If you didn’t catch the first post in the series, be sure to go back and read it. I talk about how filmmaking is more about project management, than just art. Structure is also what promotes the process of film and video creation. The process of video production is just as important, if not more so, than the end product. A video will be produced. So, let’s get to it. Let’s talk about the Phases of Production.
Think of that movie you saw that was set in the world of old Hollywood. Maybe it was the Coen Brother’s and their Barton Fink or Hail Caesar!. Ah, the good old days! A lot has changed since then but there are certain things that pre-date it and many things that live on because of those. The most notable things that have not changed are the truth that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. We still pull for the protagonist. We also still produce with more or less the same phases of production. You may hear terms like “pre-pro” or “post” and we’ve all heard someone talking big about “developing” a film. Those are phases.
In the movie world you’ll hear about Development. In the simplest, development is an early phase just after someone reads a script that they decide they might get serious about making it into a motion picture. There’s legal maneuvers to “option” scripts or buy them. There may be script doctoring and rewriting to prepare the script for pitching to funders and actors. And then, all still in development, there’s the quest to get your film “green-lit”. It’s nice to get an official approval to make a movie but, you’re still in development. All of your work was just to get the permission from whoever is going to write checks that you can do something with the big idea you have on paper.
In the advertising world the closest thing you have to development is that unnamed part of a film process where you’re coming up with an idea, maybe doing discovery to understand your target market, etc. You might be writing and kicking around a pile of ideas. Generally, you know what you want – a TV Commercial (or web spot, or event video, sales video, etc) – but you don’t know what you’ll do to fill that need yet. And when you do… and everyone agrees that you have something worth the effort, you move into Pre-Production.
Phases of Production:
Pre-production (or “pre-pro” as the cool kids say) is a very spot-on term. It’s all the rest of the stuff that you must accomplish before you can in good conscience call, “Lights, Camera, Action!” (which isn’t a thing by the way… sorry). And the rest of the stuff is, well, a TON!
Your script is broken down by the producer into a bunch of schedules and lists. How many actors and extras are needed? What locations and how long will we need them? Consider this short list of needs that would be uncovered in a script breakdown: Locations. Actors. Extras. Props. Costumes. Picture Vehicles. Special Effects.
Consider this list of needs that the above list needs: Location Contracts. Location Manager. Location Scout. Location Tech Scout. Casting Calls. Actor Contracts. Actor Scheduling. Table Reads. Blocking. Extras Casting & Scheduling. Catering and Dietary Need Planning. Vehicle planning – equipment trucks, actor transport, green rooms and/or trailers, honey wagons (portable bathrooms – and yes, that’s a gross term once you think about it), picture vehicles. Equipment Rentals for Camera Package, Audio Package, Lighting Package, Grip Package, Electric Generation, Aerial/Drone, DIT, VFX/SFX. Crew for each department. Props and Clothing masters. Makeup and Hair.
From the breakdown a director can work the script to add his creative vision and detail. Story boards are sometime drawn and detailed technical information and shot planning are done before, during, and after tech scouts at locations.
There’s a lot to be done and frankly, this is just a brain dump. This doesn’t even include all of the legal and regulatory things that MUST be handled throughout the entire process. This is the “Wheel-of-Fortune list” of people, places and things. The producer handles most of this while a line producer is essentially the accountant. This phase could be called “Preparation”. That’s simply what it is.
Phases of Production: Production
Lights! Camera! Action! We really don’t say it that way. Lights should be set before you need to call out for it. It’s really, Camera! Action!. At least on my sets. But this is the phase were someone is yelling set directions because you’re shooting a motion picture*.
Production is that phase that everyone wants to experience at least once. There’s a buzz of crew setting up big lights. They mold and shape light and they strategically remove reflections with nets and flags. The soften light sources with scrims. The DP (Director of Photography, in some cases worthy of the title Cinematographer) works with the director to accomplish the right look with lensing and camera position and movement. There’s a reverence that protects your actors from distraction and there’s a village of people here and there doing their respective tasks.
I’ll admit: it’s fun. Especially when your team is acting like a team. The big movie set feel is also not the norm these days. Most sets, if you can even call them that, are a small handful of scrappy people who can handle multiple roles and are talented in many ways. They know this process, too and emulate it in their microcosm.
In all cases big and small you’ve entered the Production phase when you roll camera. The proof of the quality of your pre-production will show up a bit here and then a bit more in post-production and then a lot in the final product.
The on-set professionalism of each team member is a whole other text to tackle. It’s a very intricate world and the rabbit holes are deep and winding. I liken the individual departments on movie set to that of a construction site. A house is built by a General Contractor who has a site team that excavates, a masonry and concrete team to get foundation in, a framing team, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, A/V, etc.
*note that I use the term Motion Picture a lot. It’s a lost term in my opinion but possibly the most relevant old term for this business. It describes accurately the fact that you are capturing motion in a series of still frames for the playback of the pictures into a motion experience. To use this term today you can point to a movie, a tv show a web video, and even an animated GIF! Its fits. The term ‘movie’ is misleading because it’s so tightly knit to theaters and feature length work. The term ‘film’ is both misleading as it’s usually connected to feature length work but even if you label your work “short film” it indicates entertainment work and the use of cellulose. Both of which don’t apply to advertising and social media applications. Motion Picture is really accurate. It’s been slightly removed from the entertainment and movie world as it’s gone out of style but it’s perfectly describing the product. If you’re reading this then let me ask you to join me in bringing this brand of sexy back… Motion Picture. Use it in sentences… Often! ~ I’m Josh Pies and I’ve approved this message.
Phases of Production: Post-Production
If you want to really boil this phase down to the heart of the matter… Editing. That’s the crux of it. You have a bunch of data (or if you’re really into spending gobs of unnecessary dollars, film*) and you must do something with it. Why? Well you got this far, didn’t you!?!?
The post-production phase is far more than just the simplicity of the word ‘editing’, though. There’s a lot that happens and process to this phase that is managed by, you guessed it, the producer. Activities at this point include: rough cut editing, review and revisions of said rough cut, CGI (computer generated imagery) AKA Graphics and VFX, sound editing and design, voice overs, scoring and/or music selection, and more. It’s yet another multi-layered and busy series of events that lead you towards the final act: Distribution.
*On Film: Am I anti-film and should you be? Yes-ish. I think film is neat. Yeah, pejorative, I know. Film looks beautiful but doesn’t footage from a lot of high end digital cameras also look beautiful? The noticeable difference? Cost. If your budget is less than $5M (and this is my own theory), spit on the guy who insists you use film! The use of film on one movie I worked on was a line item of $80,000.00. The camera rentals were $40,000 or so. The cost of a brand new RED camera with every possible needed add on for that particular film was about $75,000 at the time (all rough numbers). Why not buy an asset instead of burn through cellulose? A good business man would have chosen the asset over the ego of shooting on film. It’s nice if you can have it – artists choose to brag about it (and we know how I feel about them). Sorry Kodak and Fuji, I know you want film to be a thing, but responsible producers ignore it.
Phases of Production: Distribution
Let’s leave distribution, a very real phase, defined as the simplistic act of “getting your stuff out there”. It’s a whole world of planning to get this to happen. There’s tactics and strategies up the wazoo that you might employ. A small word of caution – the so-called “gurus” who don’t have proof that they can get you noticed are dangerous. Whoever plans your distribution, vet them first.
It’s a worthy thought to mention that in all your effort, you should have a sense of where you are going. Don’t meander towards distribution. You must have a target – your message and/or story has a target audience. You know, even if merely a gut feeling, where and who they are. Start with acknowledging that and do the ground work up-front in development and pre-pro to know that when you get to distribution that you’re aimed towards success.
I can’t imagine going on vacation with my family and having a goal of creating fun and growing our family bonds yet not having a target destination. I’d rather know we’re headed to Disney, drive there and accomplish the memory making we desire. You could end up having 15 meals at Waffle House as you meander instead – and I LOVE Waffle House but I think my wife and kid’s would leave me behind at one. Know where you’re going.
In the “biz” of motion pictures distribution used to exclusively target the movie theater. The movie crowd, especially the hungry world of independent film, will take this luxury if handed to them but doesn’t expect it. VOD (Video on Demand) through streaming options are largely taking over the sights of the indie producer. To me these parallels nicely with the world of advertising. The holy grail of advertising – the NFL Super Bowl TV Spot – is kinda ridiculous when you think about it. Millions of dollars for one big splash of attention for only those who can afford the risk. If I were given a slot right now that I had to use for my own business, I wouldn’t even know what message to send – other than the most bad ass “I Love You” to my wife… I mean, it IS the Super Bowl after all. Seriously though, that’s the ad man’s movie window and it’s nothing to covet because the reach and frequency we all need is not that. We need the right people to connect deeply with our advertised product and that comes ONLINE!
You now know the phase of the production process, but putting it all together is actually a lot like baking a cake. Stay tuned. Recipe coming soon.
About the Author:
Josh Pies is a video advertising & branding expert. He’s spent most of his life work-shopping ways to get attention – be it sales for his first business which he started at age 4, customers for his property services company at age 23, or laughs and viewership on his first National TV Show at age 26 where he was producer and head writer. He believes in getting attention and loves the power of modern content creation for what it can do for businesses and personal brands.
Josh is the executive producer of C47 Film Associates. C47 Films has produced one feature film which is available on Amazon Prime, three TV Series, eight documentaries, and TV and web ads for brands as various as Kodak, The John Maxwell Team, and the US Department of Labor. Josh Speaks at events on the topics of video branding, how to stand out as a professional, and the power of purpose. Josh lives in Orlando Florida where he, his wife Shannon and their three amazing kids play on the beach or in magical castles as often as possible.