able to advise you on how to provide a cost-effective solution and further clarify the nature of the work that will need to be done. The cost of hiring consultants will ultimately save you money in the long term.

3. Obtaining production designers’ services

After you have a better sense of what you will need to accomplish to bring your vision to life, it is time to hire someone to undertake the work on your behalf. The expense of employing a set designer can be expensive; nevertheless, a resource that is frequently overlooked is recent college graduates looking for work experience. Graduates of production or set design programmes are likely to be located in the city where you will be shooting and would be more than willing to give their talents. Allow someone to assist you, and then offer your support to them in return.

4. Create your own filming studio

When you have few resources, you must be innovative in order to make do with what you have. Even if you cannot afford a complete production design team, it is still in your best interest to recruit at least one experienced professional who can contribute to the success of your endeavours. You may hire a single set designer and rely on your crew members for support. Putting together sets can be a lot of fun, but it’s critical to involve a professional so that you don’t wind up with a flashy design. Karl Hopf wrote an excellent piece about transforming a modern apartment into a gothic one. If you have the right graphics and the right camera angle, you can accomplish the impossible.

5. Changing the lighting can make a big difference

The fact that lighting accounts for 75% of stage design should get you more excited about the grandiose ideas you have in mind. This means that if you use the correct tools, you might convey the idea that the sets you’re utilising are more expensive than they are. If you are dealing with a limited budget, you should prioritise strategic investments. Lighting equipment is necessary, and instead of purchasing it, you may easily rent it. A well-lit set may turn a mundane site into an intriguing one, which is necessary for attaining the right look in your images. Emmeline Muffet Gives Up Her Tuffet was produced by Stephen Boatright on a shoestring budget, and the set was made for $1,200 by Lune Bateaux, the film’s set designer. Despite the extreme budget constraints, the crew was able to pull it off. Examine how the lighting alters the fabricated set.

6. Use numerous cinematic objects to raise the level of your scenario

Props are an important component of the set since they represent the time period in which your setting is set. Because of the severe financial constraints, you will need to be creative in selecting where you will obtain the essential props. In truth, the great majority of productions rent or purchase props from local or online firms. It is critical to pay attention to the props, how you use them, and to devise more clever techniques to obtain the proper ones. 

Any production, no matter how large or little, can profit significantly from meticulous attention to detail. Here’s how a director named Sean Meehan and a set designer named Riley Fearon collaborated to transform a set into multiple time periods while staying within their $300 budget. A set designer usually has a lot of resources at their disposal, and this example shows how a qualified professional can work with any budget and yet generate spectacular results.

7. Composition in the context of the design process

If you want to save money, the next best thing to paying someone to help you with production design is to pay close attention to the angles and compositions of each individual frame. The way you approach the various camera views will have a huge impact on how your audience reacts. Consider the several imaginative angles from which you may shoot the scene, taking into account the type of set you’re working with. This will ultimately help you with your film’s production design and give you more influence over the film itself.

8. Create a board of visual inspiration

A production designer might, among other things, create a mood board or a lookbook to fit the aesthetics that you are aiming for. This is only one of the numerous tasks that a production designer would perform. You will save time and money by executing this activity on your own. Lookbooks, mood boards, and storyboards do not necessitate a great level of artistic ability on your part. You are the only person who genuinely understands the look you have envisioned for yourself. You can do this by hunting for acceptable images and stitching them together to show the set designer exactly what you’re looking for. Depositphotos, a large stock photo bank that allows you to obtain high-resolution stock photographs and use them for mockups, has a great picture collection that you can utilise in your work. This is due to the fact that Depositphotos is a stock photo bank.

9. Fundraise for production design

In the event that your financial constraints prevent you from hiring a qualified production designer, consider organising a fundraising initiative. We are lucky in this day and age to have options for crowdfunding when it comes to financing indie films. The usage of social media, namely crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Seed&Spark, is an efficient way to allocate resources. The act of actually collecting donations necessitates considerable effort as well as rigorous planning. It is critical that you have a firm grasp on how much money you need to raise and how quickly you need to accomplish so. Take a strategic approach to resolving this issue. If it turns out that production design is the area lacking in money, emphasise this in your approach.

10. Get ready for your performance

The operation necessitates much planning, but that is only one aspect of it. Make sure to plan out all of your relocations and present everyone with a specific and easy-to-understand timeframe. This is critical for two reasons: first, working overtime will cost you more money, and second, poor planning is one of the leading causes of projects going over budget. Do not begin recording unless you have a strong plan that is reasonable, precise, and time-saving.

In film school, production designers frequently make fun of the fact that people recognise famous actors while giving little recognition to the team of professionals who put together a production by joking that the actors are “the talent.” This is because consumers recognise the famous performers but give little credit to the production’s crew of specialists. Production design necessitates a distinct set of skills. You should never underestimate the power of aesthetics or the transformations that experienced specialists can effect. With skilled set design and adequate lighting, any picture, regardless of budget, can be elevated to Oscar-caliber status. You may assume that your audience is more immersed in the story, but you’d be surprised at how many people judge films entirely on their aesthetic presentation.