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What Is Preproduction?
Preproduction comes early in the filmmaking process, after development and before production and postproduction. It involves finalizing the script, hiring the actors and crew members, location scouting, determining what equipment you’ll need, and figuring out the budget. Preproduction is the planning stage of a film production, where you solidify all the details of your project before producing content.
Why Is Preproduction Important in Filmmaking?
The preproduction process in filmmaking allows you to organize everything you need before you start rolling the cameras on principal photography. 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.
Jodie Foster’s 6 Preproduction Tips
Over the course of Jodie Foster's decades of film industry experience, she's gained valuable insight on the preproduction phase of film production. Whether you're still studying video production in film school or you're gearing up to direct your first feature film, Jodie's tips for managing preproduction can help you better navigate this essential part of filmmaking.
- Invest in a long preproduction process. “If there is one piece of advice that I have, it's spend as much time in prep as you possibly can,” Jodie says. Before your production team sends out the first shooting call sheet, you want as much preproduction time as possible to ensure the best chance of success during actual production. "The best money that you will ever spend in your whole life is on prep," says Jodie. "If you can add time to prep, you will be more prepared. You will save money, save time, save energy, and always have more on screen." When your line producer or production manager is budgeting time for preproduction, advocate for as many days as you can get.
- Make the actors' performances your first priority. “The first consideration should be the actors,” Jodie says. While she knows it's important to be flexible during preproduction, she refuses to compromise when something could negatively affect the performances of her actors. For example, it may be more convenient for the production to schedule a scene on a certain day, but that doesn't mean an actor will be mentally prepared for that scene. "You're not going to make an actor do the most emotional scene in the movie on the first day of shooting," Jodie says. "You have to ease them in." It's okay to put your foot down to make sure your actors feel comfortable enough to perform to the best of their abilities.
- Work quickly and be decisive. “Your crew will love to work quickly because they feel like they're not being taken advantage of and they feel like they're getting a lot done,” Jodie says. As a director in preproduction, you'll be creating your shot list and storyboards, going on location scouts, and discussing how to execute your vision with your film crew's department heads. You'll need to meet with the first assistant director, costume designer, production designer, casting director, director of photography, hair and makeup department heads, location manager, gaffer, and more. It's essential that you work swiftly and efficiently to make sure that you don't short-change any department. Plus, the sooner the line producer (or production manager) can see that your vision fits within their budget parameters, the sooner they can start to work with the production coordinator to get the production up and running.
- Hire an amazing first assistant director. "The first AD will always be thinking forward to how to reschedule to make the shoot go faster," Jodie says. The first assistant director is essential to helping the director execute their vision and keep the production on schedule. As one of the first crew members hired at the beginning of preproduction, the first AD is directly in charge of overseeing all department heads, ensuring that the crew sticks to the shooting schedule, and serving as a liaison between the director and the entire cast and film crew. In addition, the first AD is responsible for creating a script breakdown that acts as the basis for the production's daily schedule and long-term production schedule.
- Do a table read with your cast. In screenwriting, it's often difficult to tell if a script is working without hearing it read out loud. During prep, Jodie typically sets up one or more table reads with her cast so she can hear the whole film from beginning to end. During the table read, she pays careful attention to pacing and how the actors inhabit their characters. Afterward, Jodie usually has a good idea of what is and isn't working, and then she rewrites the script accordingly.
- Ask a friend who you respect to read the script. Before you lock your shooting script, Jodie suggests that you ask a friend whose opinion you admire—whether they're a screenwriter, editor, director, or anyone familiar with filmmaking—to read your script and identify your biggest weakness. "You may not want to change that weakness," Jodie says. "But just being aware of it will give you a new kind of understanding of your film."
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