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Arts & Entertainment

Guide to Preproduction in Film: 7 Elements of Preproduction

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 23, 2020 • 3 min read

There are five stages of film production necessary for shooting a feature film. Preproduction is the process of gathering everything you need before actual production starts and is an essential phase of the filmmaking process.

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What Is Preproduction?

Preproduction comes early in the filmmaking process, after development and before production. It involves finalizing the script, hiring the actors and crew, finding locations, determining what equipment you’ll need, and figuring out the budget. Preproduction is the planning stage of a film, where you solidify all the details of your project before producing content.

Why Is Preproduction Important in Filmmaking?

The preproduction phase in filmmaking allows you to organize everything you need before you start rolling the cameras. Preproduction is when you figure out what you need to make your film, how much it’s going to cost, and who you can hire to help you. Effective preproduction can help you save time and money (the two most limited resources in filmmaking) when shooting your project. An outlined budget means you are less likely to waste resources (or run out of money), which can derail an entire project. Detailing the schedule is also integral to a smooth production process, as it gives the crew a set idea of where time should be allocated for an efficient shoot.

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7 Elements of the Preproduction Process in Film

The stages of preproduction vary depending on the type of project you’re filming (for instance, a 10-minute short film will have a significantly shorter and less involved preproduction period than a 90-minute movie). However, for most film production, the preproduction process follows similar steps:

  1. Script breakdown: After a project is greenlit, you’ll need to finalize your shooting script. Once the script is locked, the first AD will comb through the screenplay and create a breakdown of all your times of day, locations, characters, stunts, extras, special effects, props, vehicles, animals, sound effects, music cues, and costumes—everything that is significant on a logistical level. The more prepared you are, the fewer surprises you’ll encounter during shooting or postproduction.
  2. Budget: Once you know the logistical elements to prepare for, you’ll have to figure out how much it will cost. Whether you have a low budget or a high budget, now is the time to determine how you can achieve the vision of the film with the resources you have. Research the costs of everything you’ll need to figure out which funds to allocate where.
  3. Schedule: Your production schedule (or shooting schedule) will help you figure out which scenes you shoot when, where you shoot them, and how many you shoot per day. Time is a valuable resource, especially if you have to deal with elements like daylight or weather.
  4. Crew: Assemble your crew members and valuable department heads. You’ll want to hire a director, a first assistant director, a production manager, a cinematographer (known as the director of photography), a casting director, a production designer, and a costume designer. As preproduction moves along, these departments will expand, filling out your crew.
  5. Planning: Each department works with the line producer to break down what they need to properly execute the director's vision. The planning stage also includes location scouting and securing permits, creating a shot list and storyboard, and figuring out props and equipment. Once you establish those needs, the line producer (or production manager) will check and revise the budget to make sure everything fits within the established parameters. You may want to remove some settings or props—or even rewrite scenes—to fit within your budget.
  6. Talent: The casting director auditions talent for all the roles according to your script breakdown and director’s notes.
  7. Rehearsal: At the end of the preproduction phase and before your film shoot begins, you’ll likely want to rehearse with the cast, figuring out the emotional and physical logistics of each scene. Meanwhile, your department heads will be heading into their final prepping stages, working with the production coordinator to ensure that all the pieces are in place. When everything is ready, it’s time to send out call sheets to the whole cast and crew, which outline the schedule for every shoot day during filming as the production phase begins.

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