Planning Your Film - FREE Film Pre-Production Checklist
So you’ve decided you want to make a film? Before any film is made, it goes through a pre-production process. Whether you’re working on a big budget feature length project, or a no budget film that you are making by yourself at home, It’s usually to the film’s benefit if you’ve planned out as much as possible before you ever roll camera.
Pre production is the step that usually comes right after the conceptualization process. It’s essentially a planning process that takes place before production begins on your film, hence the name. The pre production process determines how efficient, and organized a project will turn out, and it can ultimately lead to a more successful and enjoyable shoot, for all involved.
Before you start planning how to film your film, you first need an idea and a script. I know it’s not the topic of this video, but the choices made in the conceptualization process will have a huge impact on how the pre production process plays out, and how in-depth it can be.
All films stem from ideas that grow into stories, and then eventually scripts. I like to think of film ideas as an empty garden bed. We know the size of our garden bed, which could be large or small, depending on the scope of what we want to make, weather it’s a larger garden bed (big budget feature film) or a small garden bed (no budget short film). We have to fill this bed up with individual ideas, plant seeds if you will, until we can grow the seeds into plants, which can then be trimmed, taken care of, and eventually blossomed into mature plants, or well formed ideas, but where do we get these seeds of ideas that make up the entirety of our films?
The smallest of ideas can flourish into huge epic films and stories and they can come from anywhere at unexpected times. A few great ways to come up with ideas that work for me, are scouting and filming locations. Many times, I’ve built a story in my head around a film location. Being there, on location in that moment can sometimes spur ideas to life.
Listening to music can help set the tone or mood of a film, and help jump start the writing process. Watching some of your favorite films, or reading some of your favorite books can help get your creative juices flowing, and sitting down with collaborative partner and brainstorming together can be a great way to come up with ideas. Once you have your full garden grown, and your ideas are all in place, it’s time to move onto the pre-production process!
The following list is a breakdown of my new Pre Production Checklist Kit, which you can download for FREE from my store!
Like I said before, every project is different, and depending on the size of your project, the process can be drastically different, you may need to focus on different aspects of the filmmaking process. Some of these items you may be able to skip, if you’re working on a smaller project.
STEP ONE: START WITH A STORY
The story you are trying to tell is going to influence everything else that you need to do during pre production. So tighten up your script as much as possible before proceeding to the next steps.
STEP TWO: LISTS & BOARDS
This step encompasses a large portion of the pre production process
After our script is finalized we can start to create lists and boards from our script that help us organize everything and everyone we will need to make our film and help convey our vision to other collaborators.
Remember, filmmaking, especially bigger projects is a collaborative process.
First well make a shotlist that helps break down your script into an easy to digest list of what types of shots need to be filmed, how many shots, in what order, and the setting they take place in, in the scripts story
I also have a free shotlist template that you can download from the online store as well...
From here we can create a character list that details every character in the film, what they look like, their motivations, personalities, ideas for casting, etc.
We can also create a mood board that helps convey the themes and moods of the project.
We can create a music playlist that helps capture those themes and moods in audio form. Music is so important to the creative process and to filmmaking. This step can really help set the stage for you and others to get into the right mindset.
We can also create a list of settings that will show up in the film and potential filming locations that might work to embody them, and whether or not they will require permits, what the spaces may cost to use, etc. This list can be used and finalized by whoever does the location scouting in a later step.
Here we can also create a list of potential gear that we may need to successfully pull off our film.
We can also create a list of potential crew that we will need to help bring our vision to life.
We can also create storyboards during this step that help us get a better understanding of the story and help convey the story and potential shots to other collaborators.
A great tool to help put all of this information together that I’ve been using is Milanote. They have not sponsored this video, but I think it’s a great online tool for helping organize creative projects and I’ve included a link in the description below.
STEP 3: BUDGET
After you know the size and scope of your project, the gear you’ll need, the crew you’ll need, locations, casting ideas, props, VFX... Now you can start to flesh out an idea of what all of this is going to cost and put together an estimated budget for your film. Depending on whether you have those funds available you may need to pitch your film idea to potential investors. Which brings us to the next step
STEP 4: CREATE A PITCH DECK
Pitch decks are a great way to organize everything about your project into one slick, presentation that not only details the themes, moods and characters in your films, but also breaks down locations, potential casting, locations and budgets. You can use a pitch deck to try and secure funds for your project by sending them to potential investors and they can be a great way to explain your project to your cast and crew to help them better understand your vision. For more on Pitch Decks, you can watch my previous video detailing them further, and you can check out my Pitch Deck Template pack, which helps give you a good starting point for putting one of these together.
STEP 5: BUSINESS ENTITY
Depending on the size of your project, you may need to create an LLC and run the production like a business. Now would be a good time to get on that, and get any legal documents in order that you may need. Contracts ready for cast, crew, 1099 forms, location permits? If your production is on the larger side this can get pretty complicated. This step alone could lead us down a deep rabbit hole of legal speak, but if you’re already making films that are on this scale, chances are you aren’t watching this video anyway, so let’s move on!
STEP 6: PRODUCTION CREW
Now is a good time to get the main players in order for your crew, like the Line Producer, director, cinematographer. Keep a list of people handy that you’ve worked with in the past that you’d like to work with again. Once you have the main players in place and find that you are still needing additional spots filled, you can try online groups on social media and reach out for local workers in your area, or you can use a site like Filmlocal to help secure crew. And if you’re making a film with a small group of friends, this step could be as easy as calling your best friends up and asking if they’d like to help out.
STEP 7: LOCATION SCOUTING
Location scouting is one of my favorite things to do, and usually one of the first things I do when thinking about making a new film. Whoever is in charge of your location scouting, whether its’ you or someone you’ve hired, take the location list that you put together earlier and scour the internet for potential areas that fit the description. Find out who owns the locations and give them a call. You would be surprised at how many owners of locations are happy to accommodate once you tell them what your involved with. If an owner let’s you use a space for free, that’s great, But don’t be afraid to pay to use the perfect location if you have the funds available. But always be sure to have both parties sign a filming location agreement before the day of filming to protect both parties involved and be sure to plan to get permits to use the space, if that is needed.
STEP 8: CASTING
Next you should start thinking about casting your film. I’ve made a dedicated video about this topic before, but to quickly summarize; There are tons of ways to find talent for your projects, especially in our online age. You can contact local theatre groups, online acting groups, website like Filmlocal, and backstage, or if you are going the no budget route be want to work with the resources you have, you can just reach out to your friends and see if they are interested in trying to act for you.
STEP 9: ART DEPARTMENT
Depending on what kind of project you are making, you may need to think about things like props, and set design. If you are going the lone wolf approach and are doing things on you’re own, you can start looking for the items that you are going to need to help flesh out your world and characters. Things like wardrobe, makeup, props and set dressing can go a long way when making your film seem more professional and believable. If you are working with a larger production, now would be a great time to set up and art department and start relaying your ideas to them, so everything comes together in time for the shoot.
STEP 10: LEGAL DOCUMENTS
Larger productions especially need to focus on this next step, but even smaller productions may need to think about things like actor and crew contracts, location and filming permits. You may even need to think about things like insurance. If you are working on a big production and are running a legal production company, you may want to consult to legal advice to get all of your ducks in a row and make sure you have everything in legal, proper order, before you start filming.
STEP 11: SHOOTING SCHEDULE
At this point you’re going to want to start putting together a shooting schedule. Once you have your cast, crew, and locations locked in, you’re going to need to speak with all parties involved and find out availability. Once you know when everyone and every place is available, you can set time and dates for shooting days. Once you know when, where, and for what period of time you will be filming. You can focus on these final few steps.
STEP 12: GEAR AND RENTALS
Now that you know when you will be filming you can reserve any gear that you may need to rent for the shoot. If you are working on a smaller production, you may already have all the gear you need! But, for larger productions, most gear is rented for the allotted time of the shoot.
STEP 13: CATERING & RESTROOMS
This next step kind of falls into the same boat as gear rental. Once we have our shooting schedule we can plan on hiring catering, or renting restroom facilities for our shooting days. Your cast and crew have to be fed to perform well, and they also have to have a place to go to the restroom. Even if you are working on a small, no budget film and your actors aren’t even getting paid, it’s still a great idea to feed everyone involved. I’ve never asked anyone to be in a film without at least buying them lunch or dinner.
STEP 14: START SHOOTING
And now that we have everything in order the last thing to do is start shooting our film! Are things going to go wrong or have to be changed last minute, probably. But that’s just how things go. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. But having as much planned out before we ever roll camera can greatly increase our chances of success, help us tell more affective stories, keep everyone on the same page, and ultimately lead to a happier, more cohesive set experience.
Don’t forget to visit my online store to download my free Film Pre Production checklist and other free filmmaking resources as well!