Did you finally get the green light? Before hitting the accelerator make sure to grab a pre-production checklist for your upcoming tasks.

Missing one step during pre-production can mean disaster on set, legal issues down the road, and damage to your overall career trajectory as a filmmaker.

That’s why we put together the ultimate pre-production checklist (including a free checklist you can download and take offline with you).

Let’s jump in!

What is Pre Production?

What is Pre Production?

Pre production refers to the planning process and execution of every task that must take place before production begins.

Watch the video below to get an idea of pre-production workflow:

StudioBinder pre-production software

You can see there are many steps to pre-production, and how software helps you organize each of those steps with great detail. 

It’s an undertaking that requires a lot of moving parts and individual efforts being coordinated precisely, under time and money constraints.

I have a friend who worked on a film with a $2 million dollar budget, but the producers forgot to secure the life rights for the subjects during pre-production.

Guess what?

There is a very slim chance that film will ever be released. 

Pre-production is your chance to take your time and get things right because you won't have that luxury later on when you're under the gun. 

What's in the Pre Production Checklist?

The Pre Production Checklist

A lot of the items on this list can and should overlap.

Different producers may order things differently, but these 15 basic categories cover everything you need to do before the cameras roll.

We'll quickly dive into each section later and go into why this order works so well. But first here we go.

If you can accomplish these 15 tasks in roughly this order you'll ramp up to production very smoothly.

Now let’s take it step by step.

PRE PRODUCTION CHECKLIST:
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Pre-Production Checklist Made For Every Producer and Filmmaker - StudioBinder - Free Checklist - Exit Intent

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Lock Shooting Script

1. Lock a shooting script early

While you don't need to lock your shooting script before anything else, it's a great place to start. Most everything your production needs to acquire flows directly from these pages, so the earlier you lock it, the better.

All of the considerations won't be in the script, because writers are not line producers and production coordinators, but producers of any sort still need to script to find all of those hidden elements that will be required

Think about scene like these and how much went into planning them:

StudioBinder Tracking Shots

Was everything that took place in these scenes found in the script?

Absolutely not -but everything in there was inspired by the script. 

Script changes will happen mid shoot, but the whole point of the pre production process in film is to head many of those missteps off at the pass.

So start with the script. Lock it in.

Finalize the Budget

2. Make a film budget

Before you can make any decisions about a movie production, you need to determine how much money you'll have to work with.

Sometimes you'll have to back into a number.

Sometimes you'll be proposing a number.

Whatever the case may be, start making a budget is a script.

And you'll need a film budget for everything after that.

That's why script comes first. Budget comes second.

Start your Business

3. Form a business entity

Consider this stage more about acquiring cash flow, because you're going to want cash on hand for a lot of steps after this.

Even if you can't start cash flow yet, or don't need to, look at this step as a chance to get some of your other "ducks in a row".

Of course there is a lot more to it than just that.

Do you have all the start paperwork you'll need? Production crew release forms? Contracts? Blank 1099s? Get ahead of the curve on organization here.

This step includes setting up a production office, a familiar part of the pre production process. Your production office may just be a laptop and a binder. It may also be an entire floor of a building. Whatever it is, set it up in step 3.

Learn more about how to start an LLC here.

Hire Key Production Heads

4. Hiring key production crew

Let's say you're a producer with a script...

You can't go much farther without at least some key collaborators.

Who do you get first?

The first people you need to get are the Line Producers, a UPM, or a Production Coordinator. You might also want your 1st AD, but they can come in a bit later.

If you don't already have a director, get one after your line producer.

The director will help you find the cinematographer. 

This is a good time to scour your crew contact list for anyone you've worked with in the past that you'd want to bring on. This is why keeping a comprehensive list of all prior crew you've hired is wise. You never know who will be available.

If your project is going to have heavy make-up requirements then thats someone you'd want in during this phase. But if not, that hire can wait.

You'll tailor the "who" of this stage to your project. But the pro tip for this stage of preproduction to is get the people you need early on board early. 

Break Down the Script

5. Break down the script (with script breakdown software)

Remember that script you locked?

Well now it's time to break it down.

But what do we mean by that exactly?

The script breakdown process is fun part of pre production. Essentially, you'll turn words into props, scenes, costumes, and locations... your screenplay is turning into a series of lists and reports.

With those reports, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what you’ll need to budget.

A brief primer on the script breakdown pre production process

Imagine that your movie is a meal, and your script is a recipe.

Well now it's time to make the shopping list.

See what a finished script breakdown looks like below:

StudioBinder Script Breakdown Feature

In a way, you're digesting the 'concept' of your movie and it's turning into real world elements. Now is when you and your team are really starting to figure out how to make a movie.

Save time by using a script breakdown & scheduling software like StudioBinder.

We're now one third of the way into our pre production checklist.

The "first act" of this process is over and we're ready to ramp up our planning to the next stage of pre production.

Create the Storyboard

6. Turn your words into images with storyboard software

Here we go! The first full creative step since you locked your script. You broke the script into reports. Now you're turning words into images.

What was purely verbal is now visual.

When you make a storyboard, you’re taking a major step towards communicating and realizing the vision of the project. 

See how StudioBinder does shot lists and storyboards. 

StudioBinder Shot List and Storyboards

Both literally and figuratively. Leveraging the best storyboard software can help you and your visual team achieve this step.

Scout & Secure Locations

7. Location scouting

Location scouting is a process. So you can't cross it off your list before you move to the next step. But you can and should start it now.

There will be something of a give and take between your storyboard process and securing locations.

What you see on your location scouts will inform your boards, and vice versa. We're getting to a point in the pre production checklist where there will be overlap and cross pollination.

Eventually you'll want to return to the location and do a tech scout:

StudioBinder Tech Scout

Pro tip:

Want to learn how to make a movie? You need to master the art of compromise. With individuals, but more so with limitations beyond your control.

For example….

Your director loves a location, but it'll cost a lot more to lock than you budgeted. Can you sacrifice some money elsewhere to secure the dream location?

 Or is the location a no-go?

Be prepared to have these conversations and/or make these calls. Sometimes asking up front for a list of deal-breakers from the director is useful.

You don't want to cramp his or her artistic freedom with dollar signs concerns if you don't have to. At the same time, the director needs to accept (and work with you) on fulfilling the budget.

Cast your Talent

8. Casting during pre production

This is a big one.

Like with many steps, you may have started the casting process already. 

Perhaps a star was attached during the development phase, but you're still going to have  some parts to audition during the pre production process in film.

There are a ton of great casting resources online now. To get you started, explore some of the best free casting websites here.

So let’s get this process going! If you can't find the exact right person for a role you'll want to be able to extend the search.

Rev Up the Art Department

9. Art department pre production

This step is a question because in some cases the answer may be “very little.” Say you're prepping a short film that you'll shoot in your apartment – production design tip numero uno when you’re on a tight budget.  

Some set dressing. Some props. Nothing crazy.

On the other hand, I once produced a short where we had to build a greenhouse, and a hut in the middle of a desert.

On that project, the art department needed a lot of prep time.

So here is where I'd get my art department's engines revving. Especially if your movie production requires any kind of build.

Permit & Insurance

10. Organize files and documents

Act three of our pre production checklist begins here...

This is the home stretch.

By now you've got a lot of the key components in place. Before you go any further, you've got to button things up.

Pull permits for locations.

Buy a production insurance policy.

Consult with legal if necessary.

FILM PERMITS

I like to start permitting with plenty of time. Sometimes a location will fall through because of permitting issues. Sometimes the city won't issue a permit without a lot more legwork from you.

You may have a location on your list that requires a fire marshall. You never know until you start working with the permitting office.

If you’re shooting in Los Angeles, you’ll be filing with Film L.A. But do your research wherever you are shooting and find out who you need to permit with.

And trust me…

You should permit your locations. I've been on sets where neighbors complained and if we hadn't been properly permitted, we'd have been shut down. Try explaining that to your Executive Producer. Or studio.
FILM INSURANCE

Same goes for insurance. This is one of those things where you'd be shocked at how many productions do without.

Just one more big cost, right?

Better to spend it on a sweet lens pack instead, right??

Wrong.

If something bad happens on your set and you don't have insurance, your problems will go far beyond not getting all your shots done that day.

If nine times out of ten you can get away with it, that’s fine for nine people.

But you don't want to be the tenth.

So button it up. Go legit. Dot your i's and cross your t's. 

If you’re not shooting legally than arguably your project can’t happen.

At the very least, you're going to send a message to everyone else on the project. That you are a true professional.

And that’ll serve you in the long term no matter what.

Schedule your Shoot

11. Create a shooting schedule (use film scheduling software)

The vast majority of professional film productions use some form of scheduling software, and this is because it is one of the most valuable tools in film.  

Learn what makes it pain-free to create a shooting schedule

This step of pre-production can't happen before you've done everything that came before, as it is all built on top of each other like a home.

Don't move in before you've installed the plumbing. 

Ideally, you’d want to lock in your locations and talent before this step because of availability. And you'll want to start the process of building any sets before this too, because that timeline directly affects this step.

Crew Up

12. Fill out your crew roster

You've got the main players in place (your keys), but now they need support, and we're getting close to DAY ONE. So it's time to crew up.

I like to start by asking production heads if they have anyone they want to bring on. People like the shorthand they have with certain peers.

It's good for the overall morale, it's also good for productivity.

If your keys don't have recommendations, or need some help rounding out the team, then that’s when I go to my production crew contact list.

I might have just the right person.

Photo and Film Production Contact List - StudioBinder Photography and Film Crew List Software

StudioBinder offers a living contact list that grows with you over time.

There are a lot of great crew hiring resources online like ProductionBeast.

By hook or by crook, you're gonna crew up at step 12.

Create a shot list

13. Create a shot list

You're so close you can taste it.

A little nervous? Check.  

A little excited? Check.  

A lot hectic? Double Check.

Planning is everything. Whether you’re using a shot list template or a shot list software like StudioBinder, you’ll want to work with your director, AD, and DP to finalize the daily shooting game plan.

Check out the video below to see how a shot list can translate into reality:

StudioBinder Shot List | Dutch Angles

Time is going to be your most precious resource during shoot days, and the ticking clock your greatest foe. The more you have set in advance, the more time you have onset to adjust. Because the curveballs are coming.

What is pre production all about?

It’s about finding ways to maximize production time. 

Tech Scout

14. Pre-production meeting checklist

To me the tech scout is one of the final critical pre production steps. You and the pertinent crew will travel to the locations and walk through the plan.

This is can be super useful for the crew because it's a reconnaissance mission. The soldiers giving the future battlefield a once-over.

So much of a production boils down to logistics. Think supply lines. Where will the best boy stage all the gear? Where will the truck(s) park?

Where will holding be for extras? How about the honey wagons?

Do we have access to HVAC and power?

What type of last minute planning and changes should be made?

Think it through. Walk it through.

This day (or days) of tech scouting can also serve as an opportunity for every department to go over needs and concerns. Prep for the your tech scout by checking out our location scouting cheatsheet.

gear UP

15. Film equipment rentals

Last step. Are we ready for "Lights! Camera! Action?"

Well... not without lights and a camera we're not.

Sometimes you'll start the gear or equipment list a lot earlier than this. It can be an evolving process, and you certainly might need to place some items on hold.

But for the most part, you don't want to jump the gun until you know precisely what you're going to need for your crew. At the tech scout your DP and/or his/her Gaffer and Key Grip will make their final lists.

And… they'll need to see the locations in order to know what they'll need to achieve the shots.

Let's go back to the idea of order of operations once more.

The shot list will inform the walk through at the tech scout. Which will tell you exactly what you need equipment wise.

Each step in the 15 step pre production checklist feeds into the next. That way you don't do anything before you're ready to. You go into each phase of preproduction, and ultimately production itself, as prepared as possible.

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Pre-Production Checklist Made For Every Producer and Filmmaker - StudioBinder - Free Checklist - Exit Intent

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Just enter your email address and we'll instantly send it to you!

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6 comments

  1. Thank you for caring enough to share. We need more people like you. I wish you and abundant return on your generosity.

    Theola Bright

    1. Same! This just helped my production Company TREMENDOUSLY! If there are any INDI-FILMMAKERS here who need assistant with productions and are in Chicago, please contact Rouz Productions! Look us up on YouTube, Rouz Productions L.L.C.

  2. Thank you for creating these newsletters for helping filmmakers be prepared for the production process. However, I must take issue with a couple of points in the article Pre-Production Checklist. One of my roles as a Line Producer is providing consulting services to emerging filmmakers. I make sure that all the legalities are in order so that they can focus on the creative aspects of making a successful and profitable film or TV show.

    I believe your item number 3 “Form a Business Entity” should be number 1 on the list. Even before a script is finished, it’s important to establish the legalities of creating a Production Company, the business entity for which all activities fall under. Contracts between the company and the writer must be solidified to transfer the copyright ownership from writer to production entity as well as to protect the “Chain of Title”. Even if the producer is the writer and producer and the director, a legal contract must be made between the production company entity and the writer (and the entity with the producer and the director). This is quite important as these articles of business creation is needed for General Liability and Production Insurance as well as Errors and Omissions Insurance (required for distribution), and also for becoming a Signatory to a Union such as SAG-AFTRA.

    Most all professional actors are members of the union. SAG-AFTRA requires chain of title and company structure before you begin pre-production. They must know the legal ownership of the script and that all legalities are in place before allowing a production entity to hire their members. The Union’s goal is to guarantee that the performers are paid.

    For investors to finance a project (even if it’s funded from the filmmakers’ own bank account or if from family members) the money must be placed into a separate bank account in the Production Company’s name. In order to open up a bank account, the legalities of the production entity must be established. Additionally, the accountant and the IRS do not want an individual and production company co-mingling funds, this will only lead to tax problems later on.

    The project must also have agreements between the principles of the production company. This usually requires an attorney to draw up the equity members and their split or percentage ownership. This is true especially for a limited liability corporation (LLC). But more than anything else, anyone who participates in a project must have a legally defined agreement indicating their share of participation and expectations. This one step alone solves multiple issues down the line. It’s crucial to have all of the players legally bound to one another prior to any work beginning.

    It’s for these reasons the business entity and legal concerns must come before any pre-production activity. Setting up these important aspects of the company’s foundation generally occurs in the Development stage. The filmmakers would definitely want to have production insurance in place long before the location scouts or art department starts work.

    My next point of contention with your checklist comes with regard to the tax form 1099. The IRS has ruled on Independent Contractor status a long time ago and has recently been enforcing these rules. Most all motion picture or television workers are classified as Hourly Employees, not Independent Contractors (aka a 1099 worker).

    True Independent Contractors must control their own hours and have the potential to incur profit or loss. Film production employees rarely fall into that category. For this reason, crew members and cast members almost always are classified as Employees and are required to have payroll deductions removed from their paycheck. This is definitely true for anybody on the daily call sheet. If a member of the film’s team is told when to start work and when they can stop work, that makes that person an employee and not an independent contractor. “1099 workers” should be a thing of the past and should not be tacitly endorsed as a film or TV industry classification as mentioned in the Pre-Production checklist.

    I’m aware that the practice is still ongoing, but that doesn’t make it legitimate or legal. Paying people as independent contractors is a way for the company to avoid paying their fair share of contributions to Social Security (FICA) as well as Unemployment Insurance & Disability Insurance. This employer practice is unlawful and ultimately cheats the employee out of fair contribution to their Social Security fund. It more often than not mean that the employer has not purchased Worker Compensation Insurance putting the worker in danger should s/he be injured while working. Most all states require employers to provide Workers Compensation Insurance this includes film or tv production companies (even if the project is not for profit).

    Another item I’d like to point out: “Production Crew Release Forms” is an archaic term. A “Crew Deal Memo” (or Employment Contract) is the proper term for the agreement between the company and a crew member. It should be spelled out; all the employment details including hourly or daily pay rate, overtime fees, workplace safety and drug policies, work for hire classification, non-disclosure and security clauses, and most importantly on-screen credit designation. The Crew Deal Memo will also be used in combination with a time card for paying the crew or cast member through a payroll service (or through the company’s accountant). All deal memos must be created and signed prior to a person starting work and should be customized for each crew member according to their job. Producers and Production Companies must abide by state employment laws including the state’s minimum wage. In California, all workers must receive overtime after working 8 hours excluding their meal break (lunchtime). Additionally, a worker must have a break no later than 6 hours from the start of the workday. No exceptions. Union or collective bargaining rules overrule state labor laws and might be different.

    Creating and sharing the Pre-Production checklist helps filmmakers be prepared for the complex and often overwhelming production process. Thank you for helping filmmakers approach this daunting endeavor. I also thank you for listening to my thoughts about your document and the pre-production/development process.

    These articles and newsletters provide rich and valuable information for those moving up in the industry or just starting out as producers/filmmakers. I’m glad to see Studio Binder making head roads into the production market long dominated by antique, difficult to use, yet well-entrenched production software.

    Thank you for your time.

    David Japka
    Line Producer / DGA UPM
    david@davidjapka.com

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2288594
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/davidjapka

  3. Hi David,

    Thank you for such a well thought out and lengthy comment. We appreciate your time and input. To address a few of your comments and concerns:

    It is certainly possible to line up a production company in advance of writing a screenplay, and in most cases production companies predate the existence of any particular script as I’m sure you know from your wealth of experience.

    However it would be incorrect to assert that a production entity MUST be formed prior to having a script. I’ve produced projects where E&O insurance wasn’t secured for quite some time into the process, for example.

    The bigger concern I’d have with your comment is that we’d never want to dissuade a producer, or a writer, with a screenplay in hand from pursuing a future with it if they did not happen to already have an entity formed. They can definitely do that after the script is written.

    You can also ALWAYS make a budget without forming a business. All the other things you mentioned needing to happen after a business if formed are mentioned afterwards in the list.

    It is not illegal to hire and pay independent contractors to work on a production. Even Union crew members like the opportunity to work as day players on smaller projects, by assuming or asserting that all productions must pay them as employees, you would eliminate certain types of emerging opportunities in new media. Even if your points about an ideal scenario, or larger scale production, stand. It also does not mean that the employer does not possess WC insurance policy.

    But more important than that, the post does not suggest that a 1099 is the ONLY means of hiring someone to work on a crew. We link to it as a possible resource.

    This post also makes no mention of meal times, break times, the details of contracts with crew members, or various stipulations within them.

    Your comment that the terminology used for a producticould be changed or updated is noted.

    Thanks for taking the time though, Please take a look at some of our other resources as well next time you have a project!

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