9 Stages of Pre-Production

The first day of shooting on a movie set is never the first day that film is being produced. Days, and sometimes weeks, months, years, or—in the case of James Cameron’s “Avatar” or Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”—decades can go by from the beginning of a film’s inception to when cameras just start rolling. The production and subsequent post-production processes of a movie can be shorter, longer, or about the same, but neither can exist without pre-production—the work that goes into a film before any images are recorded.

Pre-production, like the filmmaking as a process as a whole, is complicated and can be daunting for independent filmmakers. Here are nine stages—each with their own subdivisions of tasks and labor—that should be included in your pre-production process if you want to ensure a steady, fruitful film shoot from day one.

Finalize a Shooting Script

While movies are magical, they don’t come out of thin air. Even before the pre-production process starts, you need an idea, and often a fairly polished screenplay to work off of. But when it’s crunch time, you need to finalize that screenplay and convert it to a shooting script—one that reads for the director, cinematographer, and camera crew as well as it does for the actors. Tweaks and whole scenes may be edited, added, or deleted at anytime (sometimes even in post-production!) but for the most part your shooting script should be ready to shoot by the time the director first calls action.

Storyboards & Shot Lists

Storyboards & shot lists go hand-in-hand with shooting scripts—creating a visual interpretation of the screenplay for the director and cinematographer to reference and prepare for. While some directors know exactly what they want in their hand and can draw it themselves, usually storyboard artists are hired to bring the story to life. Once a film is seen—even in black-and-white sketches—it comes alive in a way that the entire crew can see and gives them a concrete vision to strive for.

Find the Right Crew

While some crew positions might already be attached or recommended for a project, and other positions, like your writer and storyboard artist, could be hired very early in the process—you should work to get the entire team rounded out before pre-production gets too involved. After all, these are the women & men who will be carrying out a lot of these tasks, and the sooner they are involved in the creative process, the more valuable their input will be. All of filmmaking is a collaboration—not just the shooting!

Location Scouting

You may need to tailor your storyboards to your location or vice-versa, so finding them early is key. Many hands-on producers & directors may want to do this themselves, but often the smartest thing to do is hire a professional location scout who already has locales in mind or knows how to find original ones perfect for your script. If you’re shooting in a studio or soundstage, you’ll want to find the right one early and make sure it’s not booked before you can lock it in—treat them as you would reception halls for your own wedding! Finding real world locations early is just as important because you’ll want enough time to process the necessary permits & paperwork.

Create a Proper Budget (and Stick to It!)

By now you should be finalizing your budget, to make sure you can find the gear and afford the locations you want to use. Sometimes this is the professional thing to do; sometimes it’s the necessary thing to do because you’re not working with any credit or financial backers willing to give any more than they already promised. This is never the most fun part of pre-production, but very often it’s the most important.

Choose Your Gear

Are you shooting digitally or going old school with some 16mm film? Or are you saving money and shooting the entire film on your iPhone? Once you have the answers to these questions you can acquire your gear—often from a rental house. After your first film you may establish a relationship with a particular rental house and can negotiate discounts and figure out just exactly what your budget will allow when it comes to peripheral equipment. Maybe you can afford that ultracool fog machine after all!

Clear That Red Tape

Once you know what gear and locations you want, you’re going have to get into the paperwork—namely, permits and insurance. Permits are required from municipal governments to shoot on public property and location agreements are typically needed for use of private homes—especially if you’ll need to move furniture or equipment around or repaint the walls after the shoot, etc. You’ll also need insurance to protect yourself in the event you or one of your crew members accidentally do damage to the location or your rented film equipment. Finally you may need to cover your crew and cast as well—better safe than sorry!

Find the Right Cast

With your dominos falling in place you’re going to need to finally decide on your cast—this could feel impossible, no matter how many actors your audition. You might be frustrated you can’t find the perfect person for the role you envisioned in your head, or maybe you found two equally brilliant performers and you’re pulling your hair out trying to decide between the two. Either way, auditioning early and often and even employing a casting agent to find even more performers, possibly from outside your locality, will go a long way towards giving your movie the perfect cast.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Sometimes finding the perfect cast could make a filmmaker overconfident, leading them to put too much responsibility on their cast to be self-sufficient. Actors need their director just as much as the crew does, and working with them both one-on-one and as an ensemble is a vital part of the pre-production process. Holding table reads and rehearsals weeks before shooting will ensure that when the camera is ready to the roll, your cast will be giving the performance your movie truly needs. This extra time before the shoot also allows the cast to develop a genuine chemistry that will not go unnoticed by your audience.

These are just nine simplified stages of a complex, multifaceted pre-production process. Often these steps will be done simultaneously and in any variety of orders. Just remember that if you’re confident and prepared you can get through any hurdle and tell the story you’ve always wanted to tell. New York Film Academy offers courses in production and filmmaking with the overall philosophy of learning by doing—so the best way to get through pre-production is to learn the skills first and then master them with experience and resolve.

How To Follow Your Dreams And Land A Job In Broadcast Journalism: Interview With Miriam Eryan

Getting into journalismUpon graduating from the New York Film Academy’s School of Broadcast Journalism, Miriam Eryan scored a dream job at The Morning Show in Australia.

Miriam now works as a freelance news and lifestyle producer across various networks. Along with a partner, she has also gone on to launch an online magazine for which they will be coming to New York in order to interview women about their careers and what it means to make it as a woman.

In our Q&A with Miriam, she shares what it takes to make it in the competitive broadcast journalism industry…

NYFA: What is your personal background and what made you decide to get into broadcast journalism?

MIRIAM ERYAN: I am a degree qualified journalist and have honestly always wanted this as my career.

My oldest memory of a love for news and stories dates back to when I was eight years old. My dad used to sit me on his lap and read the paper to me and try to break down stories that I didn’t understand. I knew then that I didn’t just love stories, but that I too wanted to be a great storyteller when I got older.

I don’t think I’ve reached greatness yet, but it’s something I’m always striving for.

NYFA: What do you think is the most important skill for a broadcast journalist?

ME: Tenacity. I think you need to be as stubborn as hell because the industry is tough. It is often unforgiving and, more often than not, unwelcoming. You need to know with every fiber of your being that this is what you want to do and then you need to be thick skinned enough to ignore the rejections and persevere on that path to your dreams.

If this is what you want to do then never stop trying. And if you pair timing with talent, you’ll eventually get your break.

NYFA: You have secured Australia’s first interviews with some pretty big names. Was that due to your training, your personal drive, luck, or a combination?

ME: It was definitely a combination.

I was trained to be a good chaser by a former boss, Sarah Stinson, who identified my drive and worked to my talents. She gave me incentivised chases. For example, she promised promotion if I could secure a few different exclusive interviews. Sure enough, she delivered on that promise and created a job opportunity for me where I might not have fit the mold of a producer at the time.

I’m the type of person that, if given an opportunity, will run with it and will strive to deliver more than my job description. I’ll always bring the goods and look to value add because, frankly, there are enough people in journalism who know how to write or speak well. I always look to have a niche and that will often get noticed.

The first element is being driven enough to force yourself into the narrow gate of journalism and having the luck of being in the right place at the right time. The second is having the talent and the grit to work through all the challenges you’ll face once you’re in.

NYFA: What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?

ME: If it’s all you want to do, do it. If you have doubts, don’t.

I’d say make sure you get published while you’re studying or still in school. With how easy it is to create a blog, there’s no reason for you to not have published work.

If TV is what you’re after, find creative ways to get in. I have a genius friend, Jodi Lee, who once sent a doll’s arm packaged in a job application and captioned it: “I’d give my right arm for this job.” She got two call backs. I thought this was brilliant. I emailed for two years before finally being offered work experience at the Seven Network. I then networked within the company and was fortunate enough to be given opportunities across all of their news and lifestyle programs within our building.

So my top tips would be:

  1. Be persistent
  2. Get published.
  3. Get work experience (try to stay as long as you can so you’re always at the forefront of people’s minds).
  4. Be creative in your approach.
  5. Network

NYFA: What role did the broadcast journalism program at NYFA play in developing your career?

ME: NYFA was my first real taste of independence as I’d never lived away from home or tested my ability as a journalist beyond the borders of my university (The University of Wollongong).

It taught me valuable skills in editing, filming, framing, and lighting. But aside from that, it helped me make some invaluable lifelong friends. I’m still in touch with many of the girls I studied with and that was four years ago.

The course is still a point of interest in job interviews and definitely gives me an edge in my applications because people are increasingly searching for someone with enough skills to be a one-man-band. NYFA definitely compliments my university studies.

NYFA: What made you choose the New York Film Academy?

ME: I always had a curiosity for New York and a burning desire to be there and experience journalism on a larger scale than what Australia offered. It was also hugely appealing because I was being trained by NBC veteran producer Joe Alicastro, who I had so much love and admiration for. The course is also centrally located, offers a very hands on experience, and could be used for course credit while studying.

NYFA: Is there anything in particular that stands out from your time at NYFA?

ME: The relationships I formed with so many other aspiring journalists. It meant I was building international contacts, making lifelong friends and memories, and getting a true taste of what it means to be a journalist in a big city. I would do anything to go back and would love the chance to move over there for good.

NYFA: Is there anything you wish you had known before starting your education in broadcast journalism?

ME: I think television is very much exactly as you expect it to be. It’s high pressure, you deal with some huge personalities, it’s fun, it’s gratifying, it’s indulgent but it’s also charitable. The industry has so many highs and lows. But if you’re lucky you get to experience those with a bunch of really great people who are brilliant at what they do, are like-minded, and are nurturing of your talents.

NYFA: What is your ultimate goal in the broadcast journalism industry?

ME: I need a very long career and a few lives to live out all of my dreams. I’d love to be like Louis Theroux and produce and present documentaries on stories that really matter to me at some stage.

When the travelling gets to be too much, I’d love to be Oprah (but the second-coming) and have a chance at a lifestyle program that taps into all of my interests. That way, I could dabble in lifestyle, news, current affairs, and celebrity. It would also give me the chance to write occasional columns.

NYFA: Any parting words of advice for aspiring broadcast journalists?

ME: Get your name out there. Look the part. Practice speaking on camera. Get work experience. Don’t take no for an answer. Believe in yourself. Be fearless. Be prepared to live and breathe your job. Do all your sleeping now. You’ll miss out on so much of it once you’re working. Enjoy the journey.