In any film project, pre-production is crucial. It includes all pre-production brainstorming and planning. Creating a concept, exploring your film’s look, storyboarding scenes, etc. A good pre-production plan is essential for any film, short, music video, documentary, or feature.
Learn the 6 Essential Steps of Film Pre-production in This Guide
- 1. Project plan – Set up a place to plan your project
- 2. Brainstorming – Transform an initial idea into something big
- 3. Moodboard – Organize inspiration & references
- 4. Storyboard – Visualize the key parts of your film
- 5. Shot list – Plan each shot you need
- 6. Call sheet – Organize your crew & talent
1. Project Plan
Make a project planning area.
Traditionally, a project plan was spread across emails, to-do lists, spreadsheets, and documents, making it difficult to track. A central project plan centralizes these artifacts. It will change over time but usually includes:
- Mood boards and ideas
- Shooting date and location
- List of workflows
- Gear list
Transform an initial idea into something big
Every film starts with a spark. It’s time to channel your creative energy and make that idea a reality. And brainstorming is the ideal method.
Brainstorming is a time-tested creative technique that generates ideas quickly. You can use it to research your film’s topic, characters, locations, or even visual style. It’s best viewed as a way to spark our imagination. “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled,” said Plutarch.
Begin with your film’s central idea.
What is your film’s concept? This is where you begin. This process will help you see how far you can take an idea or a topic. Begin with a one- or two-sentence description of the film.
- Your initial idea doesn’t have to be groundbreaking; it will evolve over time. After all, “all good ideas start out as bad ideas, which is why it takes so long.”
- Describe your ideas.
- Now it’s time to think. Assemble a team and start jotting down ideas related to your initial Preferably with a history lesson thrown in. Fill the board with threads.
- Don’t worry about evaluating your ideas yet. Setting a timer for 5 minutes creates urgency and prevents others from judging their ideas.
- Imagery, motion, and sound
- It’s sometimes easier to convey a mood or style with an image or video. Collect reference images, videos, and sound. These can evolve into a moodboard as your film project progresses.
- Finally, categorize your ideas.
- After you’ve explored every possibility, make connections. Here’s where brainstorming works its magic!
- Begin by grouping similar thoughts to discover patterns. Make each group easy to scan by titling. Your ideas may fall into categories like characters, costumes, locations, or aesthetics, but there are no rules.
You’re done brainstorming
After your brainstorming session, your film has a solid foundation! Ideas, like creativity and inspiration, are constantly evolving. Return to the brainstorm as inspiration strikes, or use it to start your script.
Organize ideas and references
Then you imagined the film’s various scenes. Now it’s time to create a mood board. Moodboards can help you visualize any film aspect. You may want to consider the lighting or color. Or they could be about the set designs or costumes. You can make a mood board for each or combine them all. No strict rules.
Your mood board will also be a great resource for your team, from the director to the costume designer.
Gather existing content
Begin by adding any existing material, such as stills from previous shoots, client references, or inspiration images. They may not make the final mood board, but they’re a great start.
Your mood boards imagery helps you express your film’s look and feel. The image can define tone and colour.
Begin by saving visual references from the web. You can find free visual inspiration on sites like Film Grab, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t worry about organizing the images yet.
Organize your cluttered board
The next step is to arrange your ideas to create the perfect layout. Introduce composition and hierarchy first. Change the size and position of the remaining elements to indicate their importance and relationships.
Your mood board is now complete and ready for your film. Make multiple mood boards to explore different ideas at any time.
In order to plan your film, we’ll first create a storyboard.
Film key scenes in your mind.
Storyboards are a great way to visualize a film’s composition, action, and look before you start shooting. “The storyboard is the way to visualize the entire movie in advance,” said director, producer, and screenwriter Martin Scorsese.
Storyboarding is a popular career choice because it combines illustration, writing, and production. In addition to traditional sketches, modern digital tools allow you to use photography, animation, colour, and notes to highlight key characters.
Identify Key Scenes
To create a storyboard, you must first know your story. Start by breaking up the script or narrative you’ll be working from. Identify the key scenes and begin to storyboard them.
It’s time to visualize each scene. Using reference photography, illustrations, screenshots, location shoots, and even motion can help storyboard artists communicate each scene.
Describe Each Frame
While each frame is static, try to convey how it will look and feel when animated. Describe the characters’ mood and behavior. Consider the camera’s movement and how you’ll transition between scenes. Describe the sound to help your team visualize the emotion and drama.
Send it to Your Team
Invite your team to review your storyboard and provide feedback. This is a great opportunity to see how others see the story. It’s also a great time to finalize pre-production details. Adjust your frame order or content based on everyone’s input.
Now that you have a storyboard, you can visualize your film! Now let’s create a shot list to plan your production’s scenes.
5. Plan Your Shots
An unplanned shoot can be stressful and costly, especially if the shot is missed. A shot list will ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.
Unforgettable shots (or scenes) are listed on a shot list. There’s usually a shot list, visual references, and extra details like camera angles or lighting setups so nothing gets missed.
What are You Shooting?
Identify the key scenes you’ll be filming. Adding reference images or sketches will help you scan your shot list faster, even if they’re just phone photos. It’ll also help your crew envision the shots you’re planning.
Identify the Shots You Need
This is the shot list’s heart. It’s where you list each shot you need. Include camera angle, location, camera position, and shot size (how big or small the subject is in the frame).
Get a Easy Gear List
What gear will you need to shoot this? The spare battery pack is still in the studio, half way through filming. It’s easy to forget something, so make a list. Saves lives!
If you have a lot of gear, use the Film Production Equipment List template.
Use it on the day
Most people still print out their shot lists, but digital shot lists can be accessed on phones or laptops. So you can check off or adjust each shot.
Complete the shot list!
Now that your shot list is complete, you have a clear plan for the shoot.
Then we’ll create a call sheet for your team…
Organise your talent and crew
You’ve probably seen a disorganized shoot—late actors, forgotten lighting, or a set that wasn’t ready. The call sheet was missing.
An extremely useful tool for organizing your shoot is the call sheet. It tells your talent and crew what they need to know before the shoot. The location, contact information, schedule, and most importantly the arrival time.
Include the location and history.
Describe the shoot for your talent and crew. Onto that, add the shoot’s location and any other helpful information. Explain parking options, nearby public transportation, and how to enter the building.
Your Cast & Crew
Who’s in your shoot? List your talent and crew with contact info. This will save you time when plans change on the day. Add any specific arrival times so everyone knows when to expect them.
Create a Schedule
The schedule is crucial, especially the general crew call time. The crew call time is when everyone must arrive. Add the day’s major events under this so everyone knows what’s on and when. Remember lunch!
Once you have everything you need, organize your call sheet for scanning. Then send it to your team so they can start preparing. This guide should have helped you get organized during pre-production. Use the Film Pre-production Plan template below to quickly set up a new shoot.