In other words, it's the stuff you SEE in the footage. When I say "all things being equal," I mean two productions with roughly the same script quality, tech, personnel, budget, and capability, one putting more into production design, wardrobe, and casting will have a higher level of apparent production value than one which expends more budget on equipment, effects, or crew rates for example.
For example, say you need an "office" for a scene in a film. Oh look, there's an office! It has a desk, a window, and a computer. Perfect, right? You can stop scouting now!
But, obviously all offices are not the same. Here we have a nice view (production value) of more office buildings through giant corner office windows, nice woodwork and furnishings. Of course, if you need a boring, aesthetically crappy office, then that's what you need. My point is, you can settle for a generic "office" or you can spend more time looking for one you can afford that's nicer OR you can pay for a nicer office location.
Say you have to cast a male lead to play a romantic counterpart to your female lead. Considering that actors faces tend to occupy a significant amount of screen real estate, I'd suggest taking into account the aesthetic value of your prospective cast. Movie stars are movie stars for a reason.
All things being equal (acting ability and experience) consider casting the best looking (or yes, most apropos) talent you can, especially considering you're asking an audience to stare at these people for 90 minutes (or 10 minutes). Human nature being what it is means people just prefer looking at attractive people. There are reasons why some very excellent actors have been relegated to character roles and only otherwise supporting roles in films. It's heart breaking I'm sure but a reality nonetheless that you have to consider.
Remember, you're making your film for an audience of strangers (ya know, people who don't know you or care about you), not your family and friends.
Considering wardrobe and how crucial it is to production value: years ago I filmed a friend's band playing a live gig at a club. They showed up wearing just what they normally wear; hockey jerseys, jeans, whatever. When they saw the footage, they decided they looked like a bunch of schmoes and didn't want to use the footage. They made an objectively aesthetic judgement that I couldn't really disagree with, but with a little forethought and maybe some guidance from a stylist, they'd have looked cooler to their audience and had footage to use in promoting themselves.
My point is, if an audience SEES it in the frame, it's VERY important and really IS what gives a film production value. Remember films are very illusory. You are using the magic of filmmaking to create something 2 dimensionally that isn't real. You are literally creating a world for your film characters to live in and your audience to become immersed in. Consider, heavily, everything an audience will see in the scenes of your film. Even if it means you use 5 year old tech to make the film so you can spend more on these visual elements, do it.
Nobody in your audience will SEE the difference between a $10,000. lens and a $1,000. lens, but they will most definitely SEE and know uninspired mall bought wardrobe right off the shelf, an economy grade residential dwelling, and mundane locations with no depth or character.
©2017 Chris Santucci