It is an essential part of any successful production that planning and preparation need to be done. In this article we look at a few things to consider planning for that ultimately determine the quality and pace of your film production.
A Lesson Well Learned
As an independent film director, I have learned many valuable lessons within every shoot I've been involved in - Especially the productions I have been in charge of. One of the most important things, if not THE most important thing, I have learned thus far is that as an independent filmmaker you need to prepare yourself for the worst possible situation that could happen during a shoot. It is a common mistake I see time and time again from many amateurs - They don't prepare for much, and they most certainly don't plan anything.
Resolving Issues Before They Happen
It is vital to having a healthy production that you take the necessary amount of time and effort to determine all major conflicting situations. If your list is not a long one then keep thinking, you're nowhere near done! When you plan for problems, it will usually mean that when those problems arise they can be taken care of quickly and efficiently. It's a great way to stay on schedule and in return, also means that you'll have more time to shoot.
You should have different backup plans to resolve each and every situation. It is a lot of work but it is your job as a director (and most likely producer) to maintain a kind of control that lets people know if they have a problem they can always come to you and expect an answer that resolves their issue immediately or near immediately. It will not only make you appear more professional but it will force an amount of respect from your actors and crew members.
The worst thing a director could say to anyone on his crew is, "I don't know." Even if you really don't know, play it cool and let them know that you'll have/get an answer for them soon. With all of these things in combination you will have a production that, from an outsider's perspective, appears to flows seamlessly even though you know better.
Schedule With Problems in Mind
When you've got a great list of problems along with their solutions and begin to create a schedule for your shoot, you should consider to keep those problems in mind and give room for them. If these problems never happen then you'll be ahead of schedule and EVERYONE will appreciate it. You'd be surprised how many people don't even think to do this but it really does help, and it gives a sense of freedom on set knowing that you've got time to work things out if they should ever come up.
I've seen people purposely not give room for problems in their schedule because they don't want to appear as if they aren't bulletproof. For these people I always ask, "Would you rather look like a fool and be behind schedule due to factors you knew would be there but didn't prepare properly for or would you rather be ahead of schedule and getting more work done than planned?"
Know Your Locations
Don't do anything production-wise until you've first seen where you're going to shoot - Do it at the bare minimum of one or two weeks before you shoot. The more time beforehand, the better. Make sure that you always get permission in writing and signed by an authority figure. This way, you can immediately start planning your shoot and will be ready for anything - Even if it means flaunting a signed permission slip to police officers and/or other authoritative figures.
I have been a director, even a camera operator, for productions where I was only given 24 hours or less for preparation. Those shooting sessions hardly ever end up pretty (unless you've been to the location before). I strongly advice never put yourself in situations like this unless absolutely necessary.
Plan Your Shots
If you don't like working according to a storyboard then it is OK, you don't need to. There are many great directors who don't/won't do it - Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) is one of them.
As I said before, planning everything that you possibly can regarding your production is vital, so if you either don't want to work from a story-board or don't have the time and/or budget for story-boarding then you can simply create a shot list. Make the shot list as descriptive or brief as necessary, just make sure you can understand it clearly as you will be the only one looking at it all day (beside your DP, if you choose to have one). A shot list is a very efficient way of working, it can increase the pace at which you shoot, and can often be a better way to organize shots than a story-board as it takes up much less room on paper.
There Will Always Be More Than Expected
In any production there will always be other problems that will arise - Things that you did not prepare for. This is where experience comes in handy. The more experience you've got with shooting, the easier it will be for you to handle these problems.
If you are first starting out, it may be overwhelming but remaining calm, cool and collected always helps. Things have a tendency of working out when you take one step at a time and just breathe. Don't forget that if things get to the point where there are no resolutions whatsoever, there is always the option of canceling the shoot or closing it down for the day until things can get straightened out. This should always be a very last resort and should never happen unless absolutely necessary.
In any strong, quality production planning things down to the last detail is a requirement. I cannot stress enough that not only do actors appreciate proper preparation but, more than anyone, your crew will appreciate it. Preparation is often overlooked in amateur sessions, but when you come well prepared there are many more benefits - You can usually get things done much faster, things go much more smoothly, and you get a lot more respect from the people that are working for you.
Director's Chair: http://www.flickr.com/photos/memekiller/3508272642/