5+ Important Stages Of Film Pre-Production – A Simple Guide

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Film Pre-production – Are you an Independent filmmaker that has made a feature, short or full-length in which everything that could go wrong did? If so, are you aware of the mistakes you made, and the know-how to correct them in the future?

My favorite quote from the movie “The Last Boy scout” I repeat to myself before every film production is “Be Prepared, son. That’s my motto. Be Prepared.” Sure that’s the Scout’s motto, but the key to a successful film shoot is never rush and always prepare.

Sure you may have a banging script that you want to start shooting tomorrow, so you can hit the festival circuit running at full steam, but hold on, because there is a critical step you must undertake to have the film be successful, and that is pre-production.

Many filmmakers I know, rush through the pre-production process only to experience the film fail off the rails within a week of shooting.

I know nobody likes pre-planning and wants to start shooting ASAP. But with a little patience and guidance, you will begin to love the pre-production process, and from that, successful projects in the future.

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What Is Pre-Production

When it comes to pre-production, it’s the important process of making sure you have everything covered before heading into production. While pre-production will vary from production to production in terms of scoops of the project, all the pieces of the puzzle pretty much remain the same in pre-production.

So if you are looking for a simple guide to help you in the pre-production portion of Filmmaking, here are some steps that every filmmaker should pay attention to.

Side Note: You may be asking yourself, what do I (the author of this post) know about pre-production? Let’s just say that with the many short films I have produced and directed, I have screwed up a lot, and those mistakes all came from poor pre-production planning.

Shooting Script

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Right off the start of the pre-production process is to take the final version of your screenplay and turn it into a shooting script.

According to Studio Binder, a script breakdown is an important filmmaking process that allows you to identify all the script elements needed to prep, schedule, and budget a film production. A breakdown happens at a scene level. 

The person tasked with the job will create scene breakdown after scene breakdown until a full, start-to-finish script breakdown is completed. This will be used to determine technical and creative requirements for each department.

This process is a great way to figure out what is extremely important to the film production, and what can be let out if you run out of time or money during production.

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Storyboarding

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If you are directing the project, having a storyboard completed before shooting is an extremely important part of pre-production. 

Why, because you be focused on what you want the camera to capture to create the world you want the audience to see.

Storyboarding is where you envision how you are going to block each shot of the scenes in the script, as well as how you want to frame the shots as well.

I also like thinking during the storyboard process of which lens I will be using just so I can see the movie in my head. 

This just makes it easier for a better collaborative process with the director of photography on your vision. 

Plus, you will save precious on-set time you might otherwise lose making decisions on the set.

I personally use shot generator from Wonder Unit for my storyboarding because my drawing skills suck, and this program makes storyboarding a dream.

Budgeting & Scheduling

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If there is anything in this pre-production guide that is extremely important, it’s budgeting and scheduling.

You have the storyboard completed by this time, so you will understand what shots will cost money and what shots won’t. You don’t want to run out of money within the first week of shooting in a four-week shoot.

Having a budget is extremely important in film production. Why? Because it can help you later on when times are tough and you want the “perfect shot” but worried about running out of money.

If you are mathematically challenged to come up with a budget on your own, some great pre-production software programs like Celtx Pro and Movie Magic that can help you make a production budget that works for you.

Around this time, you should start putting together a shooting schedule to plan out your shooting days. If you are not producing the project, you can pass along your shooting schedule to a producer to fine-tune the costs of the production constraints. 

By doing this, it allows you to go back to being creative and how you will shoot the production on an attainable budget, and schedule.

Hiring Crew & Casting

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Richard Branson said, “Whenever you are setting up a new project, the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who are better than yourself, have different skills and a healthy combination of enthusiasm and experience.” 

This is true with film production, the better the talent that surrounds you, the more successful your project will be.

Something I learned from the Ron Howard Masterclass that I always bring to a film shoot is, filmmaking is a collaborative process, and the more your crew shares with you, the more successful a project can be.

By this stage of pre-production, you should have your key group of people like a producer, director of photography, etc. on board and now you should be focused on the other departments.

If you have a skilled producer with you, hopefully, they have great long-standing relationships with crew from previous productions that they can lean on for help. 

If you have a cinematographer on board, hopefully, they will have a camera team that they know and trust. 

Next, you will want to focus on department heads like locations, props, set dec, etc so they can bring onboard crew they can rely on.

The next important piece of the puzzle is casting to bring in the best actors available that will bring your characters to life.

Having a casting agent brought into the production makes it easy to search for your in-front talent.

The casting process is next to give you options and possibly learn something about a given character you failed to realize until you noticed an actor deliver something different from what you envisioned in your head.

My note during the casting process for you is, even if you have actors in mind for certain roles, make sure you still audition for those roles because stuff happens. 

Actors could get cold feet a week before shooting and drop out, and just having some extra actors in your back pocket in case of emergencies helps you pivot quickly and fill in these vacant roles. 

The casting process is a vital part of pre-production, providing you with flexibility in the event of sudden situations.

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Locations & Equipment

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If you have seen the amazing film “Collateral“, the director Micheal Mann used Los Angeles as a character in the story. Having a great location can elevate a scene, and a bad location can ruin everything you are trying to capture for the screen.

With so many things going on that need to be focused on during pre-production, hiring a location manager to the crew that has an understanding of the places you envision, as well as help you get around the red tape of securing a location for your shoot. 

If you are shooting a low-budget short you can try to location scout yourself, but having someone on your team that can do it for you, eliminates the obstacles of securing locations before the shoot begins.

When you are storyboarding you should be thinking about locations in your area, so you can figure out better the shots you will be shooting during production.

Things to think about when you are storyboarding and location scouting are: will you have enough space for the film equipment, will you be able to get the shots you want, can you use one location for several scenes, etc. for a stress-free shoot.

The next piece of the puzzle to figure out is the equipment you will need for the production. 

First, you will need to figure out what type of camera you will be shooting with. With most cameras being digital these days, you should figure out what type of camera to use. Will you use a cinema camera like the Arri Alexa Mini or the Red Gemini? Or will you be using a DSLR or Mirrorless camera like the Canon EOS or Sony A7 series?

Second, plan out what camera gear will you need. Will you be using a Steadicam like the DJI Ronin series for better handheld shots, or will you be using a dolly cart and track for smooth dolly shots for your scenes?

Then you will need to figure out lighting equipment you will need, camera lensessound equipment, props, wardrobe, makeup, and the list goes on and on.

Just understanding what is needed for production beforehand, and the budget you are playing around with makes filming so much easier for each day you shoot.

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Double Check Everything Before First Day Of Shooting

Film pre-production

Even when you think you are prepared enough, you arent’. Having a to-do task list that you can check off items as you go along will help you avoid any hiccups along the way.

There will always be certain things that get lost in the shuffle during pre-production that could come back to bit you in the butt if you are not paying attention.

One of the big things that I forgot about at the start of my filmmaking hobby, was legal contracts. If you forget about things like permits, talent release forms, location contracts, liability insurance, etc it could come back to haunt you.

Make sure that you are on top of these types of forms or contracts at the start because it will give you and your team self-assurance that all the pieces are in place for a secure, safe, and legal production.

And, please get production film insurance! I have seen too many time from my filmmaker friends skip film production insurance, only to have damages from equipment or property comes out of their pocket and bankrupt them.

Just shop around in your area and get insurance so you can have the peace of mind that if something happens during production, you are covered and not personally destroying your life in the process.

Summary

As you can tell, the pre-production process is an important stage in film production that can make or break a film before the first day of shooting.

Just remember that no matter the size of your film, you will want to make sure you have all of these details covered so you can be camera-ready the moment you step on set.

Even though these stages of pre-production are there to cover your butt, the excitement of building a foundation for you to bring your story to life is a wonderful experience.

Just be precise and also flexible during the stages and explore your creativity as much as any other part of the film-making process.

Want more filmmaking content? Then check out or guides to the best skills needed to excel in the film industry, tips to become a better director, or smartphone filmmaking 101.


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