Pre-production can be overwhelming even for the seasoned producer. It requires knowledge of many facets of production, as well an ability to prevent potential crises down the line. It’s not always easy, but if you stay organized, it is pretty simple. So what is pre-production anyway? When does it start, and when does it end. This post will answer those questions and give a quick rundown of the tasks involved.
Pre-production is an early stage of any project, including commercials, music videos, short films, and feature films. This crucial step defines how efficient, organized and, ultimately, how successful the production stage will be.
Before we dive into a Pre-production definition, let's take a quick look at the process. In this clip, we'll see Spielberg working on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, including pre-visualization, costume choices, and casting Shia LaBeouf.
You can see just how valuable "Pre-pro" is, especially at this level of filmmaking where budgets are large — planning is everything. Let's define Pre-production and then we'll get into more detail on the timelines and the necessary steps involved.
What is Pre-production?
Pre-production is the planning process and execution of every task that must take place before production begins. It usually begins once the script is finished and involves the director, cinematographer, producers, first assistant director, production managers/coordinators, and location scouts.
Every project is different depending on the budget and the size of the production, but there are some relatively universal guidelines to consider.
- Lock the shooting script
- Finalize the budget
- Form a new company (not always applicable)
- Hire key department heads
- Break down the script
- Storyboard and shot list the scenes
- Scout and secure locations
- Cast actors and hire crew
- Get permits and insurance
- Schedule shoot days
- Perform a tech scout
- Arrange for equipment rentals
As you can see, there is a lot of work that goes into Pre-production. Look at it this way, the more work you put into this stage will help ensure that your production goes as smoothly as possible. Problem solving ahead of time is acceptable — waiting until you're on set is not.
That's why production management software becomes an invaluable tool. Keeping everything centralized and organized is the key to a successful shoot.
Who does what in pre-production?
There are dozens of tasks to complete during Pre-production by various crew members. One of the key roles in the process is the 1st Assistant Director. Here's Anya Adams, 1st AD for "Black-ish," walking us through a typical day on the set.
When does pre-production start?
Pre-production immediately follows the "development stage," where the script is worked into a viable final draft. As soon as the screenplay is "locked," the process can begin in earnest.
Below is a diagram of a basic Pre-production workflow. Every project is different but this order of operations can apply to any type of production, including short films, music videos, commercials, or feature films.
PRODUCTION PHASE BEGINS
When does pre-production end?
Pre-production is an essential stage of any project and it will help the actual production go as smoothly as possible. For a more detailed explanation of the steps involved, our next article covers those topics and includes a free pre-production checklist.
Now that you’ve laid the foundation, let’s get into each steps in detail. The next post describes the various steps in the pre-pro stage, including locking the script, storyboarding, obtaining permits and insurance, and hiring the crew. You'll also find a FREE pre-pro checklist to make sure your next project stays organized and productive.