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Behind the Scenes: Pre-Production

It’s a corporate shoot and we’re sitting down for the first pre-production meeting. You’re the CEO, and you realize how important video is to your branding, but it’s the first time you’ve contracted out a video production. We sit down at the first planning session and have a casual conversation about who you are, how your business got to where it is today, and what’s unique about your company. Over the next half hour, I look at some of the company history, maybe take a little walking tour, snap a few iPhone images, see some of the cool things you’re working on, and perhaps meet a couple of people inside your circle of influence. You might even have some script ideas you’ve put together. The chemistry seems good. So where does it go from here?

The first order of business is to take care of some paperwork. You're ready to put down some money to begin the production process, we sign a contract that spells out the work to be done, production costs, and each of our responsibilities, then get to work.

Your video is now in pre-production. It’s a critical stage where a lot of the concept design takes place. Lots of things start happening at once. Our paper notes from the day get scanned into the computer. Perhaps some emailed dialog ideas and .jpeg’s, etc., show up too. Research might be part of the package, the general concept of a script gets firmed up into something that looks like a story. Some footage, like documentary style interviews and scenes without dialog don’t require a script, but everything else does. Even a one minute film has dialog we need to write so we’re sure we get everything we need on video during the shoot day. A storyboard with illustrations of the different scenes is created, and we make detailed notes about the individual shots required. This shot list becomes the bible of how we’re going to build together the finished production. Once the concept starts to take shape, it’s time for location scouting to identify possible shooting locations, and start to pin down little things that might cause big problems if they were overlooked, like parking access, aircraft or industrial noise issues, limited electricity or owner permissions.

Meanwhile, the Director and First Assistant Director or 1st AD are making the script breakdown. is to be organized. Let’s say the script reads “Enough!,” Angie slams her fist down on the tabletop, breaking in two and sending the drugs and beer bottles flying. The scene changes from past (black & white) to present (color) and we see Angie for the first time in her black belt karate instructor’s outfit.

Details? Sure. That one word of dialog needs:

Costume (karate instructor’s uniform)

Props (blue Spree-tarts in prescription bottle, beer bottles without trademarks,breakable table.

Special Equipment (slow motion camera)

And more. The 1st AD typically goes through the whole script with a highlighter pen, and comes up with a comprehensive list of what’s needed for each scene. It rarely makes sense to shoot the scenes in chronological sequence, so call sheets need to be made for each shoot day so we’ve got food for the crew, hair and makeup, people where the need to be, continuity in props, wardrobe changes, and the right camera gear in place for each location.

And all that’s got to be figured out before the first frame of principal photography is shot!

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