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Issue #173 – June 17, 2017 (Director’s Pre-Production Activities – Pt 1)

Issue #173 – June 17, 2017
(Director’s Pre-Production Activities – Pt 1)

The following list is a detailed overview of what is expected of a director during pre-production which is the most important time for a director because it’s where we go through a “process of discovery.“

It’s also during this time that every department discovers what they need to make a particular movie. All this takes time and the more time you have in prep the more you will discover and sort out before you go to camera.

Please keep in mind that these pre-production activities will vary in time and importance depending on whether you are shooting a (no money) short film, a (low budget/high budget) feature film or a episode of a television series.

(1) Director’s Visual Concept

The Director’s Visual Concept is how you create the image structure and style of the film – it’s the “visual stamp” or look you put on the picture. Some examples of visual style are:

1. What is the pacing and mood of the story? (Fast or slow, dark and moody or light and fun?)

2. What is the rhythm of the story – a scene – an act? (Every scene should have highs and lows.)

3. What is the color of the story? (Colors can be used to express feelings and emotions and represent certain qualities of a character that can affect the sets and the costumes.)

4. Deciding on what the audience is going to see (and not see) by deciding where to place the camera.

(2) Creative Concept Meetings

The “producer” concept meeting is usually one of the first meetings a director has after being hired for a project and it’s where you have a chance to communicate your creative ideas, the tone of the film and your overall vision of the story to the producers.

You will also have several “key creative” concept meetings during prep with your key department heads (DOP, Production Designer, Costume Designer etc.) These meetings give them a chance to get a first impression of you, to know your personal style and to find out if you are organized and well prepared.

(3) Script Meetings (Ongoing)

Script Meetings are where you discuss your script notes with the producers and writer. They generally happen after you have had some time to do a basic scene analysis of the script.

Your script breakdown will be a never-ending process so you will usually have several more script revision meetings during prep to discuss the variety of script changes that happen before you are ready to shoot: changes to locations, changes in budget, changes to the cast, changes for script length etc.

(4) Key Crew Interviews & Hiring

As the director you will want to participate in the hiring of your key creatives to make sure they are the right fit for you and the film. Depending on the budget of your film, the main Key “Production” Creatives you want to interview and hire (with the producers) are the DOP, Production Designer, 1st AD, Costume Designer, Key Makeup, Key Hair, Prop Master, Stunt Coordinator, Script Supervisor, Visual Effects Supervisor.

The main “Key Post-Production Creatives” you want to interview and hire (with the producers) are the Post-Production Supervisor, Editor, Music Composer.

(5) Script Analysis

When you begin the script analysis process, your first impressions are vital and you need to keep in mind your emotional reaction to the story and what images the story stimulates in you. What you “feel” when you read the script is really what counts, because it is your emotional response to something that usually defines it as a “Truth.”

After reading the script and making notes about script structure and scene analysis, the Director needs to figure out the objectives of the characters. You do this by understanding the characters background, objectives and dialogue.

To understand the script deeply, you need to operate in the subworld of the characters, therefore, one of the main purposes of script analysis is for you to find out who the characters are and what happens to them.

(6) Location Scouts (Ongoing)

Location scouting is one of the first activities you will be doing in pre-production. Once a director has had his/her concept meeting with the producers and the key creative team, and they know what kind of look you require for the film, a search is begun for suitable locations.

The Location Manager has a concept meeting with the Producer, Director and Production Designer after reading the script. The Location Manager finds as many choices as possible for the Director and the creative team then goes on the scout.

One of the biggest challenges when looking for a great location is you have to think “will it work logistically for the shooting schedule?” The main factors that eventually determine if you can get a particular location (after you know it fits the story) are cost, sound issues, power availability and logistics.

(7) Department Head Meetings (Ongoing)

Department Head meetings range from script meetings and concept meetings with the Producers to individual department head meetings. Remember, for every element you have in your film you need to have several meetings with the department head to discuss all the creative and logistical requirements of every scene that includes those elements.

Depending on the your budget and the complexity of the film, you could have more (or less) department head meetings than these.

1. Producers (Concept meeting/cast and show info)
2. Producers/Writer (Script notes/dialogue changes)
3. Location Manager (Location choices, choices and more choices)
4. First Assistant Director (Shooting schedule, shot lists, scene timings)
5. Director of Photography (Photographic style, shot lists, lenses)
6. Production Designer (Locations and set design)
7. Set Decorator (The dressing & look and feel of the set)
8. Costume Designer (Photos, drawings, fabric)
9. Hair and Make-up (Various styles, beauty, aging, prosthetic)
10. Props Master (Anything an actor touches is a prop)
11. Sound Mixer (Music playback, overlapping dialogue)
12. Special Effects Coordinator (Explosion/smoke/squibs/special devices)
13. Stunt Coordinator (Actor action/stunt doubles/fights & action sequences)
14. Extra’s Casting (Deciding on how many extras and the specific look)
15. Transportation Coordinator (Planes, trains, boats, automobiles)
16. Visual Effects Supervisor (CGI/green screen/crowd duplication)
17. Animal Trainers
18. Stock Shots, Photographs, Inserts
19. Video Playback and Computer Playback

(8) Budget Meetings (Producers/PM)

A budget is typically divided into four sections: Above the Line (creative talent in front & behind the camera), Below the Line (direct production costs and crew costs), Post-Production (editing, sound design, visual effects) and Other (completion bonds, insurance, contingencies.)

The Director needs to understand how to read a budget so you know where you can make suggestions on what elements you would like to add in and what elements you can take out. You will also have to sign-off on the budget for legal reasons to say that you can shoot this film within the number of approved shooting days and within the approved budget.

Next Month: Director’s Pre-Production Activities – Part 2

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