An Overview of the different Stages of Pre-production (Part One)

Believe it or not, pre-production involves every stage of the filmmaking process. If you ignore any particular aspect ‘for later’, you’re asking for trouble. I’ve already covered this in What is Pre-production?

Rule of thumb: Wrap up everything in pre-production.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my cheatsheet (with examples) of tried and tested ways to cover a scene or action that will save your skin when your mind goes blank (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

There are six fundamental divisions to pre-production, all related to one another, but they don’t know it  yet:

  • Management – This is the core, the only part that knows everything
  • Administration – The paperwork
  • Writing – The ‘Plan’
  • Talent – The people who feel they are the most important
  • Location – The work that needs to be done but nobody wants to do it
  • Production – Everything else

 
In this part I’ll look at the first four. In Part Two I’ll cover Location and Production. This is how they’re all related:

Pre-production divisions

Management

Management is the focal point of any production. It is the first to form, and the last to disband once production is complete. It includes key positions such as the Producer (and all its variants), Writer, Director, Unit Production Manager, First Assistant Director, etc.

Here are the steps involved in Management:

Office Setup

The first thing you do is setup an office space from which the management team can operate. At the bare minimum this includes a room with four walls, a computer, and optionally a printer. A full-fledged production office will have space for meetings, charts, posters, files, and many other functions.

An office keeps you focused, and more importantly, it ensures your team is all in one place.

Scheduling

Scheduling is traditionally decided by the First Assistant Director in tandem with the Director. Realistically, only the director knows how long he or she will take to pull off a movie, and according to this, the schedule is drawn.

Of course, most of this power is an illusion, as there are many factors that affect the schedule. A schedule outlines the basics:

  • Where do we meet?
  • What do we do?
  • Who has to show up?
  • When do they have to show up?

 
There is a schedule for pre-production, production and post-production. This is a critical task, as many other factors depend on its accuracy.

Budgeting

Based on all the other factors, a full detailed production budget is drawn up. The concept of dividing pre-production tasks as outlined in this article demonstrates how complicated setting up a budget really is.

Big budget studios can afford to overrun their budgets, independent filmmakers cannot. Underestimating the budget is one of the greatest causes of production failure, and it is usually the result of the inability of the filmmaker to acknowledge reality.

The responsibility of preparing the budget lies with the Production Manager.

Production Management

Production Management is the running of day to day operations of a movie. The person on whom this responsibility is thrust is the Production Manager.

While the creative departments focus on the art, the production team runs the machine.

Meetings

Meetings are the most time-consuming parts of pre-production. People from every department have to meet, at some place or another. It doesn’t always have to be at the production office.

Catering

Catering begins as soon as a production is green-lit. Everyone has to eat, and this responsibility is handled by the production team, headed by the Production Manager.

Everyone has to be fed well (doesn’t mean greasy comfort food). A well fed crew is an efficient and motivated crew. If you can’t afford to treat your crew well, get ready to face hell.

Administration

Legal and Accounting

Every production must have a solid legal foundation. The day-to-day accounting tasks are carried out by the production team, but at the end of the day all debits and credits will flow through certified accountants, who will minutely inspect every detail.

These are checks and balances that are in place to ensure everyone’s doing their job, and no money is being wasted or robbed.

Permits

Permits will have to be obtained from locations, individuals, agencies, governmental organizations, private organizations, and so on.

These permits are not scraps of paper, they are legitimate documents valid in the eyes of the law. They are usually prepared by the legal team, and enforced by the production team.

Contracts

Contracts are also prepared by the legal team, and they have to be duly signed.

Writing

Screenplay/Script

The ‘finished’ draft of a screenplay is the basis of any production. This draft will be scrutinized in minute detail by many individuals, from every angle imaginable.

Before this happens, scene numbers are etched in stone, and then never changed. If more scenes are added, they are given new numbers or letters (like 3a, for a new scene between 3 and 4, and so on).

Breakdowns

A script is ‘broken down’ into the following documents:

  • Location breakdown
  • Cast breakdown
  • Crew breakdown
  • Scene breakdown
  • Effects breakdown (if any)

 
There are no limits to the types of breakdowns you can do, but the above are the most common and important.

A breakdown is just a list of items of that particular type, organized, sorted, studied and tabulated for easy understanding and review.

Research

At every stage of the production, the research ‘team’ finds and distills information to ‘scannable’ form for the director or writer, especially where detail is necessary. It’s like someone else doing your homework for you.

Previz or Storyboarding

Storyboarding is the art of drawing or rendering frames as visualized by the director. Usually this is done by a storyboard artist.

When it is done on computer, you call it Previz, or pre-visualization. This can take the form of still frames, presentations, motion, 3D animations, and anything else that catches the director’s fancy.

Shooting Script

Once the director is locked in on how he or she wants to tackle a production, it is time for them to sit with the first assistant to prepare the shooting script.

The shooting script is the screenplay with ‘shot’ information.

Talent

Auditions and Casting

Auditions and Casting are managed by the Casting Director and Director. Sometimes, these are filmed for later scrutiny. On most productions, the director is present during auditions.

Casting is critical. There are very few directors who think casting isn’t the most important part of any production.

Rehearsals

Once the cast and crew are in place, it is time to rehearse. This period might be one reading (a day), a week or a month. Depending on availability of talent, and what the director feels is required, this period may vary.

Rehearsals are an excellent time for everyone to study the structure of the production from a safe distance. Changes can still be made without loss of time and money.

In Part Two we’ll cover Locations and Production.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my cheatsheet (with examples) of tried and tested ways to cover a scene or action that will save your skin when your mind goes blank (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

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