Part Three – Pre-Production – Where It All Begins.
Welcome to Pre-Pro - shorthand you’ll hear video professionals tossing around for pre-production.
Like the name implies, it’s the work that has to happen prior to actually “rolling tape.”
You could say that all of pre-pro is based on a cliché. Plan your work, and work your plan. But clichés attend in service to truths—and without a detailed plan, making a video is a little like tossing paint against a wall and hoping for a portrait. Don’t hold your breath.
Pre-production is the foundation for all of the efforts that will follow. It’s where you decide what story you’re going to tell. Who will tell it. How they’ll tell it. What crew will be involved. What equipment will be necessary. How much time it will take for casting, shooting, editing, and a host of other necessary video-making tasks.
Most imporantly, pre-production isn’t just thinking or talking about these things, it’s writing down a plan for them.
The good news is that planning a video is like planning anything else. You start with some brainstorming, develop consensus about the story you want to tell, and then write it all down.
In moviemaking it’s popular to start with a document called a treatment, where the overall goals and concepts of the video are laid out. This might include a description of the characters, the points the video will make, and even basic ideas of the where the video will be shot (location) and what general kinds of things the audience will see.
The treatment forms the basis for the script.
Professional scripts follow a pretty rigid format, with everything from character descriptions to dialog laid out in a precise and standardized fashion.
This happens because the script is really the detailed plan of exactly what is going to be seen and heard in the video — and the better your script is, the better the results you can expect.
But while the script is the critical central plan for your video, don’t make the mistake of thinking you need expensive fancy scriptwriting software. The most basic form is the two-column video script. As the name implies, it’s just a sheet of paper with two columns. The left column is where you describe the action and characters, and the right column is where you write dialog, the words the characters will say. Scripts are created in the imagination, something many students have in ample supply. Unfortunately, videos are not MADE in the imagination. They’re made in a real world of locations, sounds, lights, and people.
It’s easy to write a script like this:
Opening shot: A house engulfed in flames. At the curb, a red sports car screeches to a halt and our HERO jumps out.
That’s a pretty exciting beginning, right? But realistically, most of us don’t even have ready access to a red sports car, let alone the luxury of burning down a building for a school video. So somewhere along the line, the flames of student excitement might need a healthy sprinkling of reality. My advice? Encourage flights of fancy and extreme visualization in the first script. Then get your team to work adapting some of the best of the script’s basic ideas to the real world of available cast, crew props, costumes, and locations (along with minor matters like maintaining a positive relationship with your school’s insurance provider!)
The storyboard is where the words of your script take their first visual form. Traditional storyboards required artists to interpret the written descriptions. But with today’s technology, an inexpensive digital still-camera and an ink-jet printer can easily pre-visualize your video in storyboard form.
After the creative decisions are made, it’s time for some organization. And that typically means lists, lists, and more lists! Schedules, props, costumes, locations, equipment, cast and crew “call sheets” and more—telling everyone involved in the production who, what, and how many of anything needs to be where and when.
The bottom line truth of the importance of pre-production can be easily seen the next time you go to a major movie. Hang on through the last of the credit roll. See all those people? Most of them aren’t acting, directing, or even directly doing anything involved with the production. They’re organizing the work of all the others.
And a pretty big percentage of them do their organizing for pre-production tasks.
There is another old saying is that an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure. In video that idea becomes a quality minute spent in pre-production, often saves you HOURS in post-production. So never start to roll tape until you feel you’ve got a solid, workable plan.
Sure things can (and do) change. That’s the excitement of the production process. But if you know where it is you’re going before you start, the chances go way up that you’ll actually get to a place you really want to be.
Next time: Cameras – what they are, how they work, and why they’re not as important as you might think.
Bill Davis is a video professional with more than two decades experience producing, writing, shooting, and editing video. He spent 10 years as Contributing Editor at Videomaker Magazine and conducts seminars and lectures nationwide on the art and craft of videomaking. Bill is the author and producer of the Videocraft Workshop series of video editing training programs, including the START EDITING NOW! Classroom Workshop Edition.