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Arts & Entertainment

Understanding Filmmaking: The 5 Stages of Film Production

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: May 8, 2020 • 3 min read

There are five phases of feature film production that every movie must cycle through. While certain responsibilities will carry over throughout the entire production, each stage has its own specific tasks that need to be completed before your film is ready for audiences.

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What Is Film Production?

Film production is a lengthy, multi-step process of making movies that can sometimes take years to complete. Film productions go through five main phases. The first step of film production is the development stage, where all the initial details of the movie are figured out before entering pre-production, which focuses on research, casting, and location scouting.

After pre-production is complete, shooting can commence. Shooting time varies between projects, and the type of film you’re making (short or feature-length) will determine the length of the production phase.

After shooting concludes, you’ll move into the post-production phase, where footage is edited and arranged into a complete narrative. The production will then move into the distribution phase, and the final product is sent to theaters, DVD, or a streaming service.

The 5 Stages of Film Production:

The five stages of production are an essential part of the filmmaking process:

  1. Development: The development stage is the first step in film production. This phase of the production process includes fleshing out the story idea, writing a draft of the script, and figuring out the financial logistics of the project. Depending on the type of film you’re making and who you can get involved, development can last anywhere from a few months to a few years.
  2. Pre-production: When you get the green light to start the pre-production stage, you’ll establish a production company and set up a production office. This is where the planning of your film shoot will take place. Pre-production involves finalizing the shooting script, finding shoot locations, and figuring out the production budget. You’ll establish your shooting schedule, as well as all the equipment and gear you’ll need before setting foot on your film set, and the casting director will start auditioning actors for the director’s approval. This is also the stage where you’ll acquire key film crew members for your production team, like the director of photography, assistant directors, unit production managers, and costume designers. Once all the pieces are in place, creative planning begins. Each department works with the line producer to break down what each field needs to properly execute the director's vision. This is also where creatives finalize the sound design for the auditory experience of the film.
  3. Production: The production stage, also known as principal photography, is when shooting begins. During this short timeframe, additional crew will be hired—like a script supervisor to check for script continuity while filming, and a property master to acquire and oversee any of your film’s props. The hair, makeup, and costume departments will handle the actors' visual appearance, and actors will rehearse their lines and block scenes. Your production coordinator will supervise the day-to-day and make sure all supplemental departments like catering, billing, and scheduling have the necessary resources to stay on track. Camera operators and grips will follow the shooting plan set by the director and cinematographer, capturing all the necessary footage. Picture and sound editors are also hired during this time, choosing the best takes of the day and assembling them into a sequence so that a rough cut is ready by the time filming ends.
  4. Post-production: Post-production phase is when the audio and visual materials are cut together to create a film, and happens after principal shooting is complete. An editor assembles footage shot-by-shot, adds music (either original or licensed), and incorporates other sound and visual effects. Some elements of filming, like pick-up shots, voiceover, or ADR may be included in the post-production phase. These elements are woven together to create a multi-sensory experience we call a movie.
  5. Distribution: Distribution is the final stage of production, which occurs after your movie has been edited, and is ready for viewing. Promotional marketing will advertise the movie, and any commitments to investors and rights holders will be completed. Depending on your distribution deal, your film may be released into theaters, on DVD, or onto an alternative digital media platform.
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