The Pre-Production Process Explained

Updated

Pre-production is everything that happens before you start shooting your feature film, TV series, animation, or anything else. It helps you get organised before you dive into the production process.

Preparing for a film shoot is daunting – particularly if you didn't go to film school. But the simplest way to approach the pre-production process is to break it down into chunks. You'll be in video production heaven in no time at all!

What is Pre Production?

Pre-production is the creative and logistical process of planning the elements needed to produce a feature film, TV show, play, or any other type of creative performance. Pre-production is part of a three-step process followed by production (the actual filming or performance), and post-preduction, which mainly consists of editing, visual effects.

4 Steps in the Pre Production Process

  1. Scripting: Write your script and create a script breakdown.
  2. Legal and Budgets: Take care of the business side of production and hire your crew.
  3. Creative Planning: Work with your department heads to plan out everything needed to make your project work. Storyboard and make a shot list.
  4. Logistics: Revise your shooting schedule and budget. Work with your location scout, book gear, hire talent, and start rehearsing.

Read on to get an in-depth guide to each step in the pre production process.

Scripting

1. Write the script

The first step in successful film production is getting your script ready. Not sure how to tackle the screenwriting process? We've got you covered with our handy guide: How to write a script.

2. Create a script breakdown

Now that your script's sorted, it's time to dive into the meat of the pre-production process. At this production stage, you need to go through your entire script and pick out everything – location, character, costume, sound effect, prop, visual effect, extras – that's seen or heard in the film.

It's important that you get every last bit. If not, your list of things to prepare for the shoot or post-production will be missing some crucial elements.


3. Form a company

Every production is basically a business. So before you start putting out casting calls, you need to decide what kind of business you are. Some people produce the film with an existing production company. Other people create a new corporate identity for the production.

Once you've sorted out your business entity, you can do all the important stuff: open a bank account, deposit production funds, and start building your production team. Maybe make some business cards if you're feeling fancy.

4. Make a budget

It's time to work out how much money you're going to spend on this thing – and that's where your script breakdown comes in handy. You'll use it to create three different budgets:

  • Dream budget Imagine money's no object. Who would you cast as your lead? Who'd be in your film crew? Where would you shoot the film? Figure out how much it would cost for all your perfect locations, characters, props, and everything else in your script breakdown. Then write that figure down.

  • Restrained budget Do the same thing but rein it in a bit. Maybe pick Vinnie Jones as your lead rather than Dwayne Johnson. Shoot in Bradford rather than Barbados. Ditch the scene with the helicopter. Write that figure down.

  • Shoestring budget Finally, think about the cheapest way you could achieve your filmmaking goals. Casting your mates. Shooting it in your grandparents' garage. Borrowing your mum's car for the high-speed chase. This figure should be a bit smaller.

5. Create a production schedule

If you've got the resources, you might want to bring a line producer on board to prepare a preliminary production schedule. It's mostly dictated by your shooting schedule, so you'll need to go through your shooting script to figure out how many scenes you can shoot each day. Most productions try to shoot five pages a day, which is about five minutes of screen time.

6. Assemble a crew

Now that you've got a rough budget and schedule together, you're in a good position to put together a film crew. For starters, you'll probably want to lock in your director, assistant director, and production manager.

Then you'll need to secure your department heads. Depending on the size and budget of your production, your list will include some of the following:

  • casting director
  • cinematographer
  • costume designer
  • director of photography
  • editor
  • gaffer
  • production coordinator
  • production designer
  • production sound mixer
  • art director
  • lead makeup artist

You can start taking some work off your plate by delegating to the relevant people. Let your director know that they can start making creative decisions with department heads. And make sure your production manager has access to the bank account so that you don't have to sign everything off.


Creative planning

7. Start creative planning

Once you've recruited your department heads, your director will start the creative planning. The goal of this stage is for the departments to figure out what they'll need to fulfil the director's vision. They'll meet regularly and tell the line producer what they need so the budget can be adjusted.

This is the time for the line producer or production manager to ask big questions and identify any risks. Like whether the production designer needs extra time to build a tricky set. Or if the cinematographer needs specific equipment to create mindblowing special effects for a certain shot.

8. Create a storyboard

As you start thinking about your shot list, you might find it helpful to create a detailed storyboard, too. Not sure what a storyboard is? We've got a tonne of examples featuring loads of different storyboard artists – and a free storyboard template.

Essentially, storyboarding is when you (and your director, DP, and creative team) map out each scene in pictures. It's a way of being able to visualise your film before shooting starts. Which should mean you make fewer mistakes – and save more money – later on.

At this point, we should say that Boords is the world's finest online storyboarding app. It'll help you simplify the filmmaking process with storyboards, scripts, and animatics – then gather feedback – all in one place. Peachy! Try Boords Free

9. Make a shot list

It’s easy to get lost during a shoot, even with a small team. If you’ve got lots of settings, multiple actors, and a large crew, then things only get more complicated.

A shot list keeps a project on track. Before filming, it helps directors to collect their thoughts and build a shooting schedule. During filming, a solid camera shot list means different departments can work independently from each other. It also makes it easy to keep going if a crew member’s sick one day, or has to leave the shoot.

Not sure how to make a shot list? Read our handy guide.


Logistics

10. Revise the budget and shooting schedule

Now that the pre-production process is a little further along, your line producer or production manager will have more information to tweak your budget and schedule. This stage of the video production process can be a bit sticky if your director or department heads have larger cinematography goals than your finances can handle.

The whole team needs to pull together to help the line producer or UPM strike a balance between your creative, financial and logistical goals. It's also important to consider the emotional wellbeing of your talent and crew when finalising the shooting schedule. You need to get the work done within the budget, but you don't want people to burn out.

11. Book the gear and locations

You're going to need a lot of stuff to make your cinematic masterpiece: equipment, rentals, props, building supplies, costume designer. This is mostly a job for department heads and your line producer or production manager. It's also when your location manager starts location scouting. It's happening!

12. Hire your production crew and talent

As things start hotting up, your departments will begin to build their crews. It's also time for your casting director to put out some casting calls and find the hottest talent. You'll sign union agreements and contracts so you can bring union members onboard – which will keep your production coordinator nice and busy with paperwork. Lucky person.

After this stage is complete, you should have all the things you need to make your movie: cast, crew, production staff, locations, and any special gear.

13. Start rehearsing and prepping

As you near the end of the pre-production process, there's lots to do. Your director will start rehearsing with your new cast. Your department heads will get their departments in order. The line producer, production manager, production coordinator and assistant directors will cook up a final production plan.

Once the budget and schedule are set, the cast and crew lists are updated, and the call sheets are prepped, you'll be ready to shoot. Action!

14. Send out your call sheets

A call sheet is a vital production document that contains all the information you need for your shoot. If it's detailed and well written, you're destined for success. If it's missing crucial ingredients, then you're going to have a problem.

Your call sheet lets your talent and crew know when they to be on the set and the schedule for each day. Lucky for you, we’ve got a free call sheet template that sets out exactly what information you need to include on your call sheet, down to the smallest details.


Boords: the perfect pre-production partner

Boords is the storyboarding app for creative professionals. Simplify your pre-production process with storyboards, scripts, and animatics – then gather feedback – all in one place. Creating storyboards has never been simpler.

Thanks to KitSplit and StudioBinder for their helpful posts on pre-production.

Read Next
How to Storyboard a Short Film
Storyboarding's a way to visualise the storyline of your short film, breaking down every last bit of action into individual storyboard panels.
How to Write a Logline
Before you start work on your Hollywood-busting screenplay, you'll need a logline. It's a one-sentence summary of your movie that entices someone to read the entire script.
How to Storyboard with Google Slides
Google Slides is an online tool for creating and formatting presentations. It's incredibly versatile, and is the perfect partner for planning your next film or video project.

Create and share storyboards online. Trusted by 150,000+ creatives.

Our secure web-based storyboarding software helps you go from idea to storyboard in seconds.