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How to Add Production Value to Your Movie

Updated on November 24, 2015
A location from PT Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
A location from PT Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis. | Source


I was editing my latest short film last night in the wee hours and I noticed some shots lacked... something. It just didn't look right, or better yet -- feel right. It just looked amateurish. Nothing is more worse -- as a filmmaker -- than having your movie look amateurish. How do you get your film to feel amateurish? Many ways. I love cinematography; lighting a scene, operating the camera, and composing a shot... it's all very fun. But just pointing the camera is not enough to add production value to your film.

What is production value? It can fall under a number of categories in filmmaking, but what I define it as is "making your film look professional" from a combination of lighting, acting, props, location, and so on. There are various ways to add production value to your low-to-no budget independent film. There are expensive ways to do that as well, but I don't have expenses to spare. Hah. So I will list some easy-to-do tips that have been helpful to me:

1) High shots.

You need an elevated shot. It gives the audience space to think and soak in whatever they need to soak in. Try one from a rooftop. It's basically a breather, if you will. Most -- if not all -- big budget films have at least one or two high shots.

2) Bigger locations.

A dessert? A parking lot? A football field? Whatever works for your story. That claustrophobic feel is not always a good feeling for the audience. It can get a little annoying too. I used to shoot a web series like that and it just annoyed some people that the set was mostly in a confined area. So use big locations. Plus, most importantly, those kind of shots just feels cinematic and expensive.

3) Move, move, move! The camera.

A dolly shot (best choice there)? A crane shot (another epic choice)? A slight shakiness? A pan or tilt? Whatever. Just move the camera. You can't always just CUT to the next shot. It's a subliminal thing. Moving the camera moves the audience and it feels like a real movie. I prefer the dolly shot the most as it's beautiful and just engaging, but I hardly do it because I don't have a proper set up every time for it. I use a shoulder rig, instead, and follow the action. I've stated before that I'm a run and gun type director; half because I've no time to set up due to low budgets and half because I like the style too. If you wanna learn more about shoulder rigs, Google "Red Rock Shoulder Mount Rigs."

4) Aerial Shots.

You know those shots that just stride along the skylines in some downtown area? Yeah, that makes a film look expensive and the audience think they don't care -- but it all adds to the illusion of "a real movie." How do you get an aerial shot? Get a helicopter.

... oh, you don't have a helicopter? Rent one.

... oh, you can't afford to rent one?

Well, do what I do -- buy some stock HD footage. They're ROYALTY-FREE and they're CHEAP. Just add it into the movie as an opener or establishing shot. From whatever stock footage archive you license from (Yahoo or Goole it), know that there many other types of footage you can buy too. I had one of the Golden Gate Bridge and it worked nicely. Just color correct some of it to match with the tone of your film.

5) A crowd.

Get a huge crowd for one of the scenes. A lot people looks like a big production. Makes sense, right? Thought so.

6) Clear dialogue.

I can't stress this enough. No one will notice great sound, but they'll notice bad sound. So get a good microphone. If you can't afford a really good one, then I recommend getting the Azden SGM 1X. It's $200 and it has an XLR output. There are even cheaper microphones than that, like the AudioTechnia ATR-55. It's $50 bucks on eBay.

How to get clear dialog? Get the mic as closely to the actor talking as logically possible without it appearing in front of the camera frame.

7) Great music.

Music adds a whole other element to the film. Use the right kind and it'll make your film feel a certain way, but you want it to feel like a real movie. So choose wisely when choosing music or a composer.

8) Good acting.

This is probably the most important one. I said in another hub "How to Director Actors" that actors are the key to the audience's heart. Thus, they'll forgive low production value if that actor (or actress) is moving them emotionally or whatever. So make sure your actors can ACT! Haha.

And that's all I have at the moment from my experience. I shall go try some hummus for the first time now and enjoy a lovely Monday. I hoped you learned and I hope you have fun attempting these. Also, check out my feature film NOWHERE JOHNNY here: FULL MOVIE

And so subscribe to my YouTube channel for the latest film stuff: SUBSCRIBE

The Jet signing out.

Check out the trailer from my film!


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    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 3 years ago from The Bay

      Nicely said, Marty. You have your work posted up on Vimeo or YT? And thanks for that trailer compliment. We're gonna send it to film festivals and hope it gets accepted. Lol. Currently aiming for Cannes and a few others. Wish us luck!

    • profile image

      Marty 3 years ago

      Great article. Another important part of composing scenes that often gets overlooked is storyboarding. Even basic scenes benefit from having every shot planned out so when you're on set or on location you always know what you need to get from whatever scene you're working on. The crew and actors also benefit from seeing what you're trying to accomplish. If you're like me when filming, inspiration may take hold and you start improving your shot. Its always nice to have the storyboards around to keep track of what I absolutely need.

      Your trailer looks intense...hope I have a chance to see the final production.

    • garymitchell profile image

      garymitchell 4 years ago

      Great post! Aerial shots are key in my book. We do video production in New Hampshire ( ) and we recently began a partnership with a local aerial videographer which is adding an incredible amount of value to our video work.

      Anyone else using more aerial shots in their work these days?

    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 6 years ago from The Bay

      I have not heard of PHYX. I will check it out. Thank you, Mighty Mom. You rock!

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hey The Jet. What's shakin? Looks like you are busy with filmmaking! Cool.

      Just wanted to pass along a possible resource for you.

      Have you ever heard of PHYX, Inc? Cool techno tools for filmmakers (pro and amateur).

      Cheers, MM

    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 6 years ago from The Bay

      @Katie. I hope you give it a shot. I'm sure you'd do well at screenwriting. You're a great writer. :)

      @b4murray. Thanks for the good luck and stopping by.

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

      Very cool, I'd love to make a movie, be in one, anything, movies are so magical and everyone loves movies. Great tips on how to add production value to movies. ) Katie

    • b4murray profile image

      b4murray 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      interesting... good luck in your film making

    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 6 years ago from The Bay

      Thanks for stopping by, cookingdiva. =]

    • profile image

      cookingdiva 6 years ago

      Wow, I did not know much about movies or production values, cool thing to learn!

    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 6 years ago from The Bay

      I'm glad you learned and thanks for reading. =]

    • Astra Nomik profile image

      Cathy Nerujen 6 years ago from Edge of Reality and Known Space

      Cool hub, and very interesting subject to write about. I learned something new.