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Production Design in the Filmmaking Process

No matter what the budget of a film there are always ways to make production design statements using contrast. You can always paint a wall or add some plants to a set. In an interview, you can bring some no-seam paper or a curtain to dress up the background differently in one part of the room than another. Your choice of furniture or props will help to define the world that your subjects/actors will move through.

It is important to remember that change and contrast help to define the value of visual images. In Chapter 1, How We Tell Stories, you saw three different ways to attract the eye within an image—color, size, and motion (Figure 1.2, Figure 1.3, and Figure 1.4). Each of these qualities speaks to production design and cinematography. But don’t forget that contrast in your films also needs to happen over time. Color, set design, wardrobe, hair, and makeup not only can change from one part of a scene to another, but should change from one part of the film to another.

In the hands of an accomplished production designer, the world that Lester Burnham moves through in American Beauty will change from the tightly constricted, unhappy middle-aged life that frustrates him at the beginning of the film to the dark kitchen in which he ultimately smiles happily at its end.

This is true in documentaries, commercials, music videos, sponsored films, and all other types of projects where you want to create an emotional response from an audience. In a corporate video, for instance, the world in which you begin your interviewee’s opening statement should change by the time he makes his or her point 20 minutes later. This can be as simple as sliding your camera to the right, revealing a more colorful background, or shooting the final statements in front of a window overlooking a park. But the ability to make the audience feel differently at the end of your project than the way they felt at the beginning is the key to getting them to buy into your story.

And that is what a good filmmaker wants to do.

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