Pre-Production is your make it or break it moment. Without proper planning, your film could go all wrong. These 4 tips can help you make the film you’ve been imagining in your head.

Pre-production is one of the most important steps in your film. Plan for every situation
Pre-production is one of the most important steps in your film. Plan for every situation.
Photo by David Sager on Unsplash

1. Break Down your Film’s Script

Take your script and break it down page-by-page. You need to know the script inside and out for your film to be successful. Plan to spend a bit of time on this during pre-production. It’s important to know exactly how to piece together the film.

Highlight any props, costumes or actions you need to plan for. This will make filming much easier. You don’t want to get to your location only to realize you didn’t bring the props or costumes. Plan to bring back-up props and costumes, in case something breaks.

Once you’ve broken down your script, write the elements on a break-down sheet. These sheets keep track of which actors are in which scene, and exactly what they need. There’s a column for stunts, hair, audio, etc. It’s a pre-production nightmare, but a film savior. The sheet gets passed along from filming to editing to ensure they miss nothing. It will be easier to avoid continuity mistakes if all the elements in your film are on a sheet right in front of you. Plan to have multiple copies.

2. Fill Out Releases and Contracts Before you Film

Imagine you’re half-way through filming and one of your actors quits. Now, you have to start over and find someone new. All of that hard work goes down the drain. That’s why you need your cast and crew to fill out contracts before you ever film. Having a contract in place protects you and your film. It also protects you in case any actor decides they don’t want their face in your film. Your contract needs to state that you own all rights to your footage, not them. Plan for the worst.

Permits are also important. Before you film on private property, you need to have a permit filled out with a signature from the owner. Police can easily kick you off property and confiscate any footage you filmed on location. Pre-production can save you the headache. Get your permits filled out, and plan on carrying them at all times.

3. Learn your Equipment in Pre-Production

I’ve been on a set where everyone showed up bright and early, ready for the first day of filming. Only to have the crew spend hours learning how to use the new camera. That’s a waste of time. No one even planned on learning the equipment beforehand. It showed in our final film, with grainy, off-colored footage.

Plan a day during pre-production to teach your crew how to work the equipment. This saves time and ensures that your crew knows what they’re doing on the film set. You should also use pre-production to train your crew in editing software, and to have your actors run through their scenes.

Plan to teach every piece of equipment, no matter how easy it is. It could make a difference in your film. Go over cameras, lighting, audio, etc. This piece of pre-production is often overlooked in short films, and can lead to a rough final product. Don’t assume everyone on set knows the same information as you. Plan to teach your crew everything, regardless of how easy the equipment is to learn. Not only does it provide training for your film, it bonds everyone together during the pre-production process.

Never skip pre-production. Plan for everything. It will only help on the set of your film.
Never skip pre-production. Plan for everything. It will only help on the set of your film.
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

4. Create your Film’s Shot List

Shot lists have to be created during pre-production. It breaks down every shot you need to film. Sometimes, in the rush of filming, the shot list becomes the most important element. Plan to make a few copies. Directors resort to it, to make sure they have everything they need. A basic shot list is broken down into five important pieces of information.

  1. The scene number. This column just needs a number. Scene 1, or scene 12, etc.
  2. The shot number. Are you filming the first shot or the last in the scene? Plan how many shots will be in each scene during pre-production.
  3. The size of the shot. There are many shot sizes, but I will provide the basic three you will see in every film. Close-up. Medium Shot. Long Shot. It’s the same as very close, somewhat close, and far away. The size of your shot determines how close the camera will be to your subject.
  4. Shot Description. What needs to happen in this shot? Give a very brief description of what you plan to film. Figure out what will take place in each shot during pre-production.
  5. Camera movement. If you plan on moving your camera during the shot, your crew needs to plan for that. The camera operators will need special equipment and the actors will need to know where the camera will be. Figure out the logistics during pre-production.

Your film’s shot list might look something like this:

Scene #Shot #Shot TypeCamera MovementDescription
11LS- Long ShotSlow Zoom InWe zoom into the Miller’s yard, to Molly laying on the grass.
12CU- Close-UpNoneWe catch Molly’s annoyed expression as a fly buzzes past.

Pre-production is the time to plan. Plan for every situation. You never know what’s going to happen on your film set. You should make a pre-production book with your shot list, locations, contact information, etc. Something easy to access. Your film deserves the best. Pre-production is the time to plan for the best.

Many people say pre-production is the most important step of a film. It’s true. This is when you make the decisions that will affect your film. Choose wisely. A lot of times, filming gets rushed and people forget to watch out for the details. Plan for that.

You can’t let the integrity of your film be compromised because of unforeseen situations. You should have planned for those situations during pre-production. Trust me when I say, never skip pre-production. Any extra planning will go a long way.