Comet Tale Productions is a Boston-based video production house. We hope that through this blog you will learn more about the behind-the-scenes of corporate video.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Method behind the Magic -- Pre-Production

The film world is full of mystery and magic. From Hollywood accounting to special effects to the process of getting a film green lit, there’s a lot about making movies that happens behind the scenes. To the unitiated, a complicated dolly move that took an hour and a half to set up and shoot is nothing more than a 20 second shot in the final product. So what exactly has to happen to take that blockbuster idea of yours from cerebrum to celluloid?
            Before I even being talking about the three stages of production, I want to call attention to the 7 Ps. Important in film and life in general, they will save you time, money, and headaches. Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance. The more you plan, the better your final product will be.
            A video generally goes through three stages on its journey from idea to completion: pre-production, production, and post-production. Pre-production encompasses the planning, writing, and storyboarding phase. Production entails the actual shooting of the content. And post-production is the process of editing the footage together, completing the sound design, adding music, &c. Making a successful video is a lot more intense than thinking up an idea, getting a consumer camera from Best Buy and uploading it to YouTube.

            The first step in any video project is the initial idea—what is your story? Before you even start thinking about what equipment you’re going to need, you should know exactly what story you want to tell. Evertrue’s recent Reunion Crashers video is a great example of an engaging story. I didn’t have anything to do with the making of that video, but I think it’s a great example of a story that aligns with the image of the company while at the same time conveying valuable content and entertaining the viewer. The reason story is so important in this day and age is because audiences have been highly trained to tune out content they don’t want to watch—fast-forwarding through commercials, or flipping to an alternate window to ignore a YouTube ad. In order to create a video worth watching, you have to start with a story worth telling.
            Once you’ve come up with the perfect story to show the world—a story that connects with people, that conveys your brand image, and that inspires action—you can start planning how to turn this idea into reality. Some of the big steps after creating the story are: storyboarding the video, budgeting the video, choosing what equipment to use, deciding whether to do it in-house or hire an outside crew, securing any necessary locations, hiring actors or drafting talent from within, scheduling the shoot date(s), and meeting with all the creative forces to go over everything before the date of filming. I’ll touch briefly on each of the components.
            Storyboarding – this step involves putting together a detailed outline of how you want the story to progress. Feel free to make little drawings so that you have a comic strip showing the flow of the video.
            Budgeting – not every video needs to have a massive budget. For something like Localytics’ white board Wednesday, a budget of $10,000 would be complete overkill. If, however, you’re looking to put together a larger scale project, then you need to budget accordingly. The budget covers such things as equipment, crew, locations, talent, music, editing, sound design, and props. You can lower the budget by shooting in your office with employees as actors, but understand the trade-offs you’re making. Good, fast, and cheap—you can get two of those things at the same time, but not all three.

            Equipment – a lot of film equipment looks odd and has an even odder name. Cardellinis, mafers, platypus clamps, Gary Colemans, mickeys, C-47s (which are just clothespins). A full-scale heavy-duty film set has its own language. Choosing the right equipment for the job depends on the specific project. Something like white board Wednesday can be done with a prosumer camera from Best Buy. Something like Reunion Crashers calls for more professional-level equipment. Stay tuned for a more in-depth blog post regarding equipment.
            Crew – while many freelancers own their own gear and will most likely bill you for it, their labor is a separate expense. Deciding to handle production yourself or hire freelancers again depends on the specific project. If you bring on an independent producer, talk over the amount of crew you’re going to need for the shoot. A simple interview setup can be completed by a team as small as three—a sounder recordist, camera operator, and gaffer. Larger scale productions require larger teams. Next time you see a blockbuster Hollywood film, stay to the end of the credits and watch how many people are involved in the whole process. And that’s not even everyone who worked on the movie.
            Locations – the location of your video plays an important role in the look and feel of the piece and certain locations require more paperwork/guile than others. Shooting in your office is an easy and cost-effective solution but if the space doesn’t have that visual aesthetic, you might need to go further afield. Permits and permission are generally good to have and take time to get. If you know you’re going to need to film in a pizza shop, start contacting local pizzerias and try to get the best deal you can. If you want to film on the street or in a public park, you could try to go guerilla and “steal the shot” but understand that you might have to shut down production early.

            Talent – you probably won’t be able to land Ryan Gosling for your next video (if you do, Comet Tale would love to produce your next video). If you decide to use employees, make sure they’re comfortable with being on camera. If you elect to use actors, you can reach out to casting agencies or use a website like New England Film.
            Scheduling – when scheduling your shoot, there are a number of factors to consider. Number of locations, number of days to shoot, availability of talent, &c. If you are going to be shooting in multiple locations, it’s best to shoot all of one location before moving to the next (seems like common sense, I know). If you have multiple days of shooting, try not to schedule exterior shots for the last day as weather is incredibly unpredictable. Don’t underestimate the amount of time needed to set up and light a scene. If you are unsure of how long to schedule for this, talk with your producer or crew members for estimates. And most importantly, do not forget about lunch. An efficient crew is a well-fed crew is what I always say.
            Meeting of the minds – you may need to schedule more than one meeting of all the major creative forces, but I would make sure to have at a bare minimum one. This should include the producer, director, director of photography, and whatever members of your team involved in the creative process. This is your chance to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that everyone will be making the same movie. The last thing you want is to have the producer running towards one vision, the director another and the cameraman yet another.

            I had originally intended to cover all three aspects of production in this post but got a little carried away. The second and third stages won’t take as long to cover so I’ll lump them into one post. I hope you’ve caught a glimpse of the man behind the curtain and if you have any questions about the nitty-gritty of the process don’t hesitate to reach out.

-- by Joseph Baron

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