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What happens in pre-production and why do I need to pay for it?

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

As a producer, I always explain our video production process to new clients. It’s important for them to know what to expect and at what points we’ll need their input.

Whilst I think it’s obvious to most people what filming and video editing entail, pre-production is the one where there tends to be less understanding of what’s involved, and less appreciation of why we need to dedicate budget to it.

So, I thought I’d write a list of what it can entail. There’s fourteen points below, and I wouldn’t dare to say it’s exhaustive. Pre-production is often made up of lots of tasks which individually may not take as long as the filming or editing, but together they’re a hugely important and time consuming part of a video project. It’s here that your video is defined, organised and written. The style and quality of the finished product absolutely depends on it.

With regards to the below, the first thing that I will say is that the process does vary depending on the type of video being produced. This is intended as a rough guide to provide a good idea of what happens throughout the pre-production process when you work with Ember.

1. What happens in a pre-production meeting

This is normally between us, the production company, and the client or agency. Usually, the agenda includes an overview of the project, clarification on messaging, discussion of timelines, filming dates, locations, and casting. We’ll also make it clear at this point what we need from our client in terms of input and feedback at the various stages of the production process.

2. Project scheduling

The producer/client manager will provide a list of project milestones with a target date for each. We’ll also ask you how long you’ll need to review and feedback at various stages such as delivery of scripts, graphics or first draft edits.

3. Scripting/interview questions

Our usual approach is to write the script or interview questions for you based on our conversations and the proposal (or brief), but if you want to retain control over the script and message, that’s fine too, and we can help you edit it. When we deliver a script, we’ll need you to review it and let us know about any suggested amends.

4. Filming date

The initial schedule may have had a provisional date for filming, but we do like to get this nailed down, usually within a week, so we can make the necessary arrangements.

5. Location

Finding the perfect location can take time, effort, and budget depending on how specific the requirement is. Your producer will share details and images of the chosen location, and you can object or provide feedback before we book.

A presenter giving a piece to camera in a distinctive location.

6. Casting

Depending on the project, this can involve actors, extras, a voiceover artist, or a presenter. Like finding a location, this does take time, particularly on larger productions.

7. Wardrobe/props

For many productions, this isn’t a necessary consideration, but where you have scenarios or stories to capture and you need a certain look, we like to get this sorted at a relatively early stage. There’s nothing like ringing round trying to get an obscure prop or garment at the eleventh hour!

8. Crewing and travel

We book in the best crew for the project, which usually means our in-house team. Occasionally, depending on the demands of the project, we work closely with specialists on a project basis.

9. Branding guidelines and assets

The vast majority of our work features our clients’ branding in some way. In order to get our designers working on some smart motion graphics for you, we need your logo, fonts and colour palettes as well as any brand guidelines you might have.

10. Storyboarding and style visualisation

This step varies a lot depending on the project. Many of our videos are simple enough so that we don’t need a storyboard, and for some projects we don’t have the budget. For a documentary we’d produce a written storyboard alongside the script, so you can get an accurate idea of what the viewer will see. For animated videos, we provide a full sketched storyboard, plus a style visualisation. This means that we take a few panels from the storyboard, and fully design them without animating them. So what you get is a still image that has the look of the finished product. At this point we ask you to review the storyboard and style visualisation, and suggest any amendments you might need. We will finalise these with you before we commence with animation.

A creative image showing collaborative storyboarding.

11. Archive/stock footage

Occasionally we use archive or stock footage in our videos. Purchased stock footage is particularly useful when you need a wide variety of shots which are not within budget to film, such as a sailing boat out at sea, or shots of people enjoying holidays in sunnier climes. We use trusted online providers for these shots, but it does take a bit of time to find the right ones to tell your story.

12. The recce

Always a good idea if the budget allows. ‘Recce’ is of course an informal adaptation of the military word, ‘reconnaissance’. It means that your producer can visit the location ahead of the shoot and plan in advance camera positions, shots, set arrangement, and any safety or logistical concerns. If you’re still not sure, check out my What is a recce? blog.

13. Shot list

Again, whether we do this depends on the project - there may be no good reason for a detailed shot list, for example in interview-based talking head videos. Shot lists are more important when filming acted scenes, as it’s vital to make sure the shots will edit together fluently and tell the story well. Shot lists can be quite time consuming, so, you guessed it, the need to produce one can add to the budget.

14. Filming schedule

This is a schedule for the duration of filming on location. They can vary in how detailed they are depending on the demands of the shoot. We always share this with any client contact who will be present with us on the filming day.

An interview being filmed

So as you can see, there’s a lot that can go into pre-production. As I said at the beginning, the pre-production is the preparation that will make the difference in the quality of your video. You should always question any costs you don’t understand, and we will explain them for you. Hopefully after reading this though, you’ll have more of an appreciation of why pre-production is just as important as the filming and editing time, and equally worth paying for.

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