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Tips for Effective Narrative Film Pre-Production

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/25/2010

Here are a few tips to follow to make sure that your pre-production process heads to a successful production period.

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    The Reality of Pre-Production

    The truth about pre-producing a narrative film is that everything that you want to occur tends to get done if it is planned, written down, and assigned. This is really what pre-production for narrative film is about: making decisions about what you want for your film and figuring out how you are going to execute it. To really pre-produce your film effectively there are a number of tips you can follow that will ensure that you can transfer your vision to the final product.

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    Breaking Down the Script

    One of the first things you need to do is to break down the script. A great tip to follow is to divide this into a two period process. First, as the director, go through and alter the script to bring out the elements that you want. This means using the digital copy of the script in whatever screenwriting program you are using and make the changes that you are going to want. The second part is to use breakdown forms on your screenplay to identify all the elements of each scene. What a breakdown form will ask you to do is to identify the location for the scene, the time of day, every prop or set element, every special effect or computer generated element, each actor, and several other items. This process will allow you to really take a look at how many scenes you have, how many and what type of locations you need, what type of set construction and props you are going to need, how much time you are going to need your actors for, and so on. This is also going to be a great way to avoid continuity errors later on.

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    Release Forms

    During pre-production you have a lot of forms you are going to need to go through. This includes several different types of release forms that you will need to both lock certain things down for filming and to give you legal rights. You will need to get both location agreements and location releases from any location you want to film at. This is going to make sure that the owner of the location knows when and what you will be using it for and they agree to it, as well as sign a legal document setting up the framework for the filming. Personal releases, or photo releases, are going to be crucial for every single one of your actors. Get this ahead of time so that there is no chance of them changing their mind during filming and so that you have all legal liabilities ready for any outside producer or distributor. You will also want to produce group release forms to have for any time you will be filming with a large group. You will not usually be able to get the group releases signed during the pre-production stage, but you should have them prepared for when you go into live production. Footage releases should be secured during pre-production if you know you are going to need outside material. This will give the producer time to contact the rights owner, make the agreement, and get the forms signed.

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    Division of Labor

    Once you have identified the elements of the screenplay through the script breakdown process you will need to begin assigning pre-production tasks to different crew positions. This means you will have to have the director of photography begin putting together shot lists and storyboard along with you, have the prop master begin developing prototypes, have the art director begin putting together set designs, and the location manager finish finding locations and securing them with release and agreement forms. The producer and director cannot do all of these tasks on their own so they must simply identify what needs to be done, how they want it to come out for their vision, and then allow the other crew positions to apply their creative energies to make it happen. Once this is going you must look at your production period and begin transferring the script breakdown into a concrete schedule for filming.

Pre-Production Articles

Here are some articles focused on different types of film pre-production.
  1. How to Shoot Better Digital Video - Preproduction Film Planning
  2. Tips for Effective Narrative Film Pre-Production