Movie set design and the locations you decide to shoot your scenes are as important to the overall narrative as the actors that inhabit them. Many filmmakers treat the setting as another character in their film with its own motivations and story to tell. Getting the set design right can make or break your film.
If you’re relatively new to film production, or just started working on a project that requires a movie set build, then this post is designed to give you some pointers on how to use sets better.
Set Design is an Important Part of Any Film Production
The type of scene will determine whether or not you need to shoot on a sound stage or on location. While outdoor scenes can absolutely be shot on set, these types of sets are huge and expensive. If you’re trying to maximize your budget a good rule to stick to is:
Open outdoor scenes: Shoot on location
Intimate indoor scenes: Shoot on a set or soundstage
If your production requires that you shoot multiple scenes in the same indoor location then having the control that a movie set brings is essential. If you have the budget to design your own set then you can set up all your production equipment and leave it set up. You have time to adjust the lighting and audio capture so that set gives you the exact atmosphere that you want.
If you’ve made the decision to shoot on a set or use a similar solution, below we have listed some tips to help you enhance your project.
7 Tips For Set Design and Locations
Don’t skip the planning stage
Take a long hard look at your script and make a plan for exactly how you’re going to accomplish each scene before you start shooting. Spend time scouting locations and checking prices. Building custom sets will require a space that you can modify and if you don’t have a relationship with a professional film studio then you’re going to have to search for alternate solutions. Make sure that you have estimates of how much it will cost to rent all the locations that you have chosen before you start production.
Use what’s available
You can get really creative when it comes to filming a movie. Sometimes the perfect location for a scene already exists and all you have to do is rent it. This is why the planning stage is so important. Knowing what kind of space you have available makes the decision to design a set way easier. Sometimes you’ll be able to use the same location for multiple scenes if you get creative with your camera work and editing.
Use a mood board
Mood boards can be a great tool when you’re trying to come up with set design and location ideas. If you’ve never made one before, you think of it like a Pinterest board for specific scenes in your film. You can even use Pinterest if you want. All you do is research pictures and design elements that give off the same “mood” as you want your scene too. Once you have collected all these pictures together you can pull ideas from it during the design process.
Consider how lighting can change a space
Lighting makes all the difference. A creatively lit space can look completely different than a set with flat lighting. A good example of this difference is pretty much any TV show, like Star Trek: The Next Generation for example, that makes a movie. The sets will be similar in a movie, but TV lighting is usually very flat while movie lighting will try to add a more dramatic feeling to the sets. Take the time to experiment with the lighting on your set until you can produce the desired effect.
Recycle assets when possible
Beyond reusing an actual space, you should look at how you can make your set pieces reusable as well. You should be thinking about your future productions when you’re designing set assets. There may be a way to make a set so that you could use it again. The more time and money you can save the more movies you’ll be able to make.
Build custom sets
If you have the resources to build custom set pieces then you should definitely do it. Custom add lots of production value to a movie and can increase what you can do on camera. When you build a custom set you can create exactly the correct space for your scene and setting is a huge part of visual storytelling.
Get professional help
It’s always a good idea to get professional help in your location and set-design departments. Having a dedicated person to manage these elements of a production is smart because a mistake here could cost you big time.
Great Sets Complement Great Filming Locations
Whenever you have great set design in a movie, you also need to find great filming locations. One without the other just doesn’t work if you want to make a quality film. Location scouting is the method that film locations are found, and recently much of the location scouting process has moved online. Understanding the dynamics of set design and location is key to a well-rounded production. All that’s left now is to pick your locations and start building your sets!
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