In this installment of the Industry Newbie series, I’m going to discuss some of the pre-production steps you need to know in order to get your project off to a good start. If you’ve gotten to this point, you know the type and budget range of the project you want to create, you have a script, and you have your key crew. If you need a refresher on any of these, go to my Author page on the site to pull up my discussions on these topics.
You’ve Got Your Script. Now What?
Each time you get your project closer to reality, that is huge!!! So, if you’ve made it through the first several steps of creating your own work and now have a script that you are ready to produce, guess what? It’s time for another celebration! Take a moment or a day or a week to congratulate yourself, sincerely, on making it this far. After and only after you’ve done that, move on to pre-production. In this phase, you will be planning all the details of the shoot itself. Pre-production can feel overwhelming because there is so much to do. I recommend working in approximately this order:
- Find Your Locations
It is important to do this first because typically you will only have a few location options that can work, and you will have to work the project’s schedule around the availability of this resource. In addition, the types of locations you use may drive the types of shots you can do, for example based on the space and lighting. Getting your locations confirmed is crucial and is extremely important to finalize early on.
- Set Your Schedule
Based on the locations’ availability and the schedules of your key cast and crew, you will determine not only your shoot dates but also your shooting schedule. For example, if you have the living room set for Days 1 and 2, and the office set for Days 3 and 4, you know which scenes need to be shot on which dates. Once you know that, you know which cast members will be required for which shoot dates, you know when you need to rent equipment, you know when your crew needs to be available, you know any special transportation or parking issues you may need to address, etc.
- Begin the SAG-AFTRA Paperwork
If you plan to cast SAG-AFTRA actors in your project, you will need to complete a few stages of paperwork. To learn more, check the sagaftra.org website under Contracts & Industry Resources for the type of project that you are producing. Typically, you need to submit the initial paperwork a minimum of three or four weeks ahead of the first shoot date, so be sure to get this process started early. If you are not able to get clearance for your SAG-AFTRA actors to work before your first shoot date, they will not be allowed to work.
- Schedule Your Equipment Rental
If you will be renting equipment, be sure to schedule that rental as soon as you know your schedule. If the place you originally planned to rent from won’t have the equipment you need on the dates you need, you’ll have time to find the equipment somewhere else. Tip: Many places treat a Friday through Monday rental as one day because they are closed over the weekend. If you will be renting equipment and can shoot over the weekend, this is a great way to save money.
- Schedule Your Auditions
If you are collaborating with friends and know who will be acting in all roles, you won’t need to hold auditions. But if you do need to hold them, there are a few ways you can do it and some things you should know. This is a topic that deserves its own article, so I’ll be discussing this in a future piece. For now, just know that you should get your audition date(s) scheduled as soon as possible so everyone who needs to be there can save the date on their calendars.
- Find Your Remaining Crew
My recommendation for a skeleton on-set crew includes these roles:
Director – The person with the vision of what the project will be who oversees that this vision is carried out on set.
Director of Photography (DP) – The person who knows what to do with the camera and the lights to achieve the director’s vision. In a skeleton crew, this person typically also runs the camera.
Gaffer (Lights) – The person who is familiar with the lighting equipment and can set it up per the DP’s instruction.
Script Supervisor – The person who makes sure that the entire script gets shot, who ensures that there are no continuity issues across multiple takes of the same scene (which are sometimes spread across multiple days), who marks down which takes are good and which are bad (this is invaluable for your editor!), and generally makes sure that nothing gets left out and that everything gets shot the way it was planned. A script supervisor can make or break the efficiency of both your on-set and post-production days. I cannot emphasize enough the value of having a good script supervisor on your set.
Sound Mixer/Location Sound – The person who records the sound. This too is a critical role because having bad sound can significantly hamper the quality of your final product.
If you have friends who can fill the additional below roles, I would recommend inviting them:
Production Assistant – The person who helps out on set with anything that needs to get done. This is typically a floater role, someone who can be a second or third pair of hands when extra help is needed, or who can run an errand or do a task that needs to be done while everyone else is focused on their primary roles.
Still Photographer – The person who takes still photos of everything that is going on on set throughout the shoot. Behind-the-scenes (BTS) photos are very helpful for publicizing and marketing your project, so this is a great bonus role if you have a friend who can help.
These are some of the key items you will need to plan before your shoot. I will discuss some additional pre-production steps in the next installment of the Industry Newbie series.