How to create Hollywood looking production stills on a low budget film
Creating the illusion you have made a Hollywood worthy film
The beauty of marketing a film in the correct way will give the illusion that you made an expensive looking film. Expensive looking means bigger budget and more likely to attract a certain type of audience. A bigger audience! One way you can achieve this illusion, is through hiring the right stills photographer. Because you need a set of production stills that can reinforce the words high production value. This will make your life so much easier when you finally come to sell the film as sales agents need an angle, they need ways that will differentiate you from everyone else.
How to create high production value using production unit stills:
1. Plan a specials photoshoot for the films key art
It's pretty obvious but a lot of filmmakers don't get specials photography done of the cast. Specials photography is when your stills photographer photographs the main cast on a clean backdrop (usually white or grey) which can be used for film posters. In an ideal world you will get single portraits of every cast member, in a varying number of poses and positioning to give your poster/graphic designer options. From a logistics standpoint, the stills photographer needs to arrange which day is best for the shoot and liaise with the AD department on best time to do it. This is varies from film to film, but overlooking key art is a common mistake! And this is probably the easiest, cost effective way of producing images on the same level as a Hollywood production. Do have in mind you need an experienced stills photographer who can use studio lights as this will give the highest quality style of image.
For example, in the production still below, this was the key art for short film 'Sex Ed' directed by Alice Seabright and produced by Anna Hargreaves. I was doing the usual unit stills on set and as time was tight, we set up a light outside over lunch, grabbed Mark our lead actor for 5 minutes and photographed him in varying positions. I chose this dark wall as it looked like a school chalk board which could have given the graphics team an option for the poster in terms of look and fonts.
Photographer: Laura Radford
2. Capture scenes that tell the films story
Stay true to the film you are making. Identify which scenes you feel will tell the story in one quick snapshot or find the days which your lead cast members are all in on set, so you can create a set up production still. If you are making a drama about a mother and daughter relationship, then you would need a key production still on these characters. If you have a well known name in your film you need to have options of images that can used, as don't forget depending on the actors contract they might be able to 'kill' up to 80% of production stills.
I was hired as stills photographer on feature film 'London Town' starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Dougray Scott. The film centred around Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing the lead singer of The Clash. So the primary still was him as frontman Joe Strummer. I know, this wasn't a low, low budget film, but in the scheme of things it was still made on a low indie film budget.
Photographer: Laura Radford
3. Scale - get unit stills that showcase the productions scale
If you spent a tone of money on a specific location, make sure you have the right production still to show it off in your marketing. If you were shooting in a really crappy location for the majority of the shoot but have one day shooting at one stellar external location, make sure you have a stills photographer on this day. And scale can also be used in any behind the scenes images if you are using specialist equipment for certain days like a crane or car rig. You want to make sure the production still shouts large budget feature film! If you're shooting the film on a friends DSLR, do not reveal this as this shouts student production! Unless you are aiming for, we shot this on an iPhone type marketing campaign that seems to be an awesome trend.
Below, on set behind the scenes production still of BBC series Father Brown Season 6. Photographer: Laura Radford
4. Get striking Character Portraits during the take using sound blimps. Capture that raw emotion or action shot that grabs peoples attention
Again, all simple stuff. I subscribe to Screen Daily and have the daily newsletter which is a great way of seeing what unit stills are being published. Try it out, see which images grab your eye. You have to train yourself to understand the formula of why something stands out and when it doesn't. If you get your stills photographer to look for iconic moments. Those moments that capture the raw emotion of your scenes. Or the key selling point of a action sequence or a still absorbing a sweeping landscape. Always think about your intended audience and the films core theme. Genre, genre, genre! And the beauty of shooting during the take is sometimes you capture a moment in time that could not be recreated in a set up portrait with the actors afterwards. So it is imperative to get as many stills taken during the shoot as possible. If you're really strapped for cash, then a few days hiring a stills photographer is better than no days!
Anyways, do let me know what your experience has been with production stills and any pitfalls or nuggets of information you want to share with us, please leave a comment.