CUFP’s Guide to Preproduction
compiled by Director of Production Max Rifkind-Barron
1. Finalize Your Script
It’s hard to work on getting production started if you’re still scripting, so try hard to settle on a final draft (also called a shooting script) early in the preproduction process. Make sure to pay attention to formatting and use scriptwriting software. (Celtx is a free screenwriting software you can download from the internet at www.celtx.com).
2. Assemble Your Crew
An absolutely essential step to finalize before casting. You may not need/require all positions described below, but the ones marked with ** are absolutely essential to any successful set.
—1st Assistant Director (1st AD)**—
In charge of scheduling shoots, running logistics on shoot days, and (most importantly) making sure the production runs on schedule
—Director of Photography (DP)**—
In charge of implementing the director’s vision visually. Includes interfacing with lighting department, setting up shots, and (especially in a small production) operating the camera [Remember: Serious directors generally don’t operate their cameras. Delegating responsibility will allow you to make sure all aspects of production are conforming to your vision.]
—Boom Operator/Sound Recordist**—
Operates the microphone and listens on headphones to make sure that sound is recorded properly.
—Script Supervisor (“Scriptie”)—
Follows the script during production to assure proper continuity between set ups and takes. Annotates the shooting script for editor so that any changes or inconsistencies are made clear. On small sets, the Scriptie sometimes keeps the daily editor log (Example available for download below).
In charge of realizing the look of the production in consultation with the director’s vision. Includes supervising set design, costumes, make up, and lighting.
Designs the lighting for the production. Can serve as a key grip on small sets to execute lighting set-ups.
Organizing and attends casting session. Helps breakdown the script to determine what talent is needed for each scene, including extras.
Finds locations for filming, secures the rights, permissions, and logistics for each set. On a small set (and on most television sets), he/she is in charge of managing the set during location, keeping it clean, and supervising clean up at the end of each shoot day. Can also manage craft services (food, snacks, and beverages that are made available to cast and crew throughout shooting).
4. Hold Your Rehearsals
a) Start with a Table Read. Have the cast just read their parts, focusing just on how they deliver their lines. Have your AD read stage directions.
b) Think about blocking your script as early as possible: first, make overheads of your locations (overhead diagrams that show furniture and walls), make copies, and use these diagrams to indicate how you want actors to move around the set.
c) Once you have a good idea of blocking, get your actors up and moving around. If you can rehearse on set, take full advantage of this luxury! Spend time just observing the scenes and start thinking about how you will want to film your actors.
5. Make Your Set-Up List
This is a very important step in the preproduction phase. The more preparation you can do here, the better your film will be guaranteed!
a) Take your script and begin thinking about how you want to tell your story visually. Meet with your AD to discuss the practical and logistic aspects of this process. Try to think of problems before they happen and find preemptive solutions.
b) Either by yourself or with your AD, go through the script line by line, thinking about what shots you will need (this is also called coverage). Start making these notes into a list of shots you will need to get. If you are so inclined, or have an artist-friend who can help you, think about making storyboards to refine your ideas and better visualize your shots.
c)With this shot list in hand, start thinking practically; which shots should we film first, and in which order? A good way to think this is spatially:
–Usually, most directors start with the wider shots and work their way logically into the set, getting to the tighter shots at the end. For example, in a dinner scene, you might start with a master shot of the whole table, then take tighter shots of the individual diners.
d) Can some of these shots be captured without cutting or moving the camera? Start thinking about set-ups rather than shots, and you’ll be much more efficient with your time on set.
e) If your time on set is limited, this is the time to start thinking creatively about how you will set up your shots—maybe you can get a number of different angles in the same take!
f)Remember to stay organized by making a lettered list as follows:
–Each master shot (filmed first) is given a number corresponding to the scene number
–Each subsequent shot is given a letter, i.e., first 7 (master shot) then 7A (Medium Two-Shot), then 7B (Medium Close-Up), etc.’
6. Schedule Your Shoots
A number of these steps should be undertaken in consultation with or by your AD. Having thought about your shot list first will give you and your crew a better sense of how much time you will need per set up and per scene.
a) Start by numbering your scenes. Every new slug-line (also known as scene heading) should get a unique number—this makes it much easier to communicate with cast and crew about your script.
b) Create a location report in which you break down which scenes need to be shot where and at what time of the day (see sample location report (Example available for download below).
c) Generally, you should allow for at least one hour of on-set time per page of your script, so plan your shoot days with enough time to adequately cover all the material you need.
d) After picking your shoot days and checking actor and crew availability, you and your AD should create a call sheet (Example available for download below), which should include:
–A list of all cast and crew contact info
–A list of which cast and crew members need to be on set each day, including the time when each person should show up for make-up/prep and when they should report to set to start shooting. Provide approximate wrap times for each actor, specify when lunch will be taken, and provide your best guess as to when the shoot will be wrapped for the day.
–A list of which scenes (remember numbering your scenes?) that will be filmed that day, broken down by location (include all company moves, i.e., if the entire cast and crew need to move locations). Make sure to include the addresses and contact information for all locations your actors will need to find. Also, it’s customary to list the nearest hospital, in case of a medical emergency.
e) Remember to create a daily editor log to fill out on set. This document lists the scene and setup letter for every shot you film, in addition to the take number and any comments you want to pass along to the editor—don’t go into the cutting room without one (again, Example at the end of the Document)!
f) Remember to slate your takes using a slate or clapper (you can get these online for $10-20, or just make one with paper) using the same conventions you used to make your shot list—this will keep all of your footage organized.
g) Make sure to bring lots of masking tape to set! This is the AD’s best friend because it allows you to mark the positions of your actors and props and makes it easier to maintain continuity between takes.
7) Film Your Movie and Have Fun!