For independent filmmakers, emerging actors and directors and production crew hopefuls, there is nothing quite as exciting as your first on location shoot for an independent short film. However, a host of details must be covered during your weeks or months of preproduction planning before the first scene can be shot. How many actors do I need? Where will I shoot? What kind of lighting does each of my scenes require? What are my audio needs? Have I read my screenplay thoroughly to account for all of this? Although it will initially seem a daunting task, take heart. There is much to be said for preproduction planning.
Having read your screenplay multiple times, assemble a lengthy, detailed list of all necessary actors, props, crew members, physical locations and other materials needed for the film. Let’s run through these basic elements of any preproduction plan:
a. Actors: You will likely desire to hold a casting call months before beginning production of your film. Here you will allow actors from local guilds or your school’s theatre department to exhibit their talents. Have them rehearse specific lines and scenes from your film’s screenplay. Avoid asking actors to quote lines from Shakespeare, unless you are specifically shooting a reproduction of a Shakespearian drama. You need to assess their acting and performance abilities as they relate to your specific storyline and characters.
Upon selection of an actor, be certain to obtain their contact information: Phone numbers and e-mail addresses should suffice.
b. Props: (short for Properties). Props are simply the items needed on the set for a specific scene. Furniture, plants, items that will be handled by the actors (also called hand props), etc. Even short films often require the use of multiple props. You will need a detailed list of them if you desire to have any hope of remembering them.
c. Crew Members (personnel): Upon the assemblage of your audio/video/lighting crews, be certain to obtain their contact information. You will be working with these men and women for the next several months. When problems or scheduling conflicts arise (and they will), you will need to be able to contact them as quickly and easily as possible.
d. Physical Locations: If you plan to shoot on location, you are typically required by law to secure authorization and permission to shoot, particularly on property owned by the city. An official Location Release Form is the best way to go about this. Have the owner of the property and/or any other necessary individuals sign the form, thereby granting you complete legal permission to shoot on the property.
Keep a detailed list of your interior (indoors) and exterior (outdoors) locations, including physical street addresses. As a rule of thumb, it is typically suggested to shoot all exterior scenes of your short film first, so as to take into account possible weather conditions and/or other elements outside of your control, all of which could render your location inoperable or unusable.
e. Draw up a Schedule: For a director, this may be one of the most frustrating processes of all in preparing for the production of a short film. However, it is one of the most crucial and necessary steps of preproduction planning.
Schedule your entire shoot by week and day of the month in which you plan to shoot. Include all necessary times and locations so that you actors and crew are precisely aware of when and where to meet. If your audio/video crew needs to arrive on set or on location two hours before the actors, be certain to denote it on the schedule.
Naturally, this will all be subject to change. However, you need to go into your shoot with a plan. What scenes do you wish to shoot on which days? What actors and props will you need for that scene and day? Will you be indoors or outdoors? Planning these things far in advance will eliminate many frustrations when you finally begin your shoot.
f. Make a List of all Equipment: Keep a detailed list every camera, every piece of lighting equipment and all audio technology. Anything and everything that accompanies you on your shoot must be kept track of, particularly if your equipment is under rental and must be returned or if it is school property. Either way, equipment is expensive. Whether it’s your money or your school’s, you don’t want to lose it. Never leave a location without checking off every piece of equipment on your list.
g. Assess Location Power Sources: This is of particular concern when shooting outdoors. Will you be able to plug in all necessary pieces of lighting, audio and video equipment? If not, do you have enough battery power to last the duration of the shoot? Investigate the power source options of your location before you ever take your cast and crew there.
h. Transportation: How will you get where you are going? Shooting on location, even for a short film project, is a time-consuming and exhausting experience, particularly when lugging around loads of equipment and people. Be certain you have reserved the use of vehicles that contain plenty of space for all of your cameras, audio equipment (including long, tall boom mics) and lights. You may need one van or truck for equipment and another for actors and crew. As the director/producer, the decision and strategies are in your hands.
Ultimately, you are in control. Your cast and crew will be looking to you for guidance, answers and commands throughout the entire production. Be prepared for things to go wrong. Keep everyone focused and on track and maintain a positive attitude. It certainly will not help for your cast and crew to become disheartened. Keep all of the aforementioned elements in mind and enjoy planning your short film.
References and Suggested Reading:
1. Compesi, Ronald J. and Gomez, Jaime S. Introduction to Video Production: Studio, Field, and Beyond; Pearson Publishers, 2006.
2. Musburger, Robert P. Single-Camera Video Production; Focal Press Publishers, 2005.