A Guide To The Important Stages Of Film Pre-Production
Are you an independent filmmaker who has created a feature, short or full-length film in which everything that could go wrong did? If so, are you aware of your errors and have the knowledge to avoid them in the future?
“Be Prepared, son,” is a quotation from the film “The Last Boy Scout,” which I repeat to myself before every film production. That is my guiding principle. Prepare yourself.” Although this is the Scout’s motto, the key to a good film shoot is to never rush and to constantly prepare.
Sure, you may have a great script and want to start shooting right away so you can hit the festival circuit hard, but wait on because there is one crucial phase you must complete in order for the film to be successful: pre-production.
Many of the filmmakers I know speed through film pre-production just to have their films go off the rails a week after shooting. Nobody enjoys pre-planning and wants to get started filming as soon as possible.
However, with a little patience and coaching, you will grow to like the film pre-production process and, as a result, will be able to produce successful projects in the future.
A Guide To The Important Stages Of Film Pre-Production
What Is Pre-Production
When it comes to film pre-production, it’s the crucial step of ensuring that you’ve covered all of your bases before going into production. While the nature of the project may change from one production to the next, all of the puzzle parts are pretty much the same throughout pre-production.
So, if you’re searching for a quick reference guide to aid you in the pre-production phase of filmmaking, here are some procedures that every filmmaker should follow.
Note: You might be wondering what I (the author of this piece) know about pre-production. Let’s just say that in the many short films I’ve produced and directed, I’ve made a number of blunders, all of which sprang from a lack of film pre-production planning.
Related article: 10+ Important Tips For First Time Filmmakers – Short Film Advice
Taking the final version of your screenplay and turning it into a shooting script is the first step in the film pre-production process.
A screenplay breakdown, according to Studio Binder, is a crucial filmmaking procedure that allows you to identify all of the script elements necessary to prepare, schedule, and budget a film production. At the scene level, there is a breakdown.
The person in charge of the project will create scene breakdown after scene breakdown until the entire script has been broken down from beginning to end. This will be utilized to determine each department’s technical and artistic requirements.
This method is a wonderful technique to figure out what is critical to the film’s success and what may be sacrificed if time or money run out during production.
If you’re directing the project, completing a storyboard prior to filming is a crucial aspect of film pre-production.
Because you’ll be concentrating on what you want the camera to catch in order to build the reality you want to show the audience. Storyboarding is the process of visualizing how you’ll block each shot of the script’s scenes, as well as how you’d like to frame them.
I also enjoy thinking about which lens I will use during the storyboarding phase so that I can visualize the movie in my brain. This simply facilitates a more productive collaboration with the director of photography on your vision.
Furthermore, you will save valuable on-set time that would otherwise be spent making judgments on the set. I use Wonder Unit’s shot generator for my storyboarding because my drawing abilities are terrible, and this tool makes storyboarding a breeze.
Budgeting & Scheduling
Budgeting and scheduling are two of the most crucial aspects of this film pre-production guide. By this point, you should have completed the storyboard and know which shots will cost money and which will not. In a four-week shoot, you don’t want to run out of money during the first week.
In the film industry, having a budget is critical. Why? Because it will come in later on when you are in a pinch and want to get the “perfect shot” but are afraid about running out of cash.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a budget on your own, there are some excellent pre-production software applications available, such as Celtx Pro and Movie Magic, that may assist you in creating a budget that works for you.
You should start putting together a shooting schedule around this time to plan out your shooting days. If you are not producing the film, you might give your shooting schedule to a producer to fine-tune the production costs.
This allows you to get back to being creative about how you’ll shoot the production on a budget and timeline that you can afford.
Hiring Crew & Casting
“Whenever you’re starting a new endeavor, the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who are better than you, have diverse abilities, and a good combination of excitement and experience,” stated Richard Branson.
This is especially true in the film industry; the greater the talent you have around you, the more successful your movie will be. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and the more your team shares with you, the more successful a project may be, as I learned at the Ron Howard Masterclass, which I always carry to film production.
You should have your primary group of people on board by this stage of pre-production, such as a producer, director of photography, and so on, and you should now be focusing on the other departments.
If you have a talented producer on board, they should have established long-term ties with personnel from past films that they can call on for assistance. If you have a cinematographer on board, they should have a camera crew that they are familiar with and trust.
Next, you’ll want to focus on department heads, such as locations, props, and set design, so they can bring on reliable staff. The second critical component is casting, which entails bringing in the best actors available to bring your characters to life.
It’s much easier to find your in-front talent when a casting agent is introduced into the production.
Following that comes the casting process, which will give you options and potentially teach you something about a character you didn’t realize you didn’t know until you saw an actor deliver something different from what you had in your head.
During the casting process, keep in mind that even if you have performers in mind for particular roles, you should still audition for those roles since unexpected things happen.
Actors may change their minds a week before the shoot and drop out, thus having some backup actors on hand in case of emergencies allows you to pivot fast and fill in these voids. The casting process is an important aspect of pre-production since it gives you flexibility in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
Related Article: Best Online Filmmaking Resources To Be A Better Filmmaker
Locations & Equipment
If you’ve seen the amazing film “Collateral,” you’ll recognize Los Angeles as a character in the plot. A good location may elevate a scene, while a terrible location might completely destroy everything you’re trying to capture for the screen.
With so many things to focus on during film pre-production, adding a location manager to the crew who is familiar with the locations you imagine and can assist you to navigate the red tape of getting a location for your shot is a good idea.
You can try to site scout yourself if you’re shooting a low-budget short, but having someone on your crew who can do it for you removes the difficulties of acquiring locations before the shoot begins. When storyboarding, consider local places so you can better plan the shots you’ll be shooting throughout production.
When storyboarding and location scouting, consider whether you’ll have enough space for the film equipment, whether you’ll be able to capture the shots you want, whether you’ll be able to use one site for multiple scenes, and so on for a stress-free shoot.
The equipment you’ll need for the production is the next piece of the jigsaw to figure out.
To begin, you’ll need to determine what kind of camera you’ll be using. You should find out what type of camera to use since most cameras are digital. Will you be shooting with a movie camera such as the Arri Alexa Mini or the Red Gemini? Will you be utilizing a DSLR or mirrorless cameras like the Canon EOS or Sony A7 series, or something else entirely?
Second, figure out what camera equipment you’ll need. Will you use a Steadicam, such as the DJI Ronin series, for better handheld shots, or a dolly cart and track for smooth dolly shots in your scenes?
Then you’ll have to figure out what lighting equipment you’ll need, as well as camera lenses, sound equipment, props, costume, and makeup, to name a few. Understanding what is required for production ahead of time, as well as the budget you are working with, makes filmmaking a lot easier on each day you shoot.
Double Check Everything Before First Day Of Shooting
Even if you believe you are well prepared, you are not. Having a to-do task list with items you can cross off as you go can help you avoid any roadblocks. There will always be things that get lost in the shuffle during pre-production that will bite you in the backside if you aren’t paying attention.
Legal contracts were one of the major things I overlooked when I first began my filmmaking pastime. Permits, talent release agreements, location contracts, liability insurance, and other items that you may overlook may come back to haunt you.
Make sure you’re on top of these types of paperwork or contracts from the beginning because it’ll provide you and your team peace of mind that everything is in place for a secure, safe, and legal production. Also, please get film production insurance! Too many times, I’ve watched my filmmaker colleagues forego film production insurance, only to be forced to pay for damages to equipment or property out of pocket, thereby bankrupting them.
Simply check around in your neighborhood for insurance so you can be assured that if something goes wrong during production, you will be covered and will not be personally harmed.
As you can tell, the film 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.
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About the author: Trent (IMDB | Youtube) has spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.
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