Pre-production to me is from after your final draft of your script is done to moving onto the set. This is where most of your decisions get made and all of your planning should be. This is a time that feels like there’s a lot of pressure, and where hard work really pays off. Pre-lighting, blocking, rehearsals, shot lists, script break-downs, and many other things fall into pre-production, but there is one key to everything: work smarter, not harder. You can block while rehearsing and get your shots together while blocking. Pre-light after you block so you know what kind of lighting for the shots you’ll be getting. The most important step in pre-production is getting everyone on the same page. Production doesn’t work unless everyone is on the same page.
Without a doubt the hardest part of pre-production is sharing your vision with people and having them understand it, then execute it. Even with people that understand you. When people are on different wavelengths it just gets more difficult as production moves forward. In production you never want to explain things to multiple people multiple times. It eats into the time you should be rolling. That time is priceless. In production it feels like this giant stress snowball that just keeps on increasing until it crushes you. If you have everyone on the same page, it feels like there are people taking chunks out of that snowball for you. If you don’t have everyone on the same page those same people are adding to it. In an ideal situation there would be no questions on what’s being shot when, with who, with what kind of lighting, but this is never the case. So having multiple people who know what’s going on at any given time it’s only a small inconvenience, but if you’re the only one that knows, then everyone on crew is asking you what’s next.
Make sure you surround yourself with people you can communicate easily with. Not just talking at each other, but transferring information to one another and having it be understood. You won’t really know who these people are until you work with them, but those are the people you want to bring into every project. Here it should be a no brainer, bring those people with you into the pre-production phase as well. This doesn’t mean vacuous yes-men either. People who are truly listening to you will bring up criticisms and flaws in your logic that can be very helpful in your process. They can have extremely valuable insights from past projects that will help you in your planning phase. Consider every thought no matter how lame you think it is initially. Something I failed to do was address some suggestions as valid before rejecting the idea. I feel bad about it still, but the suggestion had already been considered and rejected, so when it was suggested to me by someone else I rejected it immediately without acknowledging his contribution. I was trying to keep production moving quickly and not waste time, and that’s not really an excuse, but hopefully you can avoid that same pitfall.
Everyone can benefit from pre-production meetings. Understanding what the director wants in production makes everything run smoother, ideas can be hatched by the crew instead of them running around trying to set things up in production. All these things can add up to make a better film than you had imagined. I’m not saying great ideas can’t be made up on the fly, they can, but given more time other ideas can come up as well. Always think in ways that help you combine things that need to get done instead of working through things one by one, this saves you from becoming mentally fatigued. Delegate from the beginning. Trust your crew. That’s what they’re there for.
Every crew member needs to know what you expect of them, and that can only happen when you talk to them. Letting people know that in x scene there needs to be y lighting, you report directly to z. In this way when people have questions the day of, there is someone with the answer that isn’t the director. Nothing is worse than trying to direct your actors while trying to figure out lighting, camera angle, sound, make-up and crafty at the same time. It’s horrible. Just don’t do it. Give those jobs to people that you can trust. The cinematographer’s responsibility is to cover lighting, meaning they need to be on set before the director and actors, working on lighting a scene in a away that helps production move quickly through the script.