In this article, we offer you some tips and tricks to help make the pre-production planning for your short film go more smoothly. This resource is part of a series written by the team from Show Me Shorts Film Festival who are keen to support your filmmaking journey.
Pre-production is your best friend. It’s where your team decides how you’re going to make your film and what you will need to make it with. The more time you can spend planning and developing your short film, the smoother it will go in production and post-production, both of which are time-pressured and costly. In fact, the lower your film’s budget, the more time you should spend in pre-production, ironing out all the little details. The best advice is: plan, plan, plan and then be aware it will change on the day!
DEPARTMENT LIST MAKING
Before you can shoot your film all departments must be prepared and ready to go with every item that will appear on camera, and those behind the camera knowing exactly how to shoot a scene. Lists are vital!
Props, Costumes, Makeup: These teams list any props / costumes that are in the script, and note down what props may already be available, what props the students can bring in, and what props may need to be purchased.
Set Dressers: This team lists what items it will take to make each location in each scene look real according to the script when shooting.
Lighting & Sound: This team notes what kind of lighting equipment might create the best atmosphere scene by scene. For example, making a note if they think shadows might help tell the story. They also note what kind of additional sound effects or music might be called for at certain parts in the script.
Actors: Note and highlight their character names in the script, and write down notes next to their lines regarding emotion, inflection, timing and delivery.
Camera Team: Collaborate with your camera team to decide what shot sizes, camera angles, camera movements and shot listing will mean you get the shots you need to make your edit work. More on shot lists below.
Locations: By identifying and listing all of the scenes taking place in each location you can make sure you shoot the scenes of your film in location order, which will save time and money. You will need to scout and confirm the location where each scene of your film will happen, and get permission to film there.
Once you are happy with your lists work with your Assistant Director and each team to enter all of this information from the compiled lists (probably written into exercise books at this point) into a Production Master Document.
You can find a template to use here: Show Me Shorts Production Master Document
Your Shot List will be the recipe for how you make the film, describing what each shot will look like one after another, when finally edited.
Once all of the scene numbers have been listed with shot descriptions and shot numbers under them, review the Shot List again with your collaborators. Now that you have a list of shots allocated to each scene, you can add this information to the Master Production Document detailing what each type of shot will be, what will happen in it, what props and costumes you’ll need, and how you can use sound to tell the story.
Storyboards are a visual plan of every shot in the film, with descriptions. Many directors find storyboards a really useful tool to plan what the film will finally look like . They can also help everyone in the team visualise what they need to accomplish for each shot.
Often on short films and student films the filmmakers skip the storyboard process as they don’t have the time to create them. If you do have time - each storyboard frame should show which characters are in shot, but most importantly - what the shot size, type and camera movement/ position is. Here are a couple of links to show where storyboarding fits in the process.
What is a Storyboard? https://youtu.be/6aTnEanIXBk
Storyboarding Short Films https://youtu.be/z15k1AN__r4
Holding a rehearsal with your actors before the shoot is a great way to save time. Any blocking (figuring out where your characters will stand and move to on the set) that you can do in advance will help speed things up during your shoot and identify any likely problems early. It also allows your actors to ‘find their characters’ and settle in to what they need to do when it comes to shoot. We recommend having your ProductionAssistant / First Assistant Director / Producer make notes of any logistical problems that come up during your rehearsal with the actors, so you can avoid them on the shooting days.
On your shoot day it’s good practice to have another rehearsal. Being careful to follow the shooting script and shot list, pull your whole team together for a shooting rehearsal on location. Encourage your actors to learn how the camera will move around them, and understand what shots are being used at every point in the script. Guide the camera team on how to position and move the camera for each shot.
Great job planning your film. Now you’re ready to call action!