Things to do before you say the word "action"
There's much more to being a filmmaker then getting to set and capturing beautiful shots. Filmmaking is the process of creating a story and bringing it to life, and content is 90% of that process. The other 10% is execution of the plan and film you set out to create.
There is no wrong or right way that leads to filmmaking. Everyone has their own distinct workflow and that's the beauty behind all of the worlds greatest filmmakers, they all do things differently. That being said, all of these points are just our knowledge and opinion of how to get started on making a great visual. There may be points that we left out, or you don't agree with, and thats ok too. Use what you feel comfortable with and what works for you and your crew.
Even if your film doesn't have a storyline, like a music or fashion video, there should still be organization to your shots. A mood board or treatment will go along way to focus the visual to match the look you or your client is trying to achieve.
In order for your time on set to flow smoothly, you hope for the best and plan for the worst. Always book time over at your location, so that set up or tear down has enough time, as you never know what will go wrong on a set day, and may end up needing an extra hour or two.
"When I was a kid, there was no collaboration; it's you with a camera bossing your friends around. But as an adult, filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself. "
PRE PRODUCTION: consists of many different aspects of the early process. Some of the best things you can do during this stage is find talented people to work with you to help create this vision. As we mentioned before, content is 90% of making an amazing film, so don't think you can do this all by yourself!
SCREENPLAY/SCRIPTWRITING: is so important I will probably have to write a blog post just on this one step. It's crucial to develop an idea, and characters that bring that idea to life. If there are no characters, such as a car commercial, it helps to write out the message that you are trying to convey. Is it a safe car that will help get your children to and from school? Or is it a sexy, fast car that will have you feeling confident when you ride in it? Both of those messages bring to mind very different visuals. Find the message, and the story surrounding the message will be easier to create and mean more to the consumer.
"After I script the movie, I have to storyboard it out, I have to budget it, and I have to understand if I can afford all those visual effects or not."
David Twohy (Pitch Black, Chronicles of Riddick)
STORYBOARD: this is optional, but can definitely improve your communication with your crew and help see the final product clearer. Some pros, like Werner Herzog, say storyboarding stunts creativity, but I think, if you are new to this, or working with a new crew it is very important to have everyone on the same page. Not everyone envisions the same scene. It is important your DP or Gaffer, knows how the rig is supposed to move, or how the scene should be lit, to achieve the look you want.
Storyboard for PIXAR's Toy Story
MOOD BOARD/TREATMENT: another optional, but goody. I always have a treatment and mood board on set. This is one of the most important parts of preproduction to me, other than the script. The mood board will have pieces of the production working towards a common mood for the film. Every film has it's "feel". Think of a Tarantino, Spielberg, or Lucas film. All the greats have distinct moods which make you feel happy, anxious, scared, or excited. Moods can be affected by color, wardrobe, set dressing, or make up, which is why it is so important to take this all into consideration before you get on set.
One of our Mood Boards for a short film
SHOT LIST: The shot list is essentially a collaboration between director and cinematographer/dp, as they brainstorm and decide the best way to tell the story visually. The significance of the shot list is to make sure that every part of the script is assigned a shot.
MEET WITH CREW: take time to meet with your crew and explain clearly the expectations and the plan. Larger crews will have walkies, but if you don't have this luxury, make sure you stop throughout the shoot to regroup with your crew and quickly tell them the upcoming scene info, so that everyone is working efficiently. Sometimes inspiration or failure will happen in the moment, and suddenly things change. You and your crew will need to adjust and have clear communication during this time.
“Always get to the set or the location early, so that you can be all alone and draw your inspiration for the blocking and the setups in private and quiet. In one sense, it’s about protecting yourself; in another sense, it’s about always being open to surprise, even from the set, because there may be some detail that you hadn’t noticed. I think this is crucial. There are many pictures that seem good in so many ways except one: They lack a sense of surprise, they’ve never left the page.”
BLOCK THE SCENE: determining where the actors will be on the set and the first camera position. Check out the video below which gives so many tips on how to do this.
All of these pieces of the filmmaking process happen before the director even says the word "action", and they all make a great difference between an amateur and seasoned filmmaker. Hopefully these steps help you get creative and get filming!