Problems always occur in video and film production. It’s the nature of the work we do. There are always outside forces beyond our control and no matter what we do to prepare for them, we are always faced with a problem to solve that we didn’t count on or didn’t foresee. Knowing this, why would we not prepare ourselves as much as possible before entering production? I believe that if not 100%, 99% of the time how you effectively plan, execute and follow through your pre-production results in the success of your project.
Many times I scour the forums on Stage32, LinkedIn Filmmaking groups and Reddit and constantly see people asking questions, almost in a panic, about what to do because they are stuck in production not knowing how to proceed. And many of those times I can point back to the fact that they did not effectively plan, execute or carry out their pre-production. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m perfect and I have flawless productions. Of course not, like many of you, problems always arise on set and I’ve had to make some serious calls in the moment. As creatives, somehow we have this notion that we rise to the occasion when problems occur. But the truth is we simply default to the level of training we have allowed ourselves. I have learned over the years how important that training is. And in film and video production that training starts in the pre-production process.
Now please understand, I’m talking from a mechanics standpoint, not a creative one. Sure, in the moment you will always have creative inspiration that turns on that imagenary light bulb in your head when you need or want it. But most problems that arise (schedules, weather, talent, crew, gear, etc) are mechanics that can be sorted out in pre-production long before you step foot on location. And in some instances, solving these mechanical problems ahead of time frees your mind to dedicate more of your efforts towards the creative part of your production.
Therefore I want to layout some common problems that we face and discuss some ways effective planning methods in pre-production that can help solve those issues from coming up in your production.
There are countless ways pre-production improves your time management on a project, it would be impossible to list them all. However, as you plan your shoot and are able to get all your elements laid out in front of you, then you are able to see the time necessary to complete your production. As you see your number of shots listed, the number of locations, the size of your crew, the amount of gear needed, communication, etc., you start to see all those elements begin demanding your time. You can then set the amount of time for each of those elements and plan accordingly. But many times we don’t put those things down on paper or in the computer so we forget and those little time demanding elements begin showing up as you begin production. This is why pre-production is so vital for managing your time. And almost in any project, time is money!
99% of the time how you effectively plan, execute and follow through your pre-production results in the success of your project.”
Having an Effective Crew
I often have a few people marked as my go-to people for each position of production. Whenever a production comes up and I need to fill crew positions, these are the people I call first. However, from time to time and almost on every production I end up with working with someone new because one or more of my “go-to” people were already booked. For the most part this may not be a problem. Those new on your crew were most likely recommended by someone you know and trust so the “new guy” can most likely be trusted as well.
But from time to time (and I can scour some forum posts to prove this point) a director, DP or producer ends up with a crew member that is a nightmare to work with on the project. Pre-Production allows you to schedule time with crew, have some location time and generate opportunities for you to get to know new people you haven’t worked with before. This eliminates any surprises with incompatibility issues (both on a personal and creative level) at the time you begin shooting.
Some of the cast and crew for the film Fruitcake. Photo by Ashley Wright
Having a Cohesive Talent Group
Like with crew, pre-production allows you to build in and schedule time with your talent pool. During scheduled readings and rehearsals you can see how your talent work together and collaborate. This ensures that not only the director is able to work with the talent but that the talent is a cohesive part of the entire team. As a filmmaker you will eliminate the possibility of having an actor or actress that is difficult to work with on your production.
As I mentioned before in the Time Management section, time is money and we all have to do our best to stay within budget. Going through the pre-production process allows you to have a better idea of where the money goes and an understanding of how to use those funds.
At times in production there have been many occasions in which an unexpected expense arrives and a decision needs to be made quick, I’m certainly no different. For some, this may send the producer and director into a panic but in my case, because we had assigned a dollar amount to each part of the process, we knew what money we could let go of from a certain area and what funds we could absolutely not touch. Having everything in detail laid out in front of you allows you to make those quick decisions and remain focused on the project. Especially with independent filmmakers and small production companies where the director and producers also manage the finances it’s important to compartmentalize logistics and creative. Keeping as much of the logistics away away from the creativity on set makes for a better process, less stress and, in the end, a better production.
… the truth is we simply default to the level of training we have allowed ourselves.”
Carry Out The Vision
As you work with your team to collaborate and build your project you will land on a vision that you will want to carry out throughout the entire project. This vision could be simple or complex but the goal is for the vision to remain present from start to finish. The pre-production process allows you to not only accomplish that goal but to refine and further more embed that vision among the entire team.
For instance, working on the film Fruitcake, my co-producing partner and director, David Wilkinson, wanted to make sure that the audience really felt the isolation and loneliness of our lead character. So from script we made sure we left in area in which we can pause for dialogue or even remove dialogue to let the silence sit. For the storyboards and shortlists I made sure I built in movements and extended shot times in order to emphasize that feeling of emptiness. For production design we made sure some of the interiors and colors were drab and without bright colors so our PD, Melissa McKenney, could grab the right outfits and have the background decorated to fit the vision. Even as we talked score with our composer, James Childs, it was communicated and understood what we were looking for in music and score before we even set foot on our first location for shooting.
Only when we move through pre-production will we allow ourselves to communicate and emphasize the vision throughout the different sections of pre-production. The vision almost seems to come alive and have an identity of its own.
Having the Right Tools
If you’ve read any of my past posts here on PVC or my own personal blog, you will know I’m a stickler for having the right tools for the right job. Sure, even on my own productions I’ve had to settle for less but I made sure that even with less, I make the best decision possible when it comes to choosing the right camera, lenses, lighting, support, etc. If I can’t afford it, I don’t simply default to a DSLR, I look for the best solutions possible.
Of course solutions come to mind the best when you have time to think about the problem and going through pre-production allows you that time. Once you have the script, the shots, the visuals, the crew, you can then begin thinking about the gear to tell the story or carry out your concept. For some productions using the same gear throughout the entire production may be suitable but other for productions it may not be that simple.
Going back to working on Fruitcake, we had a super low budget and we were blessed to have some of the camera gear donated for the production but I knew ahead of time that I would have the RED Epic on certain days and the RED Scarlet on the other days. As you may know, the two models have different features when it comes to shooting higher resolution and higher frame rates. With this knowledge I was able to plan ahead and arrange shooting the scenes I needed higher frame rate on the days I would have the Epic. The days I did not need those features I scheduled when I had the Scarlet. Only because I built in time to schedule the equipment and apply those details to pre-production were we able to properly build that into our shooting schedule and it made for a very efficient timeline.
solving these mechanical problems ahead of time frees your mind to dedicate more of your efforts towards the creative part of your production.”
If you follow me at all on any social media network you know I’ve talked about the Production Minds Platform (PMP) before. I had the opportunity to talk about the importance of pre-production at the IBC conference last year in Amsterdam and presented the software during my presentation. If you don’t know what PMP is I urge you to check it out at ProductionMinds.com. But I wanted to mention them in this article because everything I just spoke about the great team over at ProductionMinds have skillfully and methodically created a solution to help you. From concept to yelling “Roll Camera!” this cloud based software gives you the tools necessary to having a well planned pre-production campaign which will make your project that much more successful.
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As I close, I just want to reiterate that these are just a few ways and a few examples of how going through pre-production benefits you as a producer and a filmmaker. There are many, many more. So feel free to comment on how you’ve saved yourself and your project through the pre-production process. Of course, as always, feel free to post any questions as well, I will happy to help!
Bobby Marko is an award winning filmmaker based in Nashville, TN. A retired professional musician turned filmmaker, Bobby has covered the world of film and video, from live production and chroma key capture to short films and feature length documentaries. He’s had published articles at Cannes Film Festival and has been a featured presenter at IBC in Amsterdam. Bobby’s passion is to capture the heart of a story through moving imagery and share his experience along the way.