Everything You Need to Know About Pre-Production
Whether you have an idea for a Hollywood feature or a micro-budget short film, neither of these productions will succeed without detail-oriented planning. Thorough preparation in pre-production will save your film from running over schedule, exceeding the budget, and making post-production an unorganized nightmare.
It all begins with an idea, but how can you get a group of creators to listen to this idea and encourage them to help you create it? This can be accomplished with a pitch. A pitch is a concise verbal description that explains the project that you are trying to create. Pitching your idea is the first step in building a production team that wants to bring your idea to fruition. You can also use this pitch to get a head start on finding funding for your film.
Establishing financing and a budget
Films cost money — and sometimes a considerable amount of it. Unless you are confident with funding your film out of pocket, crowdfunding and searching for film grants is a great solution to save money. There are many platforms online that allow filmmakers to fund their films from patron donations.
Make sure to set a reasonable goal and publicize it as much as possible. There are also countless film grant opportunities depending on where you live or which school you go to. It is always worth investigating what options are around you before you go out of pocket to fund your film.
On larger productions, the budget is created by the line producer and production manager. On smaller productions, independent filmmakers who produce their own films can complete this task on their own. Production expenses — such as paying actors, securing locations, and coming up with a catering and craft services plan to feed the cast and crew — are all valuable assets that need to be considered in the budget.
If you are planning on outsourcing post-production, such as hiring an editor or color grader, make sure you factor in post-production expenses as well. Remember, you do not need lots of money to make a great film — it is all about the substance of you are trying to create!
Finding the right crew
Hiring the right film crew can be a long, difficult process, but it is crucial to find talented collaborators who will strengthen your project. The order in which you hire the crew is an important factor. The three main positions at the beginning of pre-production are the writer, producer, and director. After those positions are filled, it is time to hire department heads. These are essential positions for production. Once hired, department heads will help seek out other crew members in their specific department, making your job easier.
The camera department head is called the director of photography (DoP). The DoP should be one of the first department heads you hire, as they are a necessary part of creating the visual strategy of the film with the director in the form of a shot list and storyboard. Other department heads to hire after the DoP include the art department, location department, wardrobe department, grip department, and sound department. Make sure to save yourself enough time before production to successfully hire all members you need for your crew.
Preparing the shot list
The next step in pre-production is beginning to visualize the script. A shot list is a comprehensive list of all camera shots that will be captured during principal photography. It is usually a collaborative process between the director and the DoP as they brainstorm the best way to visually tell the story. Shot lists rely on describing all aspects of the camera language for each individual shot such as shot size, angle, and movement.
Work on the story board
Once the shot list is completed, it is now time to go even further with exploring the visual strategy of the film. A storyboard is a sequence of drawings that represent the shots planned in the shot list. Drawing out the compositions in a storyboard gives the shot list a visual component that will keep the director and DoP on the same page.
Scout filming locations
Finding environments that are best suited for the story you are trying to tell is a vital process during pre-production. Hired in the location department, location scouts are responsible for contacting property owners and getting permission to shoot on location. The more details the director or producers provide the location scouts, the easier their job will be.
Location scouts take many photos of the location and make a record useful information on location, such as where the sun is in the sky and at what time. The more information the location department can give the director and DoP, the more efficient and creative the production can become. An effective resource for location scouts is Peerspace, which offers a robust selection of unique production venues across the country.
The camera and grip department collaborate to decide what gear they will need to achieve the right visual strategy for the film. The DoP likely would have communicated to the camera department about what format and camera the film will be shot on. Different cameras and lenses provide different looks for the film, so it is important to make an educated decision during this process. Once you have established what valuable components are needed in your camera and lighting setups, it is time to search for renting opportunities online or at gear rental shops.
Larger productions hire casting directors to seek out talent for a production, but these services can be quite expensive. Many micro-budget filmmakers handle casting on their own by holding auditions for their film in physical spaces or online through a video chat.
This process begins with a casting call, which is a notice made for the public explaining the roles and requirements for an upcoming film. Actors will contact the director or casting director by finding their information on the casting call. The director runs the audition and examines each talent searching for the right fit.
Once all talent is cast, it is time for a table read. This is a process that brings all the actors together to read the entirety of the script. The more time the director has in pre-production for table reads and one-on-one rehearsals, the stronger the performances will be. Oftentimes, directors spend months working with the talent beforehand to perfect the performances to what they envisioned in the script.
These processes can be daunting and time-consuming, but remember, the more time and preparation you put into pre-production, the more efficient your production will be.