Getting high production values

The Zombie of War DVD cover may look like it'd be good, but the film has mixed production values, which stop this film from being enjoyed properly. Shame.

There’s lots of ways that you can increase the production values of your projects. But what does it mean? Well, according to Wisegeek:

In the movie industry, the quality of a film is referred to as “production value.” Generally, films with a higher budget will have a high production value, because of the greater investment of resources. It is the goal of most movie makers to make films which are stylish, attractive, and use high quality special effects in combination with exotic locations. These high production value films can be quite costly to make, representing a major gamble on the part of potential investors.

So more budget = higher production value? Not necessarily! Although you’re unlikely to bag a film star for your earlier productions (although you never know, if you ask nicely!), its possible to increase your production value just by being creative with your filming. Have a gander over at the Camera Movements post to see some creative ways of having moving shots.

Now you don’t always have to get that equipment (though I prefer to) in order to get production value, you simply have to mimic what this equipment is designed to do. It can be difficult without the equipment (heck, it’s why it was designed in the first place) but not impossible. Plus, I’d always recommend investing in filming equipment over making it yourself.

My first port of call for filmmaking equipment. Rarely had a problem with Amazon - if it's not too specialist

Another thing is special effects. Now, it entirely depends on what you’re planning to do – but make sure it’s realistic. Nothing worse than bad special effects in films (it breaks verisimilitude). If it can’t be done on set, experiment and practice it in post production. Then you’d need to be able to edit. You can view my massive video editing extravaganza in the editor’s room. Obviously the better editing programs you’ll be able to do more on, but if you’re doing some simple cutting onto a timeline, you can also use some of the really basic ones (like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker). You’ll most likely quickly find the limit to what these programs can do though.

Overall, each area of filmmaking, whether it be sound, lighting, editing, acting, cinematography, etc.. can be refined. Its this refinement that you’re after, and having a high budget just won’t cut it. The best way to increase your production values is to watch films. I mean really watch them. Notice everything, and try to emulate it. Think of how they achieved their look, what equipment, and how it was used.

If you have no idea how they achieved what they did (hint: if it’s a CG effect, they’d have used a 3d compositing program like 3DS Max or Maya), then I think you should read up on filmmaking (though I think if you’re interested in filmmaking you should read up on it regardless). There’s usually a large selection of filmmaking books on amazon.

I would still love a copy of 3DS Max - it's a bit expensive but if you want professional results, sometimes it's better to bite the bullet!

But I feel I’ve been a bit vague, so I’ll round up what I mean to say:

Scriptwriting – Write a range of locations (they can always be done using matte paintings), don’t repeat them too often and don’t be afraid to destroy stuff in the story. Without the ambition behind the story, the special effects guys won’t have anything to do! Also make sure its dramatic – but realistic at the same time. Don’t have every character as either unemotional or mentally unhinged.

Casting – For production values I think it goes like this: Star>Name>Look alike>Built for the role. What do I mean? If you can’t get a star, you can always cast someone with the same last name as a big star (are they brothers? – Kieran Culkin, Adam Baldwin, etc… Lesser known brothers to famous stars = star connection). If you can’t get that, you could cast a look alike (Brandon Routh), and failing that just someone that looks the part (e.g. Jason Statham as an action hero).

Directing – Don’t always favour the most dramatic take. Look at the script, understand the character and make sure their interactions aren’t either too over the top, nor completely cold. It’s a balance that you as the director have to find.

Soundtrack – Higher quality music (go to a site like Jamendo and pay for a few music tracks if you have to), make sure there’s very little hiss and that nothing stands out that isn’t supposed to.

Lighting – Don’t rely on natural lighting. Light your characters dramatically, don’t be afraid to colour the lights with gels.

Camera – Camera movements work extremely well, but use it intelligently. Try and get as much detail as you need to (zooming in will always decrease image quality). Try and minimise camera shaking.

Editing – Don’t be afraid to add stylisation to your film, make sure things flow correctly (really focus on getting those cuts to work) and don’t be afraid to reshoot if something just isn’t working (or cut it out completely).

Most of all though, make sure that you’re having fun while doing all this. If you don’t, then I think you’re doing something wrong!

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