I adore the pre-production stage of the filmmaking process! It is such an exciting time when the whole team is fully committed to a project. It is a time to utilize all of your creative skills, unfettered by financial and logistical pressures. And it is the time when you lay the ground work that will bring you success amidst the stress of production.
The lists of things you could do during this time is overwhelming, but don’t go crazy before filming even begins. Here are the 7 key things I focus on to make sure my pre-production time is a success:
1) Create Your Calendar
This is the very first thing you should do during pre-production. Lay out when you’d like to shoot, how long your shoot will be, and what milestones you’ll need to meet along the way. These include things like script finalization, story board and shot list completion, audition and casting dates, and location deadlines. Make sure your timeline is realistic for your experience level and type of production. If your plan is too ambitious you could sink your production before you even start. Making and sticking to comprehensive plan is the key to a strong project.
2) Do Your Script Breakdowns
This is the process of reading and completely documenting the script. How many scenes are there? How many characters? What locations are needed? These are questions that are answered in the script break down. (click here for a full list of what you should include) It’s best to record this info in some sort of database or excel spreadsheet, you’ll need to utilize it later for budgeting, story boards, shot lists, schedules, call sheets, and more.
3) Write Your Budget
You have to know your financial limits before you can go any further. Your initial budget will be dictated by the script. It’s important at this stage to thoroughly review the script and script breakdowns to identify what is needed to shoot the film well. Once you’re finished you can translate those breakdowns and notes into budget line items. (click here for a list of potential budget line items) and start assigning them dollar amounts. Please remember that good budgets are not completed in one draft. Expect revisions, it’s worth the extra work to have a well-rounded budget.
4) Assemble Your Crew
A good crew is like having your own band of knights that will fight battles with efficiency and courage. Long hours and many days on location will be exhausting; find people who are hard working, skilled and have good attitudes.
5) Scout and Lock Locations
Take the time you need to go to potential locations. Take lots of pictures and notes on details like the power supply, parking options, and restroom facilities. Talk with the location owners if possible to build positive relationships. Always complete all film permits, location agreements and certificates of insurance before filming begins, and have backup possibilities in case a location falls through. Also, don’t forget to locate and set up your basecamp and production office.
6) Cast the Show
There are many ways to recruit talent for your film. No matter how you do it make sure that you actually draw the line and cast the show well before you start shooting. Casting is the director’s prerogative, so be sure to give your director a central creative place that allows him/her room to make the best possible casting decisions. After your cast has been decided upon (and if your schedule allows it) start rehearsals. Even though it is usually a luxury, prioritizing rehearsals can save you time on set.
7) Take Time to Meet and Talk
Production meetings should be scheduled and held. Make sure all department heads are meeting with the director and with their teams. Every film is made by a diverse group of individuals who are trying to tell one story through the vision of one director. This is a huge effort that requires a lot of communication. Take time to talk to one another, and be kind. Filming is stressful, but teams should still be able to come together with respect and joy for the adventure.