Home Pre Production What is Pre Production in Film | Defined and Explained (2023)

What is Pre Production in Film | Defined and Explained (2023)

by Neil Chase

Close your eyes and imagine a scene: Spielberg surrounded by sketches, mood boards, and the initial drafts of a story that would soon captivate the world – Indiana Jones.

Beyond the glitz and glamour of premieres and award shows, this is where the true essence of filmmaking takes shape: in the often unsung pre-production process.

This stage, with its organized planning, visionary foresight, and creative genius, takes place before filming begins, and holds the power to turn dreams into reel reality. It’s the backbone of what makes movie scenes resonate and stories unforgettable.

Let’s take a closer look at pre-production and discover those behind-the-scenes magic touches that make our favorite movies come alive!

Understanding Pre-Production

In its simplest terms, the pre-production definition refers to the planning phase of a film project.

It’s where the magic begins, the stage where the script is finalized, the cast and crew are chosen, the budget is set, and locations are scouted. But pre-production isn’t just confined to blockbuster movies or indie films. This vital stage applies to various projects, such as commercials, music videos, and even corporate training videos.

Take, for example, the iconic Apple 1984 commercial. Long before its memorable debut, the team spent extensive time in the pre-production stage – more than the rest of the entire production – meticulously planning every detail, from the dystopian setting to the perfectly timed throw of the sledgehammer.

Or think about James Cameron’s groundbreaking film, Avatar. The intricate details of Pandora, the design of the Na’vi, and the technological advancements used were all born out of a robust pre-production phase. Every creature’s design, the bioluminescent flora, and the immersive 3D technology had their roots in countless pre-production meetings and brainstorming sessions.

A successful filmmaking process depends on pre-production. It’s essential for any project, big or small.

What is Pre-Production in Film?

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we? Do you remember when you were a child, and you’d plan out an elaborate game or pretend scenario? You’d decide who was playing which character, what the setting was, and maybe even scribble down some ‘scenes’ on a piece of paper. Well, believe it or not, that’s not too far off from what pre-production in film looks like – only with a lot more detail and usually a few more zeros on the budget!

Pre-production is the vital planning stage before the camera starts rolling. It’s where the magic starts to take shape. It’s the phase where the script is polished, storyboards are created, and locations are scouted. It’s where the cast and crew are chosen, schedules are made, and budgets are drafted and finalized.

Speaking of roles, there are quite a few involved during this phase. You have the director, who oversees the creative aspects, the producer managing the business side of things, the casting director finding the perfect actors for each role, the location manager scouting the ideal spots to film, and many more.

From the production coordinator to the production managers to the costume designer to the line producer to the various department heads for everything from camera to food to legal to art, each person plays a pivotal part in ensuring the film’s success.

Budget considerations are another important aspect of pre-production. This is the stage where you figure out with the producer and line producer how much money you’ll need to bring your vision to life and where that money will come from. It’s about balancing the dream with the reality of costs for things like location fees, equipment rentals, salaries, post-production, and distribution.

Now, while every film is unique, there are some universal guidelines to remember during pre-production. Always plan meticulously, expect the unexpected, and overestimate your budget and schedule. Remember, filmmaking is a collaborative process, so communication is key. And lastly, always stay true to your vision. After all, that’s what makes each film unique!

Pre-Production Steps

In the filmmaking process, pre-production is that crucial first chapter where dreams start to find their shape. It’s the underpinning that ensures the rest of the story unfolds seamlessly.

When pre-production begins, the first task is akin to setting a foundation stone: locking the shooting script. This isn’t just any script – it’s the movie’s blueprint, the detailed map that guides us through every twist and turn of the narrative. With our story in place, the next big mission is to get our finances in order. That means finalizing the budget – ensuring every scene, effect, and piece of magic is financially feasible.

Occasionally, to make the dream even bigger, there might be a need to form a new company. It sounds business-y, but really, it’s about giving the film its own little home, a base from which it’ll soar. Following this, the heart of our movie-making machine comes together as we start hiring key department heads. These visionaries and leaders will guide their teams, bringing every frame of the film, short film, or commercial project to life.

The next steps are all about painting the visual canvas. Every film has its own world, and it’s during storyboarding that this world first gets sketched out. But sketches need real-world counterparts, which is where the adventures of location scouting, costumes, props, and set design come in. Whether it’s a bustling city street, a high school classroom, or an otherworldly realm, the production coordinators must find and secure those perfect spots that match the vision; and the art director, set designer, costume designer, and prop maker must dress the cast and locations accordingly.

But what’s a world without its inhabitants? Casting and hiring are the magic spells that populate our story with characters, giving it heart and soul. With our world and its characters in place, we get into the more hands-on aspects of the process. There’s the groundwork of getting permits and clearances, the reassurance of insurance, and the master plan that is the shooting schedule.

Next, it’s very important to plan ahead and think about potential issues before filming. This will help make sure everything goes smoothly and ensure there aren’t too many surprises along the way.

In this modern age, we have an ace up our sleeve. Production management software such as Celtx comes to our rescue, acting as the ultimate tool in ensuring all these elements gel together perfectly for a successful production. It helps in all aspects of the pre-production process, as it streamlines the entire film shoot planning procedure with its user-friendly features.

Who Does What in Pre-Production?

Let’s break down the tasks and responsibilities of different crew members during the pre-production phase, with a special spotlight on the 1st Assistant Director.

screenwriter working on a script

Screenwriter

Before any form of visualization occurs, the screenwriter crafts the script, creating the film’s narrative backbone. They may also be involved in script revisions and adjustments during pre-production.

Producer

The producer oversees the entire project. They are crucial in securing funding, finalizing the budget, hiring key crew, and keeping the project on track.

Director

The director is responsible for the overall vision of the film. During the pre-production timeline, they are deeply involved in casting decisions, scouting locations, storyboarding, and collaborating with department heads to align the film’s aesthetics with their vision.

Production Designer

Tasked with creating the visual feel of the film, the production designer conceptualizes and plans set designs, props, and the overall visual ambiance.

Director of Photography (DoP)

The DoP, or cinematographer, collaborates closely with the director to decide the film’s visual tone. They plan shots and lighting and work on equipment selection during pre-production.

Casting Director

Finding the perfect actors for the roles is the casting director’s realm. They organize and conduct auditions, collaborate with the director on final choices, and handle contractual details for the talent.

Location Scout

Tasked with finding ideal shooting locales, the location scout presents options that align with the script’s requirements and the director’s vision.

location scouting during pre production

Spotlight: The 1st Assistant Director

The First Assistant Director (1st AD) is often the unsung hero of the pre-production process. Their role is multifaceted:

  • Scheduling: The 1st AD helps break down the script into a shootable format, planning each day’s scenes and ensuring the shoot remains on schedule.
  • Coordination: Acting as a bridge between the director and the rest of the crew, the 1st AD communicates the day’s objectives and ensures everyone is prepped and ready.
  • Logistics: The 1st AD handles the nitty-gritty, from ensuring actors are in makeup on time to coordinating with the locations department for smooth transitions.

When Does Pre-Production Start and End?

Making a movie involves many stages, starting with coming up with the initial concept all the way to sharing the finished product with people all over the world. Let’s look at all the traditional production phases to see where pre-production fits into the overall filmmaking process.

1. Development Stage

This is where the seed of a film gets planted. It encompasses:

– Idea Generation

– Story Creation

– Screenplay Writing

– Initial Project Evaluation

2. Transition to the Pre-Production Stage

The blueprinting phase starts once the script is chiseled to perfection and the project gets its green light. Vital pre-production tasks include:

– Finalizing Budget

– Casting

– Scouting Locations

– Detailed Scheduling

– Team Assembly

– Final Shooting Script Breakdown

Film Industry warehouse for pre production

3. Production Stage

This is the ‘action’ phase of real shooting. All the groundwork laid in pre-production culminates in these on-set moments. Key elements in this phase include:

– Principal Photography

– On-set Direction

– Capturing Sound & Dialogues

4. Post-Production Stage

The film enters the editing room once the cameras stop rolling. It’s about refining, polishing, and adding final touches. Activities during this post-production stage involve:

– Editing

– Sound Mixing & Design

– Visual & Special Effects

– Music Scoring

– Color Grading

5. Distribution Stage

The final chapter in a film’s journey is its introduction to the world. It’s about marketing, promoting, and bringing it to the audience. Key tasks here are:

– Marketing & Promotion

– Film Festivals and Screenings

– Theatrical Releases

– Home Entertainment & Streaming Platforms

The Pre-Production Process Explained In 4 Steps

Turning a film idea into a finished product involves multiple milestones. The pre-production stage is one of the most important parts of the production process, where four essential steps are taken to ensure a seamless transition from paper to screen. Let’s look at each step in the pre-production timeline for a feature film, video, or commercial.

Step One: Scripting

A film’s heartbeat is its script. This document, often overlooked by general audiences, is the bedrock upon which every other aspect of a project is built.

Writing the Script: The story is developed during the initial stage of movie production. Writers work closely with directors or producers to create a narrative that forms the foundation of the film. Every dialogue, scene transition, and character emotion is born here. It’s a constantly evolving process involving multiple revisions to ensure the storyline is captivating and realistic.

Script Breakdown: After finalizing the script, it is analyzed in a breakdown process. This analytical process involves dissecting the screenplay scene by scene to identify all the elements required for filming. These elements include cast members, props, costumes, and special effects. This breakdown is crucial as it feeds into the production’s budgeting, scheduling, and various logistical elements.

Step Two: Legal & Budgets

In the second step of the storytelling process, we shift from crafting tales to the practical logistics that bring those tales to life. Although less glamorous than the art of writing a script, this phase is where plans are made, and visions become tangible realities.

Form a Company: Before any substantial work can begin, it’s prudent to establish a legal entity, usually in the form of a production company. This isn’t just a formality – it provides a structured framework for all financial transactions, contracts, and liabilities. Plus, it ensures that all intellectual property rights, profit-sharing, and legal responsibilities are crystal clear from the get-go.

Make and Manage Your Budget: With a script breakdown in hand, it’s time to allocate funds. Every detail, from actor salaries to the number of days on location, is estimated and accounted for. Budgeting is an art, balancing the director’s vision with financial constraints, ensuring every dollar spent maximizes the film’s quality and impact.

Create a Production Schedule: A detailed timeline is created once the budget is set. This schedule maps out when and where each scene will be shot, considering factors like actor availability, location permissions, and seasonal considerations. A well-structured production schedule is a blueprint that ensures the project stays on track, both time-wise and financially.

Assemble the Crew: The right team can make or break a film. During this stage, key crew members – from the director of photography and production designer to sound engineers and costume designers – are brought on board. Each professional is chosen based on their expertise, alignment with the project’s vision, and ability to collaborate with others on the production team.

Step Three: Creative Planning

After laying the groundwork for the project, we now begin the creative process. Here, the director’s vision comes to life, bringing the narrative from mere words on paper to vibrant imagery.

Think About the Creative Vision: This is the heart and soul of a film. Directors, alongside their creative counterparts, cultivate a distinct vision for the project. This vision encompasses the mood, the tone, the color palettes, the rhythms, and the pacing. It’s more than just how the film will look; it’s about how it will feel to the viewer. Elements like animations, scene transitions, and effects all contribute to the creative vision and content creation. Conversations with department heads at this stage center around translating this overarching vision into every aspect of production.

Storyboard Your Film or Video: This is where the visual journey takes flight. Collaborating closely with the director, artists sketch key scenes from the script, akin to a cinematic comic book. Storyboards are more than just artistic renderings; they serve as indispensable communication tools that bring the director’s vision to life. They provide clarity and guidance for departments like cinematography, production design, and special effects, enabling them to fulfill their roles in the scenes with utmost precision and artistry.

Create a Shot List: Moving from the broader strokes of storyboarding, we get into the specifics with a shot list. This document, created by the director in conjunction with the cinematographer or videographer, details every shot to be captured during production. Everything from wide shots to close-ups, tracking shots to drone shots, is delineated. It’s a meticulous guide that ensures no moment is missed and that each scene captures the essence of the director’s vision.

Creative planning is a dance between the ethereal and the tangible. It’s a phase where abstract concepts are translated into actionable plans, ensuring that when cameras roll, every shot is a step toward realizing the film’s intended magic.

Step Four: Logistics

If filmmaking is akin to constructing a masterpiece painting, logistics is the canvas preparation before the brush ever meets the pigment. In this phase, the director’s creative intentions merge with the tangible realities of production, ensuring that every puzzle piece finds its place.

Revise Your Budget and Schedule: After the initial planning, revision is often needed. As creative decisions are made, they might necessitate adjustments in the budget or shooting schedule. It’s a constant dance between vision and viability, ensuring the project remains artistically authentic and logistically feasible.

Book Your Gear and Locations: Once the shot list and storyboards are in place, the specific tools needed to bring them to life are secured. This involves renting cameras, lighting equipment, sound gear, and any specialized apparatus necessary for the shoot. Simultaneously, locations pinpointed during the creative planning phase are booked, and any required permissions or permits are secured.

Hire Production Crew and Talent: With a clearer vision of the project’s needs, the production crew is finalized. This includes everyone from boom mic operators to makeup artists. Their expertise ensures that every scene is captured flawlessly. Meanwhile, actors are brought into the fold, undergoing rehearsals, costume fittings, and makeup tests.

Create a Call Sheet: This essential document outlines each day’s shooting schedule, detailing call times for cast and crew, locations, scenes to be shot, and any other critical information. It ensures that everyone knows where they need to be, when they need to be there, and what’s expected of them on the day.

Final Preparations: As the shoot date approaches, there’s a flurry of final preparations. Equipment is tested, final location scouts are conducted, and contingency plans are drafted. It’s a period of heightened activity, ensuring that when the director yells “action”, everything unfolds seamlessly.

acting auditions during film production

Final Thoughts on the Pre-Production Definition

In conclusion, the importance of pre-production in filmmaking cannot be overstated. It’s the stage that sets the foundation for your entire project, guiding the creative vision and ensuring everyone involved understands their role and purpose.

As we’ve seen, pre-production involves a variety of essential steps, from legalities and budgets to creative planning and logistics. Each element plays a crucial role in shaping your film and ensuring its success.

You can navigate this process smoothly and effectively by adhering to best practices, such as thorough planning, clear communication, and efficient use of resources. Remember, filmmaking is not just an art form but also a discipline that requires meticulous preparation and execution.

Author

  • Neil Chase

    Neil Chase is a story and writing coach, award-winning screenwriter, actor, and author of the horror-western novel, Iron Dogs.  Neil has won over 100 international awards for his writing and filmmaking, including the prestigious FilmMaker’s International Screenwriting Grand Prize Award & the ScreamFest Best Screenplay Award. His directorial-debut feature film, Spin The Wheel, is currently in post-production. Neil believes that all writers have the potential to create great work. His passion is helping writers find their voice and develop their skills so that they can create stories that are both entertaining and meaningful. If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, check out his website for tips and inspiration!

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