How To Production Design a horror film: Top Ten Tips from designer turned director Melanie Light

10631273_686336511486221_4116842650284214270_oCertified visionary / nutcase Melanie Light just completed her dark and disturbing short ‘The Herd’.

I asked Mel to share her insights into how to get the most from the least when designing your own horror film.

Over to @MisartressMel

  • 893399_10151833494611240_758252271_oShare skills
    If you know anyone that makes props, works in graphic design or SFX and owes you one or two favours, get them to help you out. Sharing trades and creative skills is handy and mutually beneficial. Remember to repay the debt too.
  • IMG_0058Don’t be afraid to ask for help
    And when you do get help, be appreciative and thankful. Let your helpers know when they are doing a good job. Be a good example yourself, work hard and set the tone. Lead, do not rule.
  • IMG_0028Think outside the box
    We needed an expensive prop and couldn’t afford to get a real one so we made one out of hoover parts, wall plugs, electrical tape and spray paint. We added some sparks in VFX. It’s amazing what you can make out of rubbish! Be resourceful with flattage (set walls) and re-use parts of one set to re-create another to save on money. Join art department groups on Facebook and see who has leftover materials and bits of sets they are getting rid of. Then go plunder with their blessing (you taking it away means they don’t need to get rid of it).
  • IMG_6757Make cohesive plans
    Have floor plans, set plans and designs at the outset, so everyone can see your vision. Discuss practical lighting with the DOP so shadows can be used to cover design sins. Share colour ideas with your costume designer. Share research images with each other so that you have a common vision of what you’d like to achieve.
  • Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 16.23.15Get dirty
    Rope in everyone you can and dirty down. Just throw a mop into a bucket of watery, brown paint and rub it all over the walls. Need rusty pipes to hide cracks in the set? Ask for left-over carpet tubes from a carpet shop, paint with a mix of PVA and sand and dirty down when they’re dry! Dirty walls not only hide the cracks but also bring a sense of claustrophobia to your set.
  • IMG_0020Find your backbone
    Have at least one or two people that are good with the basics of carpentry and welding. They will be your basis for a set build. A van for transporting equipment is also very useful. Make sure you have a selection of ladders, paint and tapes. Blag and borrow as much as you can as it’s expensive to buy it all. Plan this way ahead as there will be little time close to the shoot.
  • IMG_6790Back it up
    Have some cash saved for emergencies, you never know when something will go wrong or something breaks and will need replacing. A fall back plan from plan A to B to C is essential.
  • IMG_0004Stay ahead of the game
    Schedule your build, paint and dress before the shoot and if need be, whilst shooting is going on. Make sure any construction happens out of ear shot whilst any shooting is taking place or it mean downing tools for every take.
  • Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 16.23.15Share the love
    Once you have finished, find out if there are any other productions in your area that might want part of your left-over film set. Recycle where you can. If not don’t forget to hire a skip or locate your local tip, that set needs to go somewhere afterwards and it can sot more than you think to dispose of.
  • 10614170_10152702407021240_7779658974386210946_nKeep your eye on the prize
    Remember the ultimate goal and try to enjoy the process, even though it is often exhausting, difficult and stressful.

Good Luck and don’t forget a bucket of blood!

Mel x

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4 Responses to How To Production Design a horror film: Top Ten Tips from designer turned director Melanie Light

  1. David Williamson March 11, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

    Decent enough article but who exactly is hailing her as a visionary and a certified one at that?

    • Chris March 11, 2015 at 7:14 pm #

      Hi David, the first rule of self promotion is to make a bold declaration. So I decided to make one about Mel as I believe in her and her passion. So it’s me, on my blog, calling her visionary. And I guess that means I certify it too. ;0)

  2. David Williamson March 11, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

    I see where you’re coming from, nothing wrong with a bit of self promotion at all, i guess I like to see a body of work to kind of back up that kind of bold statement.
    Would be good to see more of her work even if its from her Production Design work as she comes across as an interesting character for sure.

  3. Tony Mendoza April 19, 2015 at 5:17 am #

    Great article with some straight forward details. Would love to see a how to article. thanks for sharing.

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