What Goes Into Planning a Production?

Posted by William Litwa on Apr 10, 2017 4:06:38 PM

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"We already have a script," you say! "We just need someone to film it!" Oh, ho ho. If only pre-production started and stopped at having great ideas, we'd be rich by now (at least that's what we'd like to believe). The truth is, planning out a shoot—called "pre-production" in the biz—is a long and complex process involving many hours of work. If you're looking for us to work on a video campaign with you, this should give you an idea as to what to expect.

1. Idea Generation

Generating ideas is hard, but it's really the easiest and most straight-forward step in this process. But it's not just "cool ideas" we try to think of, we work to come up with ideas that will speak to your demographic and give you a very real ROI.

Typical Time Spent: 1-8 days

2. Script Writing

The first part of script writing is usually writing an outline of dialogue and broad brush strokes of what happens in the video. After we all agree we're on the right track, we typically break this down into what's called an "A/V script." This puts what happens in audio in a left column and what happens in the video in the right. This lets us break down and match up dialogue and voiceover with appropriate visuals, giving us a sense of timing and the gestalt of the two.

Typical Time Spent: 3-12 days

3. Location Scouting

Once we have a script, we'll need to find out where we're shooting. "Generic office" doesn't usually cut it—we'll want to know where the windows are (if any), where the doorways are, whether the desk faces left or right, etc. All of these things will matter for building out the next step: Shot lists.

Typical Time Spent: 2-7 days to search, 1/2 day to scout the final location(s)

pages.jpg4. Shot Lists

Or, if we're just filming a single day, "list"—singular. It's very rare that we film a video in the order it happens in the script. That's usually because it would be a huge waste of time. We typically group shots by location—front yard first, then the dining room, living room, etc. This cuts down on time spent lugging equipment to and fro and setting up similar lighting over and over again. We may also group shots by actors so we only have certain actors on set for one or two days.

Typical Time Spent: 1/2 day

5. Casting

Once we have a shot list, we'll be clear about who we need in which shots and what days we'll need them. We'll then put out a talent pull for each actor. Once we get headshots back, we'll either choose directly or hold casting sessions depending on the budget and timeline of the project.

Typical Time Spent: 1-2 weeks

20170317-ursa-mini.00_16_23_15.Still001.jpg6. Props

Want to inject someone with a needle on set? Good luck finding an actor that's willing. But even if you could, we'll probably need to film the same shot from multiple angles. Which means we either need to magically fit multiple camera crews in a single small room and pray they're all wizards and can get it right on the first go... or we can just buy a prop needle that doesn't actually puncture the skin. Sometimes props are as quick as shopping on Amazon. Sometimes, such as in the case of needing a fake needle, they're special order.

Typical Time Spent: 1-2 hrs

IMG_2522.jpg7. Costume/Wardrobe

Costume for commercial video production is usually pretty straightforward. It's often a clothing consultation with the actor, or a trip to the mall. Or sometimes it's placing an order for scrubs and doctor's coats.

Typical Time Spent: 1/2 day

8. Crew

Of course if there's no one there to film anything, all the above work is moot. Like every other production company, we don't keep a huge roster of crew on staff. If we did, we'd have to charge you way more than you'd be willing to pay. Instead, we work with a large pool of talented freelancers like DPs, Gaffers, Grips, PAs, Audio Engineers, Hair/Makeup, etc. And if you know what more than 50% of those are, go you! You've clearly done this before.

Typical Time Spent: 3-6 hrs

9. Equipment

We have a wide array of equipment and, for smaller shoots, chances are we may not rent anything. But even if we're just filming a simple group shot in an office lobby, like in the header image above, we still need to create an inventory of what we'll need, and it isn't a small inventory. There's the camera, lenses, matte box, monitors, tripod, dolly, straps, various memory cards, cabling, various batteries, c-stands, light stands, lights, gaffer's tape, gels, barn doors, stingers (that's "extension cords" in filmmaker speak), flags, blackout (fabric to block the windows where needed), a-clamps, boom pole, shotgun microphone, audio mixer, headphones, sandbags, a slate, gloves (the lights get hot), and snacks. And I'm sure I'm forgetting things.

Typical Time Spent: 2-4 hrs

10. Scheduling

Ok, really "scheduling" happens throughout pre-production. But it deserves its own paragraph. Not only do we have to make all of the above work together, we have to make it all work together on the same day. Cast, crew, equipment rentals, wardrobe, props, location fees, it all has to come together like an intricate puzzle. And every production is a puzzle you've never put together before.

Typical Time Spent: hahahahaha

But seriously...

(No, seriously..) Pre-production is a huge chunk of what we do. Not every project needs weeks worth of pre-production, but we do typically spend at least a week to three weeks, depending on the scale of the project.

So if you have an idea, or are just starting to think about video, let us know now and we'll look at what it will take.

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Topics: production, pre-production

William Litwa

Written by William Litwa

Before joining us, William worked on a wide variety of films, including commercials, music videos, documentaries, and short fiction. He’s lived in Arkansas, California, New York, and now New Hampshire. He has an MFA in Photography from Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, CA and a BA in Studio Art / Emphasis in Photography from UALR in Little Rock, AR. He also works as a fine artist, and bases his work around concepts found in both contemporary theoretical physics and mythology, synthesizing the two fields to create experiential work.