Category Archives: Pre-Production

Testing, Testing, and more Testing.

TESTING is one of the most over-looked, but under rated tasks that is executed by a director or producer. Testing is done in pre-production and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The purpose is to gather your creative team with your talent and test how the different visual creative elements look on camera. This includes costumes, make-up, hair, production design and even rehearsal. This process is absolutely essential and beneficial for a number of reasons.

1. Gives your creative team an opportunity to make sure their vision looks the way they want it to look on camera. Often times creative problems will arise and you don’t want to be sorting out these sort of issues during production. This is fairly obvious.

2. Allows your actor(s) to interact with the artists and build a good rapport with them before production. This is extremely important as you do not unseen personality clashes to occur during production.

3. Allows your director to make sure his creative team is on the same page as him/her.

3. Be sure to take pictures of hair, make-up and costumes especially after the actor and director has approved of them. As a producer, this protects you if creative disputes arise during production. For example, if you’re on set ready to shoot, and the director is happy with an actor’s make-up but the actor is not, you can use the previously taken photo, which was approved by the unhappy actor, to help you deal with the actor.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time – at least one month – before shooting starts in order to allow your creative team to test with the talent.

What is a Unit Production Manager?

A unit production manager, better known as the UPM, is crucial to a smooth running film set. The role is very similar to that of a line producer, and a lot of times, the two terms can mean the same role, which is to manage the cost of production. A UPM will help the producer and director derive the budget, but once the budget has been created, it is the UPM’s job to make sure that the production stays on budget. During pre-production, the producer will usually deal with hiring the above the line talent, the direct will look after hiring the key heads that work below the line  (cinematographer, editor, production designer etc), but the UPM will usually look after hiring the other below the line crew members. The UPM will also work with the first AD in securing equipment and locations. During production, the UPM is in charge of managing below the line crew members, approving expenditures, approving call sheets, and maintaining the schedule. The UPM’s are represented by the Director’s Guild of America.

What is “Pre-Production”?

This is the second phase of the film making process. You engage in this phase once you have secured financing for your film. The main objective of this task is to assemble your team, and secure your locations. The first thing you want to do is hire your director. This is crucial. Your director will basically be the man in charge of all creative decisions in your film. You want to find someone who is capable, likable, and shares the same vision as you. Once you find your director, you need to hire your casting director. Have him/her start searching for and narrowing down the actors to approximately 5-10 for each major role. While your casting director is doing that you will assemble your crew. Of course, every crew member is important, but if you had to narrow your crew down to the top five most important people, most directors would say: DP, Production Designer, Editor, Script Supervisor, and First AD. Once you have secured those people then start recruiting the rest of your team. After this is done, you are going to work with your director, production designer and first AD to scout for locations. After securing locations, you will work with the first AD and the director to develop a shooting schedule. Once you know how many days your actors and crew members will be working, and how long you will be spending at each location, you can start building your budget. You should have already started working on your preliminary budget during the development phase in order to secure financing, but now that you have more details ironed out, you can start fine tuning your budget. During this time, as a producer, you are also working with your UPM to get permits and sort out all legalities involved in shooting at certain locations. Your production designer is preparing all the set designs, art work, and props. Your DP and director are working on shot lists, determining the visual tone of the film, and sorting out all the angles needed for thorough coverage. After your casting director has narrowed down the field to 5-10 actors for each major role, the director – and sometimes the producer – will watch the tape of all the actors and see if there is anyone that can be cut just from watching tape. Then the casting director will call in all the remaining actors to read for the director. The director ultimately chooses which actor will be chose for each role. Some times the director will narrow it down to 2-3 candidates for each role and have them do chemistry testing. Finding the right actors can be a long and daunting task, but having a great performances in your film is arguably the most important aspect next to the story. Once all this is achieved, you are ready to move into production and push “record”!

Story vs Plot

What’s the difference between the two?

“Story” is what your film is about. “Plot” is what happens in your film; two very different things. Your plot conveys your story. The first and foremost important thing you must know before you embark on producing any film or TV is story. You must understand what your movie is about. You can usually express this is 1-2 sentences. It’s very similar to a logline. However, loglines are often used as a selling tool (ie when pitching your film). Loglines meant to captivate and intrigue the person who hears it. Story is used as a practical producing tool. It’s used for creative people to gain an understanding how they are to work towards produce a film.  Often times, producers and writers focus too much on the events that happen in their film, but lose sight of what the story is about. Steven Spielberg was a master at this. He always emphasized to his crew to never lose sight of what the film was about. For example, “Schindler’s List” is about a man who wanted to make a difference; not about Nazi concentration camps. “Transformers” is about the relationship between a boy and his car; not about cars that turn into robots.

What is Tech Scouting?

This is a process carried out by the DP and his team during the pre-production process. Sometimes the director will want to be involved in this process. The objective is to determine the equipment that will be needed for a particular shoot. For example, you might need a dolly, a crane, a scaffold, car mount, steady-cam, ladders, etc.

Location Scouting – finding your setting.

This is an extremely important part of the pre-production process. This is coordinated by the location manager who works with the production designer to find the appropriate locations for all the scenes. From a producing stand point, there are many things to consider, which makes locations scouting a very strategic process. Click here to learn more these strategies.

What is a first assistant director?

More commonly known as the first AD, this person’s responsibility is to make sure everything during production is running smoothly and on time. They make sure that everyone is at the appropriate place at the appropriate time. They’re the one’s with the clip board making sure that all the scenes are shot on schedule. If shooting is falling behind schedule, they’re the ones telling the director to hurry up. They’re the one’s that tell everyone when it’s time for lunch or screaming at the top of their lungs “QUIET ON SET!!”.  During pre-production, it is usually the AD’s job to break down the script and devise a shooting schedule. The AD must be approved by the director.