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Larry Rutledge
05-26-2009, 09:24 AM
I have been interested in this Art Direction/Production Design topic for some time. It seems like a lot of low budget indie projects have a look to their interiors that bothers me ... draws my attention because somethings not right. But I haven't been able to put my finger on the exact problem yet.

It's really hard to explain but maybe this will help. I was watching finalists in a faith-based online festival and this one entry caught my eye as having the problem I often see but can't explain how to correct. I suspect it's an art direction/production design issue, but I'm not sure.

The film is here: http://www.thedoorpost.com/humility/BiggestWeakness/

You don't have to watch the whole film, the part I'm talking about appears at about 11 seconds in ... inside an "executive's office".

There is something about this that screams amateur, low budget, cheap, inexeperienced to me, but I have not yet spent the time comparing comparative scenes from studio films to see what the difference is.

I suspect its in how the office is "dressed", but am not sure. Is it as simple as the walls being left white? Or is there more to it? How much does the camera work play into what I'm seeing?

And I ask these questions assuming others have a similar reaction to this scene visually.

Any thoughts/ideas/insight would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Larry

indybones
05-26-2009, 10:49 AM
Hi Larry

As I've not had much experience in set design seeing these kinds of examples will always be good to learn from, especially as I'm involved in creating one now.

I'd agree it does look a bit amateurish but I think it's also in the lack of any post and some of those camera angles and compositions and large DOF doesn't really help. The angle at 21 really doesn't help things at all. The shot reverse shot just seems off.

Just my 2 cents

Shawn Philip Nelson
05-26-2009, 10:58 AM
Larry, I'll take a crack at this.

To me, locations (existing ones, not built ones) are like characters, they must be cast properly.

This location is fine for a number of things, but not a big business one. For one, it looks exactly like the old preachers office used in this terrible indie called 'Counseling Day'. It probably is an office in a church, the wood trim and so forth is from the 70s. No self respecting exec would have it. The location is mis-cast, no amount of re-dressing is going to help, they needed an entirely different space, or a different setup.

This is a common problem among indies: using 19 year olds to play cops, having a crowd of ten sub for the crowd of "the most popular act in town" or having the pastor's office from 1977 be that of a "big british biz man".

Indies need to remember: write for what you have.

Barry_Green
05-26-2009, 11:02 AM
Shawneous hit it out of the park.

Nathyn
05-27-2009, 03:00 PM
Honestly I would've never noticed if it wasn't brought up. There are offices that look like this. I wasn't under the impression it was IBM (don't know if that was even what you were going for) but the situation of a guy trying to get a job is something we can all relate to and I think that may have trumped how the office looked or didn't. I like the art direction too by the way.

-Nate

Mattykins
05-27-2009, 03:10 PM
I think it might have to do with general lighting as well. I was unimpressed. It looked flat. Which is typical for indies. Not just flat light, but generally bland light. No one seems to like using gels.

Lighting for exposure and not for impact.

Ted Spencer
05-27-2009, 04:01 PM
I addition to Shawneous's general remarks on choosing appropriate locations to begin with, I'd like to add a few comments regarding the shot you specified at 11 seconds. First of all, you're right. It's really a lousy looking shot! Here's a few reasons why (IMO):

[Rant mode: on]

1) The numerous objects in the background are clustered right behind the actor, and are in focus, creating massive visual distraction from him. The left deer head might as well be sitting on his shoulder, the fish might as well be a "thought balloon", the white shape on the cabinet looks practically attached to his arm, the black top edge of the cabinet looks like it's going to chop off his head, and the second deer head...well that's just too many damn deer heads...

2) The door on the left carries an enormous amount of visual "weight", so it also competes with the actor. The door on the right draws too much attention to itself due to its extreme color/shape contrast with the white walls.

3) The lighting is very indecisive, with those darn white walls overpowering almost everything else, especially the poor actor who is already in the fight of his life with the wildlife and the doors. Even the overlit manila folder on the desk draws the eye away from him.

4) The poor chap's suit matches the carpeting and almost matches the desktop, making him disappear even more.

5) The framing makes the actor simply too small in the shot, even without the competition from the set.

---- Here's what I think could have helped (aside from using a different location):

1) Frame tighter on the guy (his next shot's an ECU, so presumably we'd not want to get too close on this one, but a good deal closer would be much better).

2) Rearrange, remove, or replace the background objects so the actor isn't visually surrounded/camouflaged/besieged by them.

3) Some low-contrast, non-white, non-distracting things on the walls might help break up the arctic bleakness. Paintings, posters, fabric hangings, etc.

4) Use lighting to highlight the actor and diminish the background - all of it. Especially the white walls. No so it looks like a police interrogation room, but in fact a hint of that might be quite effective for the scene, and would help solve many of the other problems.

5) Reposition the actor and/or reframe and/or zoom the shot closer on him, and/or use a lower f-stop and/or lens adapter to throw the background as much out of focus as possible.

6) Reposition the executive's desk so that his POV isn't quite so square into the background. I feel pretty confident a much more effective, interesting overall shot composition could have been found, even without all the factors listed above.

My $.03...

[Rant mode: off]

RawkThisFistRed
05-27-2009, 08:27 PM
I personally agree more with Ted here.

I think the set could have worked, if it were done differently. I've gotten shitty sets before and turned them into damn good locations because I've had a vision and no other choice for how to do it.

Lighting, ingenious design and taking consideration of EVERYTHING in your frame can solve almost any problem, short of needing a shot of your subject next to the Grand Canyon.

Sad Max
05-27-2009, 10:46 PM
The folding metal chairs.

The complete lack of atmosphere.

The unmerciful DOF and wide shots which just makes the clutter and flatness of the place impossible to ignore.

I'm with Ted, too. Properly dressed, lit and shot - which in this case basically means avoiding showing much of anything of the room in general - the shooting location did not have to be a problem.

RyanT
05-28-2009, 11:07 PM
No computer? Where are we? Mid 1930s?

This location needed to have big windows overlooking some awesome vista. It would of also helped the story as it would have raised the stakes for this guy quite a bit. The animal heads and such in the background are a pretty nice touch, and they give this guy some character, but the room he's in and the fact that it seems like he's in the basement, make him seem like a 2-bit nobody.

I don't really think that lighting really is that big of a deal here. It may be somewhat flat and toppy, but in the end that location was just never going to work like it should have.

GrahamRobbins
05-29-2009, 03:54 AM
For me it was the office lack of fullness. The walls should have been painted a different color, starch white always looks cheap a soft tan color would have worked much better. (for me the white walls, was the number one mistake, as it usually is for young production designers)

The cheap metal chair needed to be substituted for a larger leather executive looking one.

The back walls needed big portraits on them. Small Expensive looking art needed to be all around in the room.

The wood tones did not match, there was a mahogony book case, and a cheap oak desk top. They needed to keep the rich deep wood tones, getting a larger book case preferably, and a more expensive matching desk that was fitting of an executive.

Then to the cinematography the lighting worked in the dance scenes, but for me in the office it was to harsh, and there was no interesting shadow going on the walls. They could have flagged the spill a bit more to create some interesting shadow.

Over all it was a well written, and acted good concept for a film. It could have used a more experienced production designer, and a better lighting scheme on some shots. I would be willing to bet if they went for the classy rich tones of an older executives office the movie would have played that much more. I still managed to enjoy it kudos on story and writing.

GrahamRobbins
05-29-2009, 03:55 AM
I would also like to point out that it appeared as though they were attempting a Wes Anderson style, but they just did not execute well.

Sad Max
05-29-2009, 08:08 AM
In all fairness the odds are good that re-painting was not an option (how many people graciously lending you their office for a weekend amateur shoot will let you paint?)

RyanT
05-29-2009, 01:51 PM
In all fairness the odds are good that re-painting was not an option (how many people graciously lending you their office for a weekend amateur shoot will let you paint?)

I'm no production designer, but I think you can paint pieces of foam core and place them together on the wall. That way it's a different color, but you really haven't painted any of the original walls and it takes no time at all to get it back to normal.

Sad Max
05-29-2009, 01:59 PM
Seams, bending, buckling and corner damage (to which foam core is very, very prone) all make this a less-than-ideal solution. Unless you're after the look of a wall covered with panels of painted foam core.

GrahamRobbins
05-29-2009, 03:23 PM
Yea I agree, I totally understand its rare that somone lending out their office allows a production designer to paint. I was just making a point that that probably hurt the film the most. It was still quite well done in my opinion.

Sad Max
05-29-2009, 03:31 PM
Yeah. The fellow playing the exec was particularly good, IMO.

Larry Rutledge
05-29-2009, 03:34 PM
I appreciate all the input so far, it's been very informative and given me a ton to think about when planning locations. It's not just about finding an "appropriate" location, but you have to think about how it looks and what you can do to improve that before committing it to film/tape.

I can definitely see a huge benefit to bringing in a talented art director/production designer/whatever they should be called early in the process, as locations are being selected, not after they are chosen.



Max - do you ever time to consult/work on small indie projects? :)

GrahamRobbins
05-29-2009, 03:55 PM
I appreciate all the input so far, it's been very informative and given me a ton to think about when planning locations. It's not just about finding an "appropriate" location, but you have to think about how it looks and what you can do to improve that before committing it to film/tape.

I can definitely see a huge benefit to bringing in a talented art director/production designer/whatever they should be called early in the process, as locations are being selected, not after they are chosen.
:)

yes the production designer should be brought on in pre production to prep their crew, give the director the pitch on how they think the film should feel, and then do location walk through's with the director and cinematographer.

Sad Max
05-29-2009, 05:52 PM
Max - do you ever time to consult/work on small indie projects? :)

For the forseeable future I'm double-dipping on a pair of one-hours, and don't have much time for a third project. But if there are any questions I can answer or anything like that, I'm happy to try and help.

RyanT
05-30-2009, 12:15 PM
Seams, bending, buckling and corner damage (to which foam core is very, very prone) all make this a less-than-ideal solution. Unless you're after the look of a wall covered with panels of painted foam core.

Yeah, I thought the idea had a few problems myself, but I seem to remember a production designer doing this on a feature I was on a long time ago. I just remember being so surprised when someone told me that the walls were covered in foamcore or something of the sort.

Again, it was over two years ago, so I definitely could be forgetting the specifics.