Set Construction on a Less-than-Indie Budget


I am a budding filmmaker with no budget. This is not a contradiction in terms. I find that you can do a lot if you are resourceful. You can beg, borrow or steal. Ha! No really, you can get most anything you need to make a student film. Just don’t plan your concept around a major set design. For my class, my friends and I have come up with a storyline that takes place in the present day in a local setting. This makes it easier from the get go. As for costumes, makeup, props, and the like, we ask everyone we know for help. Makeup doesn’t have to be new for example and every woman has extra. We have eschewed wigs so there is one thing to cross of our needs list.

People who know we are from a set design class are more than willing to let us film in and around their homes. If we want an unusual location, our status as students gains us entrée right away. Plus, when we need particular prop, we look around our houses for anything we can repurpose. We can paint or otherwise transform anything. Building your own sets is also easy when you have the knowhow. We have learned the art in class. You can make quite a good film with what is on hand.  We keep the camera angles simple and the dialogue pertinent. Telling a story is half the battle, but it has to look good as well.

We try to avoid the amateur look of most student films even though we use Super 8. After all, this is what fueled the independent film movement and it can’t be too mundane for us. You get sound from a little copper band along the edge. We don’t have the equipment yet to go beyond our modest means. However, we think we will succeed in making something pretty remarkable. An example of our creativity is the way we took an old trampoline and reused it in a new way in one scene. I got the idea from this blog post – We wanted to create an eerie mood as part of our story when one character appears unexpectedly in the background as if in a dream. We asked the “actor” (a student in disguise of course) to jump on the trampoline as a way of creating an otherworldly effect. The result was awesome since you didn’t see the device, only the character emerging into the dreamer’s consciousness. So effective!

There is nothing you can’t do at this beginner’s level. We learned a lot about resourcefulness and adaptation. A plethora of borrowed lamps creates ambiance while dry ice resembles smoke and mist.  A good makeup artist is always vital and there is inevitably one in every student group. Some of us become drama coaches after we have done our job with set design. The director is the key role and we fight to win the title.