Why Is Pre-Production Important...And What Does It Mean?

Sometimes I think there might be an air of mystery regarding video production and how it's all done.  How long does it take to produce a video, what does it cost, what are the steps...these are all pretty common questions.  Today I'd like to tackle the first step in producing a video and talk a little bit about pre-production.

 "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."  -Benjamin Franklin.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."  -Benjamin Franklin.

When we're first contacted to produce a video generally there's some work we need to do before we can even start shooting.  This is what we refer to in the industry as "pre-pro."  A lot of it depends on the nature of the video, as well as a client's expectations.  The greater the expectations in regard to production value, budget, etc....the more time we'll need to invest in pre-production.  Some projects might require very little pre-production.  Maybe the client has already written the script and someone from their office is prepared to voice the narration.  All we might have to do early on is review the script and provide feedback.  That could be as simple as 2-3 hours.  But if it's more complicated than that there are instances where more time is required.  So let's take a look at what's typically done in one of the most important stages of production.

Six Common Steps In Pre-Production

1) Writing or reviewing a script

This Thursday I have a meeting with an agency regarding a video project we're working on together.  A script has been written but they want our feedback so that we can discuss if what's been written matches up with the budget.  We might have to make changes to it before it's delivered to the client; if so we'll be making recommendations.  Often times we write the script ourselves, send to the client and work through a couple different cycles of revisions (agreed upon in our proposal) prior to having a working script.  

2) Selecting a narrator or on-camera talent

Often when we're producing either a marketing video or training video we need to hire professional talent. Quite frequently it's a professional narrator.  Today that process has gotten easier with online services like Voice123 where we can select three finalists, have them record an audition and send those choices to the client for a collaborative decision.  When we decide a project needs a professional spokesperson we do the same thing by taping auditions and sending those files to our clients.  On the day of the shoot we request our talent to get to the location early so that we begin rehearsing with them and get them in place and ready.   

3) Coordinating on-camera interviews

Testimonials are a powerful ingredient in marketing videos.  But let's say your company wants to capture three interviews from different companies in different locations.  The budget has been agreed upon and there's one day of shooting allotted for the project.  The key is scheduling those interviews all on the same day.  Sometimes that's simple, other times it can be a little more challenging.  There are projects where our client will schedule those, some want to hand those responsibilities off.  

4) Location scouting/Site surveys

Sometimes a video calls for a very specific look.  Perhaps it's a cycling video and we need to see a series of hills or steep inclines in order to see this bike in action.  (Yes we can even find those in Florida!)   Maybe it's for a nonprofit who deals with homeless issues and we want to see a homeless camp or an abandoned warehouse as a setting for a spokesperson.  Depending on the nature of the video, we may need to find an appropriate place that conveys the tone and emotion required to elicit the desired response of the viewer.  Quite often we're taping in a company's office.  What we like to do is to do a survey of the office.  We walk around, look at offices that might be spacious enough for shooting interviews and also listen to sound.  We try to stay away from areas that might have loud air conditioning or be positioned in a central hub where there's lot of people talking.  Site surveys save a lot of time on the day of the shoot.

 5) Script Breakdown

The script has been written but it needs to be dissected and we need to create a production schedule so that we know we're staying on time the day of the shoot.  It can appear a little tricky to a novice because we're probably going to shoot the video out of order to enable us to make the production go faster.  It's helpful for us to have all of those notes written down as a guide so that on the day of production we know that we're going from maybe Scene 1 to Scene 7 (depending on proximity, location etc) especially if Scene 2 is to be shot at another location altogether.  Or let's say we're working with a software trainer and she's only available in the morning.  We're going to shoot all the the stuff pertinent to her during that timeframe (maybe she's at the beginning, middle and end of the video).  While we're taping her maybe there's a key shot in that same location that will be used later in the video of a call center.  It makes sense to try to grab that shot while we're in that same area.  Breaking down a script prior to the day of production ensures that our team will keep on the move so we're not wasting ANY time during the day of the shoot.  

6) Crew Coordination

Pre-production is also the time to figure out who will be on our crew the day of the shoot.  Like most industries certain individuals have different strengths.  We might have a camera operator that is especially strong shooting training videos because he's good with on-camera talent.  Or maybe we're shooting with kids, we need to put together a crew who might be more patient and understanding.  This is just another point of the thought that goes into a project before the project begins shooting.

Spending sufficient time in pre-production will save you valuable time and money the day of the shoot.  When you take into the consideration the cost of crew, it's important to try to limit the number of shooting days because that figure can escalate quickly.