Pre production is the most important phase of the filmmaking process. Anything you do will cost double if you try to do it in the phase after.
Let's take a closer look at the pre production process
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The filmmaking process takes place in three distinct phases: pre-production, production and post-production. Getting everything right in pre production can open up your budget for the fun stuff.
So what is pre production?
1. Laying the foundation: Set up a company
The development phase is over, and you’ve got the green-light! Now what?
Every production is like a business (in most cases, productions actually are businesses, formally incorporated and filed with the state.) Before you can hire anyone or secure assets, the first major check in your film pre production checklist is establishing a business foundation. Will the film be produced out of a pre-existing production company? Will you form a separate corporate entity for it (often an LLC)?
Whatever you decide, set this up first.
Every employee you hire, every contract you sign will be done through this business entity. Once you have a business entity, you can open a bank account, deposit the production funds, retain an attorney to oversee production legal, and hire your team.
"Before you can hire anyone or secure any assets, you should establish a business foundation." #filmmaking #indiefilm
2. Create a preliminary budget and production schedule
If you’re the only person on the project, you’re probably the film’s producer. Your next step is to bring a line producer aboard to prepare the film’s first real budget and production schedule. If you’re in need of a clean template for creating of preliminary budget, read our companion article Managing Your Film Budget Cashflow & PO Log.
On smaller productions, where the workload is lighter, you might choose to hire a combination Line Producer/Production Manager at this point. If you already have a director on the project, that’s great! It’ll only help the line producer create a more accurate preliminary production budget and production schedule. Once this is done, you’ll know what you can afford, and will be free to move forward with additional hiring.
Create a preliminary production schedule
Once you lock your shooting script, and format correctly for scheduling software, it’s time to set the schedule. Since a shooting schedule is the bedrock of production planning, carefully assess how many scenes you can shoot per day. Since one page is equal to one minute of screen time, most productions try to shoot five pages day.
In scheduling software, like StudioBinder, your scenes are broken into page length to give you an idea of how much you’re loading onto your cast and crew. You can then drag and day breaks, will will automatically load into a schedule and call sheets.
Create script breakdown sheets
Next, carefully comb through each page of your script and mark production elements (cast members, props, extras, stunts, etc.). Your finalized list of all these items will make up your breakdown sheet. By tagging production elements within software, you can auto-generate your final list.
But what’s the difference between a prop and set dressing? Check out The Complete Guide to Mastering Script Breakdown Elements.
Budget your breakdown
Once you’ve carefully sorted your script’s elements into categories, it’s time to assign a dollar amount to each.
A single stunt could run you into the millions, while an extra could only cost a hundred or so a day. Correctly estimating the cost of each element will give you as close a prelim budget as possible.
Our guide on How to Effectively Budget a Script Breakdown delivers a producer’s insight on how much to estimate for each element.
3. Hire your key production heads
There are many people who will work on your film by the time it’s finished, but you only need a few of them at the very beginning of the pre production planning phase.
With a preliminary production budget in place, you can confidently hire more people to your team. At this point, you’ll bring aboard your director (if you haven’t already), your department heads (like your cinematographer, production designer, editor, costume designer, casting director, etc.) and, on larger projects, your production coordinator and possibly your production accountant.
Afterwards, you’ll be ready to start delegating.
Make sure your line producer or production manager is signatory to the bank account, and empower your director to begin making creative decisions with the department heads.
Pro tip: Keep all your contacts in a safe place
Before you know it, your production will grow from a team of few to a team of hundreds. Because of that, it’s important to keep all of your contacts in a place that you can easily reach all of them at a moments notice.
4. The creative planning phase
With department heads in place, the director spends some time doing the creative planning. All departments, at this point, are focused on identifying what they will need in order to accomplish the director’s vision. They meet regularly and communicate their needs to the line producer so that the budget can be revised.
Important questions will be asked and the highest risks will be identified. Will the cinematographer need special equipment for a specific shot? Will the production designer need more time to design and build a complicated set? Now’s the time for the line producer and/or production manager to find out!
Create a storyboard
As you brainstorm your shot list, it’s not uncommon to create a detailed storyboard at the same time.
Looping in your director, DP, and team of creatives, block out your scenes into pictures. That way you can and your film producer can watch the movie ahead of time, saving you time and money to make alterations later on.
StudioBinder allows you to create a slideshow link that you can easily send out to clients or use for pitch meetings. Each frame is labeled by your shot list specs.
Create a shot list
Are you going to shoot a scene from a drone? Do a Birdman-esque one-take?
Your shooting schedule isn’t complete until you determine how you will shoot each scene. As you generate your shot list, you tack on more elements (denoted “special equipment”) you’ll need for the production.
Whether you’re using software or going by hand, make sure to group your shots (by color like I did below) so that when you get to shoot you can easily communicate what setups are needed and how you’ll get all of your shots.
StudioBinder allows you to break your stripboard into customizable shot lists
5. Refine the budget and shooting schedule
With all of this new information, the line producer or production manager can revise the budget and schedule. This is a particularly tricky phase of the film/video production process, because department heads and the director might have bigger ambitions than the film can sustain. It’s the entire team’s responsibility at to help the line producer / UPM find the balance between creative, budgetary and logistical decisions.
When fine-tuning your shooting schedule, make sure to factor in the psychology and emotion of your talent and crew into consideration.
A happy cast & crew is a more productive cast & crew. Read 15 Pro Tips to Create a Better Production Schedule to keep momentum on set.
6. Securing the things you need
With the production budget and production schedule revised to everyone’s satisfaction, the next phase of the filmmaking pre production process is to get out there and secure the things you need for your film. Department heads and your line producer / production manager get bids on equipment, book rentals, price out props and building supplies, etc.
This is also when your location manager scouts shooting locations, and with the team’s approval, books the best options.
Pro tip: Book locations early
Don’t forget to secure your location permits early in the pre production process! Some municipalities can take a few weeks to process permit applications. This is a good time to work on product placement deals, and to secure insurance, too.
Use a location scout release form to make sure you get all the signatures.
7. Hire crew and audition talent
While all this is going on, your team will grow.
Departments will fill their ranks with additional crew, and the casting director will bring in auditions. Now’s when you sign union agreements and contracts so you can employ union members on your production. Your production coordinator will be kept busy sorting through the paperwork load, so don’t forget to be extra-nice!
By the end of this stage, you should be have secured your cast, crew, production staff, key locations, and the tools to produce the movie (or, at least, everything will be booked and on the calendar).
Make sure you use casting sheet templates at your casting call, so you don’t lose any information going forward.
8. Final pre production prep before principal photography
In the final days and weeks of the pre production process, heading into principal photography, your team will be busy with last preparations. Your director rehearses with the cast, and your department heads prep their departments.
Some people have more work than others.
For example, the production designer may be frantic, but the editor probably doesn’t have much to do at this point. Keep an eye on your team, make sure everyone is keeping up, and support those who need help. The line producer, production manager, production coordinator and assistant directors refine the final production plan.
The budget and schedule are refined and locked, the cast/crew list is updated, and the call sheets are prepped. It’s time for cameras to roll!
Sending out your call sheets
The last step of pre production is sending out call sheets. Your call sheet lets your talent and crew know when they should be on-set, and what’s the schedule for the day.
In many ways, your call sheet is the capstone of pre production–it uses all the information you’ve collected throughout this entire process.
To prep your call sheet, use our free template here.
You can text out call sheets within StudioBinder
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How to Produce a Movie: The Complete Pre Production Process, Explained #filmmaking #indiefilm #filmmakers
You’ve gotten through the filmmaking pre production process, and are headed full-steam into principle photography! Everyone is on-set, the camera is rolling (or doing whatever data cards do), and you’re probably wiped out. Relax!
A friend of mine once told me:
“I know I’ve done a good job as a film producer when I show up on set and there’s nothing for me to do.”
Everything should be going pretty smoothly if you did your diligence during the pre production planning process.
So have a seat by craft services, grab yourself a snack, and take it all in.
This wraps up the first part of our How to Produce a Movie series. We hope this post shed some light on the key parts of the pre production planning process.
Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!