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A Handy Guide to Pre-Production

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A Handy Guide to Pre-Production. (A General Overview) Casting, Locations, Blocking, Lighting, Framing, Production information.


1. Weigh the pros and cons of shooting under existing light conditions, artificial light, mixed lighting.
2. Be sure to visit all locations ahead of time with a light meter and framing device (still or video camera, director’s finder).
3. Permission for all locations must be thoroughly secured.
4. Generously over estimate the amount time it will take to perform each set up.
5. Field view charts can help determine if location and lens combinations will permit the compositions required by the script.
6. Estimate necessary lighting fixtures for desired look ahead of time.
7. Make alternate plans should the weather not cooperate with your location and lighting needs.
8. Consider and reconsider any health and/or safety problems that your locations might involve.
9. Limit driving time to and from locations.
10. Where will your equipment be stored? Where will crew eat? break? set up?
11. How will they travel and bring equipment to locations?
12. Are facilities such as bathroom, changing area and telephone available?  


1. Create extensive written background information on your characters to guide your own directorial decisions and to inform your actors.
2. Actors need to know who they are creating on the screen, not just what actions they need to do.
3. Get a sense of your actors’ commitment to your project. If it does not seem firm, reconsider and/or re cast.
4. Be sure to give actors a generous estimate of the time involved in your production. Be sure they understand the amount of preparation and set up time required in student filmmaking.
5. Carefully consider the pros & cons of working with professional actors vs."real people."
6. Do not overlook your social responsibility as a "creator of representation" when you assign character traits to specific genders, races, religions, or sexual orientations.
7. if possible, videotape your casting sessions and rehearsals.  
1. Ideally, final shot breakdown and blocking emerges through a combination of rehearsing with actors and a pre visualized, detailed written description of each shot.
2. Remember that developing your own personal directorial style comes about through discovering your own balance between rehearsal based blocking and creative pre visualization.
3. Adequate pre production involves a key interim planning step between script and "roll camera." This is known as your shooting script.
4. Shooting scripts should take the form of either storyboard, index card, detailed shot descriptions, or pix/sound columns.
5. In a narrative film which uses basic sequence as one of its primary structuring devices, an aerial floor plan with camera positions is suggested. Label each camera position with a letter (so as not be to confused with shot or scene numbers) and cross reference camera positions with the shots in your shooting script.
6. Vertical lines in the borders of your script are helpful to indicate shot breakdown, and in confirming where overlapping action and continuity are required, but do not show exactly where the camera will be placed.
7. Final blocking occurs in the hours and minutes just prior to production. This is when the relationships between actors and camera are finalized by the director. Complete performances are not generally required at this stage.  


1. Lighting design should be pinned down in discussions between director, DP, and Gaffer in the days and weeks prior to production. Equipment needs should be fully assessed ahead of time. Lighting styles (i.e.high key, low key, gradualted tonality, formula lighting, soft edge, hard edge), background considerations, and art direction should be determined during pre-production meetings.
2. Justification for lighting style must be key guiding principle, spelled out by the director.
3. After final blocking on location, while the actors are involved in mental preparation, makeup, and props, the location or set is lit.
4. The lighting crew gives the director time estimates for lighting setup.
5. When lights are set, contrast ratios, footcandles, and f/stops are read and notated.
6. The position of camera, lights, and actor(s) should be precisely notated or marks placed on floor (if possible) in the event that re
shoots are required.  


1. Working from your shooting script (and ideally cards or storyboard) and notes, framing is finalized. Director may describe the shot, and give other information, but most of these decisions should’ve been made during pre production meetings.
2. Generally, directors do not look through the camera, or physically frame the shot. They may, particularly during the early hours/days of your working relationship, wish to check the composition prior to "roll camera." The goal is to develop functioning relationships between directors/camerapeople in which trust and understanding flourish.
3. Key compositional considerations are focus point(s), depth field, perspective, and camera/subject movement.
4. Other compositional considerations include: zooms, clean entrance/exit, headroom, leading looks, rule of thirds, joint frame cuts, circular patterns,horizon placement, straight verticals, frames within a frame, camera height, dolly counter zoom, consistent screen direction, neutral direction movement, criteria/justification for handholding camera, pans, and tilts.  

Final Rehearsal

1. When lighting and composition are set, director and actors run through a short rehearsal.
2. In order to maintain "work flow," technical and other adjustments should be kept to a minimum at this point.
3. Once all details have been approved, director says "roll sound!" ("Speed") "Roll Camera" (Slate) "Action."  
Production Reminders
1. When using basic sequence, continuity will make or break the scene. Be sure to use meticulous notes or polaroids to guide and confirm your continuity. It’s common to shoot master shots first.
2. Remember the strength and importance of THE CUTAWAY.
3. When shooting an MOS shot it is frequently not necessary to shout "Cut!" when a mistake is detected by the director. Consider having the director verbally correct problems and let the shot continue.
4. Camera reports are the most essential tool of learning film production.
5. The human body runs on protein, not coffee and sugar, feed your cast and crew appropriately! Break them regularly.
6. Maintain production etiquette throughout.  

Considertations for Casting

What does the actors physical exterior suggest?
What does their body language suggest?
What are their involuntary movements?
What are the qualities of their voice?
What overall impression do they make?
Do they appear confident?
Do they appear responsive or isolated?
Do they project high or low energy?
Does their personality come across in a quick or slow release method?
Are they approachable?
Is their evidence of their live’s activities?
Do they appear powerful or weak? in what ways?
How do they respond to their environment?
Do they explore their sense of self?
Is their taste evident?
What is their level of experience?
How do they see the actor’s role in film?
What is their sense of craft?
How do they interact with others?
Are they flexible or rigid in approach?
Do they support your vision?
Are they willing to collaborate?
How do they respond to changing direction?
Is their self
image apparent?
What is their level of commitment to your project?
What are their work habits?
Why do they act?
Are they reliable?  

Terms Commonly Used in Storyboard Shorthand

"Point of view" shot. The camera takes the point of view of a character in the scene, it sees what the character sees. Usually follows a shot of the character.
An objective shot. The camera sees the scene from an angle not seen, by a character in the scene.
L.S. or W.S.
Long shot or wide angle shot. Refers to the angle and distance of lens. usually includes full figures and vistas or entire rooms.
M.S. or MCU.
Camera sees actor from waist
on up.
Close up. Often a head and shoulders shot of a single person.
Extra Close
up. e.g. nostrils and one eye
Camera frames two characters in scene.
Also called Cover shot Usually a med. to wide angle shot of a scene that runs the duration of the action.
Often a wide shot of the outside of a location Tells the audience where they are.
All the set ups needed to edit the scene aside from the Master shot
Refers to the position of a camera and the lighting of a shot or shots. "New set
up" refers to the camera moving to a new position.
Often photographed by 2nd unit. A shot that shows details that are often missed by a master or coverage. i.e. a hand opening a purse and pulling out a gun.
Off screen. Also called O.C., off camera. A description of what is heard but not seen on the screen
Over the Shoulder shot. Usually a shot of a character in conversation with second person whose shoulder you shoot over.
A very high angle shot often accomplished with a helicopter or air
Usually a close
up of a character reacting silently to action they have just seen or dialogue they are listening to.
A shot that is 180 degrees opposite the preceding shot.
(also called Hollywood or knee shot). A shot framed to include figures from the knees on up.
A term used in editing concerning a piece of information not seen in the master or previous shot.
Editing term for successive shots that cut in on the same axis. Also successive cuts that disrupt the flow of time or space.
Cutting or dissolving from one similar composition to another. i.e. From a close shot of a wheel to a globe of the world shot so that they fill the same size and position in the frame.
A low angle shot positioned as if it were a hat’s height off the floor

Camera Moves

Also called Tracking or trucking shot. Camera travels on dolly tracks
The camera swivels on the horizontal axis, often used to follow the action.
A very swift pan that blurs the scene in between the starting and ending point.
Any camera position that is mounted directly on a vehicle.
Any moving shot that follows an actor.
The camera travels up and down on a boom arm. Often combines with a dolly move.
The camera pivots up and down from it’s base, which does not move .
Refers to the movement of a zoom lens. Usually used in video.
Any shot where the camera specifically does not move.
A shot taken from a piece of equipment called a crane that has the ability to boom down and track in long distances with out using tracks.
Shot using the steadicarn, a camera that attaches to a hamess and can be operated by a single person in hand held situations, but the resulting footage will appear to be shot with the smoothness of a tracking shot.

Desription of Roles and Credits

Writing: original script or adaptation
Directing: casting, rehearsing, working with actors, pre-production meetings with DP to determine lighting design, scouting locations
Producing: casting, securing locations, props, costumes, permissions, rights, releases, organizing production, logistics, assembling production notebook
Shooting Script: create shot breakdown from script. aerial views, storyboards, estimate production time
DP: collaborate with Director to determine visual style and lighting design, scouting locations, equipment needs, supervising lighting & camera crew, light readings, safety
Camera Operation: light readings, focus, camera movement, camera loading, canning film, camera reports, safety
Gaffer: setting lights, electricals. safety
Editor: creatively assembling the shots to support the intended theme of director, edit "plot point" sound; cut changes to picture after first mix
Sound Design: conceive map of sound design elements in collaboration with director and editor
Sound Recording: location recording, submit for transfer on time, research music and EFX and submit for transfer
Sound Cutting: assemble and cut in audio tracks according to sound designers wishes’, make changes to tracks after first mix
Mix Prep: create, assemble, and cut in remaining ambient and EFX tracks; split and clean tracks’, create cue sheets for mix, consult with mixer