top of page
top a

Short Films: The Importance of Production Design

“In film and television, a production designer is the person responsible for the overall visual look of the production. Production designers have a key creative role in the creation of motion pictures and television.”

- Wikipedia, definition of a Production Designer, 2018

Production design is a key element in creating visual impact in a film. Surprisingly it is one of the last departments thought about on short films or small budget productions. As mentioned by Ivan Kander on Short of the Week, camera lenses and lighting equipment are such expensive pieces of technology that they are often one of the first components thought of. Humorously pointed out by Kander, there is little use for fancy cameras without something visually entertaining to point at.

Co-set designers for Granny (2017); Originally the wall behind would have been blank. By using the lamp, coat and pot plant to break up the expanse behind the protagonist's head, the frame had more interest and information for the audience.

Some of the short films that ARACOURT has worked on in past years have been independently funded by producers, crowd funding or by the directors themselves. This often means slim budgets to work with on quick turn arounds. We are here to give you two simple tricks to make your short film or production richer for the viewer.

“For an artist, there’s nothing better than having the opportunity to create a world that doesn’t - but could - exist.”

- Christopher Lautrette, Goodreads, 2018

Tip #1 Naked Walls: Bare white walls - nightmarish words - ones that a production designer should try and avoid (unless bare white walls are required). The cinematographer will love you if you can dress the foreground and background with interesting details. Next time you’re visiting someone’s home, or take note of your own, look at what’s on the walls, on the mantle piece, the desk, the side board, what knick-knacks and artworks fill the space, what details are revealed about the people inhabiting those spaces. What information can you provide the viewer about the character/s and the world they are in? Are they messy, do they leave sticky notes on the fridge? Are they clean, do they have very little personal bric-a-brac? For example, take a scene from your favourite film, pause on a frame/scene that you have always liked, pick out all the pieces in that visual picture that make it so likable. Why do you like it? What makes it interesting to a viewer? Once you start being able to establish the reasons for ‘good design’ you can consciously start using it in your own practice. Observation and replication are great ways to start designing.

Production design Jamie Travis, Saddest Boy in the World (2006), still from the film, beautifully pared back and stylised as the rest of the film is, aesthetically similar to a doll’s house. Tip #2 Flexibility: Utilising and re-utilising what you have access to. Can a bedsheet become a curtain for another scene? Can the cushions in the loungeroom be used for the bedroom? On tight budgets, being able to use set dressing for multiple uses and thinking as creatively as you can will allow you so many more options for design than you originally thought possible. Experiment and have fun with it, being playful and imaginative with your designs open possibilities. Other departments will find your experimentation contagious and will start contributing ideas and equipment, enriching the design further. Be open to suggestions, there is always someone out there who knows more about some specific area of design, props, lighting, costume or construction. Be open to listening to their ideas and be flexible enough in your approach that you allow for these inputs.

ARACOURT, FOX/NAB Mini Legends (2017); The giant flags were repurposed for the long hallway shots and moved from classroom to classroom to create the illusion of more flags and a richer visual picture.

Short films are an incredible way to exercise the skills you have learnt through study or observation, they allow a certain amount of creative freedom that some other arenas of design do not. As they are often smaller budgets with shorter pre-production, they are fast, furious and fun. Hopefully you can find some use in these simple tricks and include them in your next project. Originally written for Crossing the Line, and Published in 2018

Videos to Watch: The Short of the Week: Production Design, by Ivan Kander The Saddest Boy in the World, by Jamie Travis


bottom of page