Teach Me Tuesday: Faking High Production Quality

(Bri Castellini) #1

It’s Teach Me Tuesday! The day where we crowdsource the best tips and tricks for a particular filmmaking topic. Today’s topic:

#How do you raise production value without the money for high production value?

Possible prompts:
-How to make shots look more professional than the crew who shot them
-What crew members or pieces of equipment do you prioritize for the most bang for your [lack of] bucks?
-What are the first things you cut from a budget or a shoot?

(sam lockie-waring) #2

production design and good lighting. even shit cameras get good footage when a scene is lit well and seems designed. also good sound, obviously, but i’m an aesthetics man myself.

(Jamie McKeller) #3

What do you have available to you and how can you utilise it? We wanted an exciting opening for I Am Tim Helsing 3.1, and we had access to -

An empty tower block
An actor who could ride a horse
A farm

Outside of an amazing cast and crew we plotted out the episode to make use of these. It opens with our hero storming the block to fight a very tacky vampire, to chasing down a monster at the farm ending in a horse chase.

Literally cost us nothing but manners, time and good cups of tea. We dressed the tower block space with plastic decorating sheets, lit it with work lamps which were diffused by the sheets. That cost us about £5 to put together and it looked great.

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(Bri Castellini) #4

If a newbie was making something similar, what should they focus on to make it look good? Planning? How do you advise them to be realistic when going for such an intense shot?

(Andrew Williams) #5

DSLRs get beautiful footage and they are cheap enough that SOMEONE you know has one.

Have an audio solution. Even if it’s iPhones, have the solution and use it. Have a back up too. And get roomtone ALWAYS. Bad audio is the worst.

Plan. Everything. You’d be surprised what amazing shots you can get with some organization and effort. Indie filmmaking is about taking the money you don’t have and converting it into effort and time spent in pre-production.

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(Meg Carroway) #6

Pay attention to directing. Always make time for perfecting the performances. No one will care if you only have two camera angles if the performances are good. Rehearse, if possible, so you won’t spend as much time on it on set, but always, always, always prioritize acting and performance over camera angles. You can have the prettiest shot in the world and crystal clear sound and it won’t matter if your actors lack energy.

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(naje.tv) #7

I would agree with Andrewdwilliams1989 that audio can make or break your work. Bad audio is a dead giveaway of production shortcomings and almost immediately lowers your production value. Shooting with the best cameras and lenses and actors will all be for not if the audio is bad. Audio would be priority number one for me.

My second priority if I was trying to raise the production value of a project would be using good glass. Even if you’re shooting on a smartphone, there are ways to incorporate nicer lenses to raise the profile of your images. And for someone shooting with a DSLR, quality lenses are a must. They are usually pretty cheap to rent, and depending on your shoot schedule/duration, you may be able to shoot with all kinds of fantastic glass you could never possibly own. Def worth considering.

Lighting and production design would be my third and fourth priorities respectively.

In this ‘Naje hierarchy’ of production value, any item is only of value if the items before it are secured. So good production design becomes relevant if you have nice lighting. Nice lighting works if you have decent set up for capturing it. And none of it matters if the sound is bad.

Just my loose rule of thumb…

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(Bri Castellini) #8

Naje this is GREAT!! Agreed about sound, but for a n00b, is there a particular type of equipment or a particular trick to get the best audio possible?

(Taylor Steele) #9


I recently finished writing a 7 episode web-series and was wondering if anyone knows what I should do next. Lol? Who should I talk to about the things and the moneys and whatnots? I was advised to look into shows that are similar to mine and reaching out to those producers.

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(naje.tv) #10

Hmm… good point Bri. I’m not the best at sound, but I would advise:

  1. sound should be a priority like any of the major production positions (i.e., producer, director, DP, production designer, etc). i think a sound person (either production recordist, post production mixer/designer, or both) should be part of the pre-production of any serious shoot, looking at the acoustics of different locations, difficulties in getting good sound (actors in different rooms for example, etc…), and also thinking about how the story can be told through the sound design (just like a cinematographer might work with the director and/or a storyboard artist - sound should get similar considerations). the fact that sound specialists are often brought on as an afterthought is criminal. okay, not actually criminal, but almost…

  2. get a pro sound guy if possible. and if you can, bring them onboard in pre-production so they can be part of prethinking their needs (technical, logistical, and otherwise).

if you cannot hire a pro sound guy, or have to record it yourself, these are some of the things I would keep in mind:

  • take advantage of the numerous free tutorials online regarding recording quality direct sound (Film Riot, RocketJump, WhoIsMattJohnson, etc…). you won’t get the same quality sound as a pro guy, but you can certainly get decent useable sound.

  • as a general rule, you will likely want to record your audio separately from your image. even good sound will get corrupted via compression if you direct it into your DSLR recorder. keep 'em separated (shoot with a slate). maybe use a Zoom, Tascam or similar recording device to record that sound (cheap rental and pretty cheap purchase, again not as awesome as pro sound but pretty decent)

  • if logistically feasible, shotgun mics > wireless/lavs. shotgun mics are generally better quality, and have less issues (radio static, lapel placement, scratching sounds, etc…) if you must use - or prefer to use - wireless/lav mics, Matt Johnson (whoismatt.com) has some interesting solutions (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSJKxcfFagE).

i hope something in there is helpful…?

(Bri Castellini) #11

Post a new conversation about this in the “ask the community” category to get better visibility! This is really just a thread for faking/achieving high production value for low/no money. Also check out our series on how to make a show here. (pay special attention to the ones labeled “part 1, part 2” etc)

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(Bri Castellini) #12

ALL of this was helpful! Please continue posting in this and other threads because we desperately need you here!

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(Bri Castellini) #13

Also! Please feel free to ask questions on the series of posts I just directed to you, because the “guide” is by no means exhaustive, and we’re always looking for input on further discussion and on what else we can research/write about for you!

(Bri Castellini) pinned globally #14
(Erik Urtz) #15

I think the key is having a great script and great actors. Don’t try and do anything too fancy, just keep the scope of the production limited.

When you have those three things everything becomes easier. Your biggest obstacle is always time, so anything that can save you time on set is something that will ultimately improve the quality of the finished product.

I think this mirrors what Meg said as a more ‘bottom up’ approach to production value. A strong focus on the really important stuff ends up having a tangible effect on overall production value.

(Herman Wang) #16

A few things that haven’t been mentioned yet:

  • In post, a well-done contrast will make your production look more like what people are used to seeing in movies and on TV.

  • Maybe a little off-topic, but we don’t bother using a slate. We can get away with that because our camera has a mic and so syncing footage with the sound recordist’s files is just a matter of syncing the audio. We do a simple callout of the scene numbers at the top and go right to “action”. I find it keeps the momentum going and helps everyone get into a better rhythm when you don’t have a PA constantly jumping in and out of frame.

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(Erik Urtz) #17

To each his own, but I would never not slate. Having that first frame be a slate with scene number, and take is so valuable when logging, or even just visually perusing thumbnails.

(Bri Castellini) #18

I’ve also found that it makes the cast and crew think it’s a way more legit production than it might be. Going from clapping to having a slate between seasons really stepped up the way we all felt about what we were doing. And it’s pretty quick all things considered.

(Herman Wang) #19

We name the files with scene and take numbers, which I think accomplishes the same thing you’re talking about. But yes, everyone should find the method that works best for them.

(Ben Tivnen) #20

ALWAYS prioritise the audio - it doesn’t matter how good your video looks, if the sound is bad it’ll still feel amateur. And I say that as a cinematographer.

Here’s a video I made a while ago on budget shooting:

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