Today we have a special guest article from Andrew Swanson: Owner/Operator/Filmmaker at Filmik.
60, 10, 30.
Those are the percentages taught to me about how much time should be spent on each portion of a project.
60% in pre-production, 10% in production, and 30% in post-production.
Preproduction – Your Best Friend & Your Worst Enemy
Do you have 6 weeks to create a client’s promotional video?
You should be spending over three weeks pre-producing the project. We all love the shooting and production days (#setlife), and most people enjoy seeing their project come to fruition in post-production.
But in this era of the modern digital filmmaker, so often pre-production is overlooked.
Why spend so much time in pre-production?
Think of it this way: You have this really great idea to restore a 1941 Willy’s pickup. You understand how the engine and transmission work, what color you want to paint it, and even which car show you’re going to premiere that sweet new ride.
With that knowledge you start restoring it. But, while you’re working on it, those grand ideas seem further and further away because the brakes are stuck, the steering isn’t aligned, there are dents in the body work, suspension costs $$$$, and you come to find out the frame is bent.
Filmmaking works in the same way.
You may have the knowledge to shoot and edit a project, but really well made promotional films are meticulously thought out. Every detail is examined. Whether it’s thinking about how to incorporate a company’s branding into the subject’s attire, or conveying a specific mood in the shot composition.
All of this should be brainstormed and decided on in pre-production, then implemented in production and post-production.
What’s included in pre-production?
I’m going to list the critical parts that apply to most projects. Personally, I am a fan of every part of pre-production, but we will start with what most people consider the “boring” parts:
You’ve probably seen a producer walking around set with one of these bad boys. Everything created in pre-production is housed here and is the producer’s best friend (companion maybe?).
This is where the groundwork for the project is laid out in a detailed document. Questions to ask are:
- What’s the objective?
- What’s the purpose?
- Who’s the target audience?
- What’s the projected run time?
- What’s the format?
- What is the deadline?
Creating this document gives you and your client a clear roadmap for the entire project.
Ah yes, the almighty budget. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach with budgeting, and figuring out where to spend money is an art in itself.
With my clients I typically ask for a percentage of the budget upfront based on immediate costs. If a project requires $50,000 up front to cover location fees, travel, props, crafty, lodging, rentals, etc., it would be unreasonable to eat those costs out of pocket until the client pays.
I have received very little push back on this approach, but I communicate very clearly with my clients the reason for it.
Since we’re on the topic of money, let’s discuss legalities.
Whatever you do, you absolutely must take care of legalities. The moment you slip up on a legality, and someone sees an opportunity to make easy money off of it, there goes all your hopes and dreams.
Talent release forms are usually what filmmakers think of when it comes to legalities, but there are many others. Location agreements, Chain of Title (see image below), contract between client and Production Company, renters insurance, liability insurance, worker’s compensation, and many others.
Here’s a cool infographic from High Banks Entertainment that explains ‘chain of title’ (click the image for a more detailed view:)
In regards to contracts, hire a lawyer to review it. Whether created by yourself or the client, there are portions such as indemnification, grants of permissions, disclaimers and so on. If you have a lawyer review these, you can proceed with the project without the constant worry of getting sued.
This is your on-set schedule. Everything from the time cast and crew is supposed to arrive, to when it’s time to strike equipment down at the end of the day: this form has it all. It’s easily the best way to see if you’re on schedule or severely behind.
Emails, phone numbers, full names, company names. If someone needs to be contacted for any reason, this is where you find it.
Continuity Log Sheet
If you have never used one of these on set and you edit your own projects, this will be heaven sent information.
On production days, script supervisors keep track of the take numbers, which shots were best, and what parts of the script were being shot and in what order. It’s like cheat codes for editing.
When it’s time to sit down and edit, you know exactly which shots were best and which file numbers sync with each other. It is glorious.
Now for the fun parts:
We all know this is the heart and soul of every scripted project. When it comes to scripted content a script will either make or break a project. Take time and constantly revise until the script is perfect.
One good tip for scriptwriting is to read it as if your talent was reading it, or have a script reading with the hired talent to hear the flow, delivery, and wordage.
Put a face to your characters.
Casting appropriate talent will make a good project great. If you have a larger budget, go to a casting agency and look through their list of talent. Communicate with a casting director to tell them exactly what you’re looking for, and most of the time they will find the appropriate talent.
Of all the pre-production parts, this is my absolute favorite to do. This gives everyone involved a tangible representation of the vision for the camera movements and placement. It allows you to see the flow of the shot sequences, and readjust if need be.
It also acts as confirmation that all of the shots have been covered during production.
Like shot sheets, storyboards give a tangible representation, but are focused on shot composition. These can be extremely detailed or rough sketches. Most high paying clients require storyboarding so they aren’t flying blind when it comes to the project you’re creating for them.
This part of pre-production goes into a lot of depth. It deals with logistics, timing, and artistic style. Ever asked yourself questions similar to these:
- Are you trying to get a shot during golden hour on the coast of California in a restricted area?
- What time and where is the sunlight going to hit your scene?
- Is there enough parking for the entire crew?
- Does it require permits?
Location scouting eliminates the annoying guessing game of shooting on location.
Last but not least, gear! I like to keep a list of the gear being used, because typically the equipment is coming from several places. A lot of times I’ll use my company’s in house gear and rent some extras depending on the project.
Having a list of all that equipment, who owns what, and when it’s due back helps as a checklist. You’d be surprised how many batteries, battery chargers, lens caps, etc. are left behind.
Effective pre-production takes a commitment of time, energy, and forethought. If you are new to implementing these pre-production aspects into your projects, it can seem cumbersome and feel like a waste of time. But I can guarantee the more time spent in pre-production the less you’ll be wishing you had done the proper pre-production in the end.
Resources: Here are some links to some of my favorite resources for pre-production paperwork, talks, and applications.
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