The Monster & Bear Guide to Pre-production

For clients who are new to the world of video production, and what goes into producing a high quality piece of work, it can be a little surprising how much planning is involved. So we thought we’d break down some of the key aspects of pre-production to help with the smooth sailing of your project once on set.

Production Design / Art Direction

The overall look and feel of a piece need to be established early on in the production process, to determine the extent of the more time-consuming processes, which can include:

1. Prop sourcing
2. Costume Design
3. Set construction, and
4. Location selection

Making creative decisions around the art direction of a piece can dictate the overall length of time required in pre-production, thus dictating the Production Schedule.

What is a Production Schedule?

A production schedule outlines the, often simultaneous, duties of multiple departments in the lead up to a shoot. It also outlines key milestones and deadlines so that all involved know what is required of them, and when, in order to keep a shoot on track.

Managing Locations

Another huge part of the pre-production process is arranging the permits for filming on a location. Someone from the production house would ideally have the time to scout, or “reccie”, a location to ensure that it is production-friendly, safe, and aesthetically pleasing for the shoot to take place in.

In a lot of instances, clients will bring some location options to the production house, but it’s important that the production company approves the location with a number of factors in mind:

 1. Are we required to record audio at the location? If so, is there any sound pollution occurring? (I.e. Traffic, construction, dogs, crowds).

2. Is there enough space to place the appropriate equipment whilst achieving the desired look? (Note: It’s often underestimated exactly how much space film equipment takes up)

3. The location looks great by eye, will it look great in frame? A quick assessment for the colours and textures that will be visible in the frames and angles it is shot in is best done by the project’s DoP or someone with camera know-how.

4. Is there a natural light in the space? This is not always a good thing for a film crew, especially when continuity or long takes are concerned. Controllable light vs. uncontrollable light needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

5. Do I need a permit to be here? In all cases, we are required to have a Location Deed or Release signed by a figure of authority on a location. Sometimes, however, an official permit by a council or private/government body may also be required, and can often takes weeks of back-and-forth to obtain.

Talent 

The coordination of talent, and the casting that may be required, is another process that can wildly vary. You might be working with some on-screen talent as a part of an interview-driven video (whereby that person is actually being themselves on screen), or you may be working with someone acting as someone else, which is when they technically become an actor. The contracting obligations are very different between the two.

Interviewees or “real people”?

When it comes to working with people who may not have had much experience on camera, there are things we can do to make them feel more comfortable on screen. But we may also want to allow more time on set to achieve desired results to allow a director to work closely with them and to make them feel more comfortable.

From a production perspective, it’s still imperative that “real people” sign a Release Form which fully outlines the nature of the material that they are being filmed for, and where the material may be used in the future, either in perpetuity or for a specified period of time.

Actors

Actors can work with a production house as independents or represented by a talent agency. It is the production company’s job to ensure that all necessary paperwork is filled out by the talent, to ensure that their image can be used by the client as per a supplied brief or direction from the client.

When actors work through an agency, a production house deals almost solely with that agency to negotiate a fee for that talent for the purposes and platforms required. It’s important to note that while there are no hard and fast rules as to the fees a working actor should be paid, there are some things to consider here:

1. An actor is paid for their image, not just their time. Remember, depending on how featured an actor is in a piece of material, that performer is signing away their image to be associated with a product or film. If that film is then utilised to the gain of a company or brand in order to financially benefit, it is their image that a fee dictates, not necessarily the amount of time spent on set – though it’s often a combination of the two.

2. You can’t own an actor’s image forever. It is not common practice to get performers to sign commercial contracts that sign away their image to a brand for more than a period of 2 years. In predetermined contracts to talent, a “rollover” fee will have been discussed and outlined in a signed contract. This means that, if a company or brand chooses to do so, extending periods of usage will require a further payment to the performer.

Shot Listing

When it comes to generating a shot list for a shoot, this is the job of the Director, or sometimes the Director and DoP combined. This is often not the friendliest looking of documents and is not necessarily something shown to the client. However, it provides a great starting point, once complete, to show the First Assistant Director, who will then use this to create a Shooting Schedule.

Note: It is very common to shoot a production out of sequence in order to make the most time and cost effective shooting schedule.

Shoot Scheduling

The scheduling of a shoot is a very intricate and finicky thing which requires highly specialised eyes; someone with a very complex understanding of film production, and how departments work together as a machine.

For instance, it can often be underestimated the length of time that hair and makeup can take on talent. As an example, it might be possible to commence a shoot with one talent (maybe a male who’s makeup can be done in a shorter period of time) because they have a shot requirement on their own. This way, production can hit the ground running while other talents get their hair and makeup done to join later shots. This is just one of many puzzles that may arise for a 1st Assistant Director when scheduling.

If your production company is insisting that a very qualified 1st AD be involved, it’s important to remember that this team member can quite often save a production a high level of cost as a result of keeping things efficient.