I'm sure you've all heard technical terms like pre-production and post-production thrown around, most likely while watching some behind the scenes of your favorite tv show or the making of a movie, but do you actually know what they mean and what goes on during these vital steps of filmmaking?
Some particular steps are essential when it comes to creating video or photo work, and they're actually basically the same whether you're planning a multi-million dollar movie, a YouTube video or a simple photoshoot of your friend's newborn baby, the scale being the only difference.
Step 1 - Development
This is the very first step in the creation process: having an idea and writing it down. Before you can even think of budgeting or filming, you need to figure out your story, and write a solid draft. It does not have to be final yet (and most likely won’t be), but you will need a good script so that you can get a clear idea of what you will need, and to help you convince people to want to work with you. You can work alone in this step, or surround yourself with a team of writers to help you
Step 2 - Pre-production
This is the actual planning of the shoot. There are a number of key items that need to be checked during the pre-production phase, and all of them are essential before you can actually start shooting. Basically, pre-production is about finding ways to make the production stage run smoothly, efficiently, effortlessly and successfully. This can take days, weeks, months, years or even decades if you’re James Cameron. This list is not necessarily ordered but, all in all, here’s what needs to be done in pre-production:
- “Lock” your shooting script: the director, the director of photography, the camera crews, the producers, and everyone involved in making important decisions will need a solid shooting script to start from. Although it’s a vital step, it’s also important to keep in mind that the script is rarely finalized in pre-production, the director and crew will most likely go back to edit some stuff here and there during the production and even the post-production phases. Hence the quotes.
- Create a storyboard and a shotlist: you’ll need to break your script down into scenes, locations, costumes and so on, and that breakdown will then reflect in the storyboard and the shotlist. The storyboard is a comic book version of your movie, with each scene sketched to give the director a good idea of the angle of the shot, the characters, etc. The shotlist is more technical and will detail everything about every single shot: who’s on screen, what camera and lens are being used, what camera angle, what camera movement, what actor movement, which location… The storyboard will most likely be done early in the pre-production process, and the shotlist towards the end, but I plan on writing a separate article on how to write a shotlist in the future, so stay tuned!
- Think about distribution: is your movie made for the cinema? TV? Youtube? Instagram? Your living-room? Knowing where, on which platform and to whom you want to distribute your film is key to help you figure out your budget.
- Set up your budget: with your script locked and your distribution platform figured out, you should have a good idea of what you’ll need. And then it’s time to do the math. How many people will you need, cast and crew? What kind of shooting locations will you be looking for? What kind of gear? Will you need to travel? How long are you going to stay on location?… Estimate all of your needs and set your budget accordingly. And stick to it (that’s the tricky part).
- Scout locations: you might need this before storyboarding, or you might need your storyboard before scouting, but either way, you’ll need to figure out at some point where things are gonna happen. Whether you’re looking for a studio, an existing building or an outdoor location, make sure to scout every possible place and book everything you can as early as possible.
- Hire the crew: probably one of the first steps after having finalized the script is to look into the crew: writers, producers, director, assistant directors, cinematographer, storyboard artists, costume designers, stunt coordinators, camera crews, lights, sound, editing, music… You’ll need all of these people to make your masterpiece come to life.
- Choose the right gear: based on your story and budget, you should have a good idea of what kind of equipment you’ll need. And it’s most likely going to be rented, so you will have to figure all of this out before you can start filming: cameras, drones, lights...
- Get artsy: depending on your creation, you might need to work with an art department to create costumes, props, sets or even buildings.
- Figure out the paperwork: not the most fun, but definitely one of the most important to keep you out of trouble. Will you need a special permit to shoot in that particular city? Probably, as well as insurance for yourself, your crew and the gear.
- Cast your cast: you can’t shoot anything without actors right?
- Create your shooting schedule: when are you going to start shooting? Which scene will be shot where by which team on which day? Until when is the studio rented? Having a detailed schedule is essential before production can start, and it will make your shooting days smooth and stressless.
- Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again, just to be sure: finally, you’re almost there, everything is ready (on paper), now it’s time for your cast to come in and get ready before you can start shooting.
So there you have it, that's development and pre-production in a nutshell. This is not the most complete list you can find, but the point was just to give you a good idea of what kind of work comes into play even before your favorite actor can say your favorite line in your favorite movie. If you want a more detailed article about one or more of the steps, don't hesitate to ask in the comments!
My next post will cover steps 3, 4 and 5 of filmmaking: production, post-production and distribution.
In the meantime, happy writing, happy shooting, happy editing, see you!
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