I’m currently editing my latest feature film, which was shot for just $6000 over the course of 15 shooting days.
This was by far my lowest budget feature film (by design), but will likely have some of the best production value. As I was editing this week, I asked myself why this was the case –
Why does this film have more production value than past projects with greater financial resources?
Some of the reasons were obvious:
Shooting with no crew allowed us to get more coverage, work faster, and try more ideas each day. All of this clearly benefitted the production quality.
But there were a few less obvious choices that had a huge impact too, which I want to highlight below…
Driving Shots = Green Screen
We have a lot of driving scenes in this film.
Initially, my plan was to sit in the back seat with the camera, turn on stabilization, and film the actors driving on some quiet side roads.
After attempting this on a couple of early scenes, I decided to change course.
There were issues with sound, camera shake, and coverage. Not to mention, for the more intricate scenes coming up, safety was a concern too.
With all that in mind, I decided to shoot all of our remaining car scenes on a green screen.
This would solve all of our issues while also saving a ton of time – since we could produce all the greenscreen / driving shots in a single day.
In total, there were about driving 8 scenes (totaling roughly 12 – 13 pages of dialogue), and we were able to shoot them all in 6 hours.
As I comp these driving shots together with moving background plates, the benefit to production value is clear.
The new shots look seamless, and completely match with the real driving shots we captured earlier on. But they also have better sound, better angles, and better background environments, since I had more control over every variable.
Lately I’ve been editing all my projects in black and white, even if they will eventually be finished in full color.
Working this way helps me move much faster. I don’t get thrown off by shots with bad color or poor white balance, which I can always fix later anyways.
This new feature film was no exception. I made all the footage monochrome, and just started editing.
But after a while, I started to fall in love with the black and white aesthetic for this project. It really works for the story, and compliments our locations beautifully.
While I’m still not 100% sure if I will go full monochrome (or perhaps just use it sparingly on certain scenes), one thing is clear:
A black and white aesthetic can have a major impact on your production value. It’s hard to overstate how much of our perception of quality is subconsciously wrapped up in color.
If there are inconsistencies with color – whether in shot matching, production design, or anything else – the film’s production value will take a hit.
Using fake blood that is pink instead of red will disorient the audience when watching in color. In black and white, it looks perfectly fine.
The same could be said about shooting actors with mismatched wardrobe colors, or filming in a location with an ugly/clashing background.
On bigger budget films, production designers spend weeks or months optimizing the color palettes on set. On a no-budget film you don’t have that benefit, and you’re likely to run into some color issues as a result.
Black and white is eliminates nearly every unwanted color issue without any real effort.
It’s definitely not the right creative choice for every film, but the benefits are impossible to ignore.
As we know, great audio is more important than visuals when it comes to audience perception of production value.
This is why on our film, we would record wild lines after every scene. (This is when the actors play out the scene for audio-only, without the camera running.)
It’s a great way to ensure you have perfect audio, even if there are some sound issues on the main footage.
On several occasions, we recorded additional sound effects on set too. After finishing a scene, we might play it one more time without any dialogue at all.
This would let us record key sound effects – For example a chair scraping against the ground or a door slamming shut.
These real sound effects sound 100x better than library effects, and match our location sound perfectly. And combined with the wild lines we recorded, it’s making for a really nice soundscape.
There’s so much that goes into great production value on any film project, but there are definitely some unique nuances when it comes to no-budget filmmaking.
Hopefully this has been helpful for those of you working on feature films of your own… And proves the point that sometimes less is more.