Creative Arts


November 4, 2015 Making a short film: Pre-production

This article is part of a series called English by Compass.

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Pre-production, in a nutshell, is where you figure out how you’re going to make your film. It’s the time when you should make most of your important creative decisions so that you leave as little to chance as possible. This process ultimately requires attention to detail, and the help of a good team.

Building your dream team

Even if you think you can get through your film as a one-person band, you’ll find it increasingly stressful, tiring, and a much, much longer experience than if you had some help. As a result, there are a number of specialised roles that should probably be filled before you set up your tripod. You can often get away with one person service more than one position, just be aware it increases the likelihood that something will get missed along the way.

A (Simplified) Overview of the Basic Roles

Director: Person with the vision. They’re in charge of the creative aspects of the film.

Producer / Production Manager: Person in charge of the production. They’ll source and manage the personnel and funding required to make the film.

1st Assistant Director: Person in charge of day-to-day management of crew, equipment, actors, and scheduling. They’ll keep the shoot on schedule while attempting to maintain an environment that facilitates the creative process between the director, actors, etc.

Script Supervisor: Person in charge of continuity. They keep track of what has been shot, whether anything has been changed from what is in the script. They also keep track of the props and blocking (the positioning and movement of the actors) from shot to shot, scene to scene, to ensure that the film is consistent. The script supervisor should be encouraged to raise the alarm when they find an issue so that it can be amended as soon as possible.

Director of Photography/Camera Operator: Person in charge of the look of the film. They attempt to turn the director’s vision into moving images through their understanding of lighting and cameras.

1st Assistant Camera: Person in charge of the camera. They’re in charge of keeping the film in focus. They’ll also check the camera equipment prior to the shoot to ensure it is working and that they have everything required, build and disassemble the camera, and keep track of its settings throughout the shoot.

2nd Assistant Camera: Person in charge of clapping. That’s to say that they’re in charge of the clapperboard (a visual marker that can be seen by the camera which, when clapped, can be heard by the sound recordist, allowing the sound and image to be sync when recorded separately; it also serves to indicate to the editor what part of the film is being shot, making it easier to organise in post-production). In addition to the clapperboard, they’re in charge of backing up the footage from the recording medium (SD card, CF card, SSD, etc.).

Gaffer: Person in charge of lights. They’ll work in conjunction with the director of photography to craft the technical plan for the lighting of each scene, and set up the lights on the actual day.

Production / Costume Designer: Person in charge of the sets and clothes. They’ll help transform your local high school gym into a gene splicing plant, and craft the outward appears of the characters.

Hair and Make-up: Person in charge of… hair and make-up. They’ll ensure your actors look attractive (or not), and makes adjustments throughout the shoot to ensure continuity.

Sound Recordist / Boom Operator: Person in charge of recording sound. They’ll make sure your actors can be heard clearly while minimising unwanted background sounds.

Script breakdown

Breaking down your script into its various elements is an excellent means of organising your shoot. Rather than relying on your memory to figure out what props, actors and locations you need, a script breakdown provides a logical manner by which you can properly organise the requirements of every scene and shot.Script

The simplest way of breaking down the script is into the physical components that are needed for every scene as described by the script. If the script mentions a character opening cigarette packet in the first scene, then that prop should be noted down. If the script has three people talking in the first scene, then those characters should be noted down. If the first scene takes place in a seedy bar, then that location should be noted down.

By the end of the process, you should know what is required for every single scene. It’ll also make it easier when scheduling as you’ll be aware of what props and people you will need, the places that you will need them, and on what days they should be there.

Finally. you’ll probably want to go even further and make notes on actor performance, lighting, mood, etc. This will allow you to direct the actors based on your thoughts made in the relative quiet of pre-production versus those formed in the chaos of being on set. In addition, it’ll prepare you for how you want your film storyboarded and, ultimately, shot.

This article is part of a series called English by Compass.

Read the series >

Daniel Wittingslow
is a filmmaker.