Planning Ahead

The Importance of Pre-Production

It’s a brilliant idea and sure to be a cinematic masterpiece. You can’t wait to start shooting and allow all those stunning ideas to unfold for the camera. Great! But first, take a moment to slow down and let’s do a little planning, you and I.

Creating a story is a wonderful experience. Then, to see the concept you had unfold on the screen — be it wide or television. But most people who have a terrific idea never see it come to fruition. Why? Simple — they never complete pre-production.

Simply put, pre-production is a planning period before the start of principle photography. Unfortunately, many producers and directors rush through this phase on their way to the excitement of the shoot. It’s understandable. But it’s also deadly.

Let’s take a good look at why pre-production is so important.

First, of course, is the issue of funding — in other words, the cash. Unless you are independently wealthy (and if you are, please contact me), shooting even in video can be costly. But, the more you plan, the less you pay.

Take this scenario. Let’s say you’re in the middle of your shoot when you suddenly realize you need a 5K instrument. You call a few local rental places. One of them has the item you need and you tell them you need it by 3 p.m. today. How willing do you think they are going to be to negotiate a “reasonable” price?

Now, if you had known weeks ago that you needed a 5K, you could have called around and negotiated the price. Waiting until the last minute to find a deal is like handing someone your wallet and begging them for mercy. Maybe you’ll get it; maybe you won’t.

Planning pays off in all areas. Trying to find the right crew people? Wait to the last minute and you’ll be using your cousin Freddy, the one that flunked third grade as a gaffer. Casting is a lot fun when done on the spur of the moment. That’s when we see those films where all the parts are played by 20 year olds (your friends, your roommate and your roommate’s friends). Even in the part of the kindly retired judge. It’s like watching a high school play. Good people make plans in advance. If you want/need good people for your production, make plans now.

That means pre-production.

How much time should you invest in planning? The rule is twice the amount of time you’ll need to shoot. So, if you’re doing a feature film and will be shooting for six weeks, three months of pre-production is about right. If you are creating a short piece and plan to spend two days shooting it, four days of planning will do it.

Now, that’s not starting four days in advance and making a few notes. That means if it will take you twenty hours to shoot, you will need forty hours to plan. That’s four, ten-hour days.

And if that seems excessive to you, it’s because you’re not planning enough.

Sharon Wyly

Sharon Wyly is a line producer/UPM based in Orlando, Florida, with over 10 years of experience in low budget independent features.

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