Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pre-Production: What's It Really Like?

I used to get really annoyed with other blogging filmmakers who left out important posts, like what it's really like in pre-production, how you know when "pre-production" starts as opposed to planning your movie for months on end, what you actually have to do in pre-production...

Until I entered pre-pro madness myself. Now I understand why they don't blog about it. It's not that they don't want to. It's that they're just too busy, and way too stressed to stop, reflect and write it all down.

So here I am. A few days before rehearsals and one week before the cameras roll. Time to talk about pre-production and just get it out and onto the screen.

Let's start with a few questions I had before starting this first feature film.

What's It Really Like in Pre-Production?
A whole lot of anticipation. Like having a crush on someone for months and months and months and then...well, I hope it's like going on the first date but I really don't know yet, because we're still in the anticipation stage. It's scary, and exciting, and nerve-wracking, and overwhelming, and a roller coaster ride.

I've never planned so much in my entire life. I was an inner city school teacher in Hackney & Brixton (2 of London's toughest neighbourhoods) for grades 5 & 6. I know how to plan. But this is so much more. It requires thinking through so many more details than I've ever imagined possible.

But it's also really sexy. Like a first date - this could be the real deal right? This could be the ONE! Oh God, what if it's not the one? There's a bit more on the line here than just a bad date, but I'm sure you'll know what I mean about the anticipation factor anyway.

When does pre-production actually start?

This is a question you have to answer for grant applications like Telefilm in Canada and one that I still can't quite figure out. Does it start from when you first come up with the idea for the movie and register the domain name? Or does it start a few weeks before when you're accumulating the props? Or when you're casting?

I've decided the answer is this: Pre-Production officially starts when you eat, sleep, and dream your movie. You work 14-16 hours/day to prepare. You create budgets - the one you dream of having the money for, and the one you actually have, and then another one somewhere in between. You get your cast (for us, we hired Kristina Agosti - the world's greatest first-time Casting Director and friend, thanks K), your crew, your props, your investments.

I know this is a vague answer, and won't be good enough for a grant application, but really - that's the honest answer. I hear we're in pre-production until the cameras arrive and start rolling. Makes sense to me.

What Actually Happens in Pre-Production?

Everything. Virtually every little thing. Jen (our writer/director and my sister) finalized the script, the story boards and the shot lists. Our Story Consultant worked for about 3 months helping Jen make it the best script possible.

Our Line Producer/Production Manager, Emily Silver, organized a tonne of spreadsheets that we've shared on google docs (thank you google - those things have saved us hours of meetings!), including: the cast & crew list, cast sizes, cast allergies, crew allergies, production placement attempts, product placement successes, locations, maps to the locations (thanks to Amanda Verhagen, our second Production Manager), call sheets, budgets, contracts, release forms. The virtual paper-work is endless.

Speaking of paperwork, 2 books became the best resources we could ever ask for in pre-pro:

Film Production Management 101 by Deborah Patz

Variety's The Complete Film Production Handbook by Eve Light Honthaner

Almost all of our contracts have come from the second book above (and editted by our lawyer to make them suit our needs & for Canada rather than the USA) and the first book is just really great for figuring out who does what, when and how. I don't know why I said that in reverse order. Guess I have contracts on the brain.

What Else Do You Do In Pre-Pro?

For me, the big focus has been on how to get this thing not only made, but also sold. So I read a lot about distribution, film festival secrets, social media marketing - all things that we'll start planning in post-production, but are great for me to know about now. We have a distributor reading the script now, and we're applying for post-production funding help from Telefilm so I've had to be a bit more organized than a typical indie-film producer.

It means I have to really focus on the "chain of title", the releases, the product placements - all things that a lot of people don't think about until they're in post-production. I drive my sister absolutely insane with my relentless persistence that we need permission to use every single little logo or product in the film. But that's why she's the creative side of our team and I'm the business side - for me, this isn't just an art. It's also a way to make a movie that people will hopefully get to see in the theatres. At least, I really hope they will. I plan for it. I dream it.

Questions? Suggestions? Comments? Advice? Please share below!

1 comment:

  1. I know this post is 2 years old, but it is so interesting for my sister and I! We are aspring film makers and need to learn all we can. We are definitley checking out the books you mentioned. Hope all is going well with you!