I just finished a video project for a DVD. I was contacted less than a week in advance of the shooting date, with the expectation that I could have the video edited over the weekend so we could make a hundred DVDs, ready to distribute less than a week after the shoot. We pulled it off.
First, make your movie in your head.
A successful video or film shoot can be best assured, with a well-developed script or story in hand, by thoughtful pre-production. With a vision of the finished project, envisioned as if onscreen, you gather and coordinate every element you need to execute your story before photography takes place. The more you can do ahead of filming, the better.
In pre-production you put together a kit, as if preparing to assemble a model. Gather and inventory all the elements. When it’s time for actual assembly—principal photography—you have all the pieces and players you need and can focus on what counts most at that point: directing the actors and telling the story.
Surprises always crop up, in conflict with or just different from your vision. The location changes, a last-minute change in casting, loss of a key prop. Suggestion for an improvement from client, cast, or crew. They can derail you—or you can capitalize on them, often improving interpretation of your original vision. Don’t lock in to your vision—consider it your point of departure, and stay open for happy improvements.
If you’ve diligently assembled your ‘kit,’ you’re infinitely better prepared to roll with the changes. Often, you’ll step back, mull the changes, shuffle your elements, adjust the storyboard, and continue shooting.
Elements of Pre-Production
Script/Story. Be able to express your story or message clearly, as well as the purpose—the reason you’re making this film. The only failures I’ve experienced were when a client refused to develop or follow a script or even an outline, insisting, “Hey, I do this presentation all the time!” A taped presentation is completely different. It doesn’t have the give and take; doesn’t allow you to ‘dance’ with the audience. Sloppiness that’s vaguely irritating in a live presentation becomes quickly distracting and intolerable in a recording.
Audience. An essential element: Clearly define and have a clear picture of your intended audience. Assure that your story will resonate with them in all aspects. How do you want them to feel, what action do you want them to take, after watching your story? How will you provide additional tools, in case of a commercial, for them to take action? Telephone number, Web site?
Casting. Actors are the key ingredients in the tasty dish you’re preparing. Select them carefully. This is not a time for returning favors or playing politics. It’s no favor to miscast your favorite actor in a role that isn’t right for them—or for you. Or for your client or backers, the rest of the cast, the crew, or your career. Everything must support The Story. A good actor will bring delicious elements to the character, to the story, that you may never have imagined.
Crew. Get the best folks possible; they, like good actors, will contribute unexpected gems to your production.
Post-production. Before you record a foot of tape or film, or structure those ones and zeros on a Flash card or hard drive, organize the editing and post-production and test the process. A tiny, seemingly insignificant tweak early in the process, before you shoot anything, can make enormous changes in efficacy, efficiency and cost of post-production.
Catering/Craft Services. An army travels on its stomach. So does a movie set. Often the largest item in the budget of no-budget indies, providing a selection of decent food tells cast and crew that you care about them. Often, they’ll walk up to the table, peruse it, and walk away. The fact that it’s there, that you’re taking care of them, may be enough.
Equipment. Your intended application, distribution, budget and audience, with extensive advice, will help determine your required equipment. Get every bit of it lined up, reserved, in advance.
With good pre-production, you have a solid but flexible foundation. Changes of any kind may be more easily and creatively assimilated. Arrange all your elements of production ahead of time, and enjoy a stimulating, rewarding production, instead of a horror story. Pre-production is gold.
Bill Murray of Bluescooter Productions in Woodinville, Washington, is a director, producer and production wildcard with extensive experience and proficiency in all phases of production. He is a storyteller in multiple media—written, advertising and commercial still photography, marketing, corporate and industrial video, and feature film, from low-budget indie to Disney. For more information, contact 206-264-5454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.