Pre-Production Overview


Pre-production is the first stage in the three stage process of completing your project. During pre-production, your time management skills will be tested and retested. The following is a rough guideline of important topics that can to be addressed during the pre-production stage. This is a resource for those who need it, this may or may not be applicable to every filmmaking style.

Lock Your Script

The most important part of your project is your story / script / synopsis. If it is not on the page it will not be on the screen. There is always room for minor changes later, but your story / script / synopsis needs to be as complete as possible before you shoot.

Write Your Budget

Having a completed budget during pre-production is paramount. Like your script, minor changes can be added or subtracted from your budget but having the knowledge of where your money is being spent and the accounting of that money is necessary.

Script Breakdown/Shooting Schedule

Breaking down your script, creating strip boards, storyboards, a production schedule and shooting schedule are recommended elements of a successful project and should be addressed during pre- production. By addressing all or most of these procedures, students can think ahead and visualize their production.

Find Your Crew

Crewing up is a vital part of pre-production. Many student productions are understaffed or do not have the right dedicated person for a position. Having a producer / production manager for your project is crucial for its success. Dividing the workload and freeing up the time to be as creative as possible will only lead to a better project.

It is also important to remember that as much as you will need crew members to help on your projects, so will your fellow CalArts students — volunteer your time and services on other CalArts productions.

Crew Breakdown

Following are recommendations for the chain of command and hierarchical structure during a production. This information should be used only if it helps in the creative process and/or time management of your project. One of the best places to learn about making movies is on other people’s sets. You can (and should) volunteer as a production assistant or a position for which you already have skills.

Chain of Command

On a film set the director is the captain of the ship. A director has to make hundreds of decisions during the course of production. If each person on the crew is coming to their director with every little detail, the director’s head will explode.

The Hierarchical Structure

The following list illustrates a hypothetical shooting company. There are a variety of ways of organizing a set depending on the demands of the production. For the majority of student productions, this full list would not apply. Let’s look at this example.

  • Director
  • Producer
  • Production Manager
  • 1st Asst. Director
  • 2nd Asst Director
  • Director of Photography
  • Camera Operator
  • 1st AC
  • 2nd AC
  • Production Coordinator
  • Location Manager
  • Production Designer
  • Art Director
  • Set Decorator
  • Set Dresser
  • Construction Coordinator
  • Set Painter
  • Greensman
  • Gaffer
  • Best Boy(electric)
  • Electricians
  • Key Grip
  • Best Boy(grip)
  • Dolly Grip
  • Script Supervisor
  • Sound Recordist
  • Boom Operator
  • Prop Master
  • Special EFX Supervisor
  • Makeup Artist
  • Hair Stylist
  • Costume Designer
  • Set Costumer
  • Assistant Props
  • Weapons Master
  • Studio Teacher
  • First Aid
  • Craft Service
  • Transportation Coordinator
  • Production Assistant
  • Animal Handler
  • Special Equip Operator

Scout Locations/Lock Locations

Knowing where you are shooting as early as possible will help with your scheduling, story boards etc. Finding your locations will also allow the director to visualize and be as creative as possible in the space. Remember, have a backup location.

Casting Your Project

The casting process is obviously one of the most important aspects of a production.

Finding the right actors for the roles can be the difference between a good project and a bad one. If you are using SAG actors, it is imperative to have SAG paperwork in as early as possible.

Following are recommendations for casting your project. The information provided leans more towards “industry” standards.

Casting is Step One

Casting the right actor or voice over artist is a big part of successful directing. Knowing the character thoroughly at the beginning will help you talk to actors intelligently and get them interested in donating their time to your project. Write clear and detailed character breakdowns. Think very hard about what you are looking for – do not be afraid to ask for it.

Start Early

Casting takes time. Do not rush the process. Keep in mind that no matter how many people you get submitting for a role, most of them are not going to be right for the part. The more submissions you get the better chance you have of finding the right actor for the part.

Online Casting Services

These services are free to students (the actors have to pay to be listed). Read all the information carefully. Fill out the information about your project (locations, dates, format, etc.) Be sure to indicate that your project is non-union or union. This is a great resource for voice over talent as well.

Now Casting

(323) 964-4900 / (818) 841-7165

(818) 841-7118 (fax) /L.A. Casting

Backstage West

(323) 525-2358

*Please see the Backstage article on 2pop

Breakdown Express

Posting a Casting Notice

The first step is to break down the script and make a list of all the parts that are big enough for actors. The reality is that a role with one line – or a non-speaking part – is not going to be of any interest to actors. Write a brief description of each character. In general, short posts attract more submissions than long ones. If the role involves nudity, you must include that information in the posting.

Narrowing the Field

Once you have a stack of headshots how do you decide who to call in for an audition? Go back
to your original concept of the film and the internal make-up of the character. Think about the character and decide what sort of “look or voice” will communicate these internal characteristics to the audience.

Keep in mind, headshots are manufactured images of what the actor thinks a director wants to see. Look for things like facial structure, the expression in the eyes.

Talking to the Actors – Scheduling the Audition

Prepare a short synopsis of the script and a short description of the character. Know when you are going to shoot and when you want to hold rehearsals and auditions. Have directions to campus or casting location ready.

Start calling the actors. If there is a home number or “service” number listed, try calling it first. This is the most direct approach. If you leave a message, keep it brief. If only the agent’s number is listed, do not let it scare you. When you actually speak to the actor, be prepared for all their questions. Know the character.

Be sure to check their availability at this point, especially if your own schedule is not flexible. If they are interested and available, schedule an audition. Allow at least twenty minutes for each audition. Tell them where to go and how to get there. Give them instructions for parking and your phone number.

The Audition

Post Signs

  • Make sure the room number is on the doors to the lobby and the casting board in the lobby. Put a sign outside the audition room “CASTING – PLEASE WAIT IN HALL.” This prevents interruptions. If appropriate, leave copies of the script pages (sides) outside the door for waiting actors and have someone there to greet them when they arrive.
  • If possible, videotape the auditions. People often look different on tape than they do in real life. Do not forget to get some close-ups.
  • If this is a dialogue film, it is always good to have someone else there to read opposite the actors. One of the best ways to run auditions is with an assistant. When the actors arrive, this is the person they deal with, the one who introduces them to the director / producer, helps with props, reads opposite them or operates the video camera.
  • If this is an audition for a non-sync sound project, think about having the actor do a non- verbal improvisation with props (deck of cards, a newspaper, a photograph) where they must go through a range of emotions (elation, anger, sadness). An actor with a good physical memory is invaluable.
  • Do the reading / improv. Give them some changes (see how well they take direction). When it is over, let them know when they can expect your call.

Auditioning Kids

If you are casting children, remember that you are also auditioning the parents. A pushy, difficult, demanding parent can make your life a living hell. Kids are generally poor actors. If you are looking for kids, start really early — it’ll take a long time to find the right one.

After the Audition

Always call or email the actors back — even if you did not cast them. Also, until your first choice actor has officially accepted the part, do not turn the other actors down.

Before the Shoot

Confirm dates, times, places (the best thing to do is to fax / email your actors a note with all this info on it- including a call sheet with map to the location). Also, confirm the length of the shoots. Pad your estimate substantially. Then, when your shoot runs over, your actor won’t be upset.

  • Hold any rehearsals you feel that are necessary
  • Plan an efficient production schedule.
  • Have them sign all necessary contracts, releases and emergency contact info.

During the Production

Remember that acting is not easy, even under the best of circumstances. Have patience and treat actors with respect and consideration. Remember, the more professional and organized you are, the more your actors will respect and trust you. In turn, this gives them the opportunity to relax and concentrate on their job.

  • Have food and drink on the set at all times (especially water and coffee / tea for those early morning calls.) Craft service is key!
  • Avoid physically uncomfortable situations. Is there a private place for actors to change?
  • Is there a bathroom nearby? If it is hot, keep plenty of cold beverages and ice available. Try to provide a shaded or air-conditioned space for the actors while they wait. Try to use a stand-in for lighting.
  • Keep actors informed. What is the next shot? How long will it be?

After the Shoot

Keep the actors informed about your post-production schedule. Let them know when you will be done with the project, when the screening is scheduled and when they can expect their copy of the film. The reason actors want to work on student films is to get a tape of the film to show to agents and casting directors. If it is going to take some time to finish the project, let them know.

Fill Out Paperwork

Having the correct contracts and releases ready to go and signed can alleviate much of the stress felt in pre-production. This is a job best handled by the producer / production manager.

Communicate with all Departments

Communication is paramount to any production, especially during the pre-production period. Make sure all department heads are meeting with the director/producer on a regular basis.

Have a Safety Meeting with Production Services

If you have any doubt or concerns, set up a meeting with the Head of Production Services. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Film production is one of the most dangerous professions that exist. Production Services is always available to assist, offer advice and find solutions.

Tech Scout

This is where all the heads of the departments, director / producer scout the location together and plan anything as a group usually focusing on technical aspects and logistics. This is a necessary step in pre-production as it addresses and corrects many issues that would otherwise hamper production.

Final Production Meeting With Crew

This is as important as the tech scout as it gives the opportunity for the crew to meet, for directions to be given out, and for the director to say words of wisdom and address any last minute issues.

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