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What is pre-production for film and other media products?

This article will identify some important aspects and considerations of pre-production for media projects. Pre-production refers to tasks that need to be completed before any media production. Media includes such things as shooting a film, writing an article or creating music. This article will consider:

Types of Productions,

Finance,

Time,

Personnel and Contributors,

Facilities,

Materials,

Locations

Obtaining permission.

It will show how some of these areas of pre-production cross over from each other. It will also point out the code of practice and include legal and ethical consideration for media production. Film production will be used as examples to provide a further understanding of the pre-production structure. 

Types of Production

Before Pre-production always consider the type of media you are going to use

Firstly the type of production is the forefront of what needs to be considered. Various types of media include film, interactive media, web films, such as youtube, computer games and radio. It is important to consider what production is intended to be developed. A script for radio, for example, would differ greatly to a film. This is because it relies more on sound effects rather than visual effects to enhance the story.

Each media type will require different aspects of consideration for pre-production. From here we are able to brainstorm. We can generate ideas and begin research on the production. This will lead to the first draft of your script.

Once the script is developed it is possible to start storyboarding. Consideration of all other aspects of the pre-production can now take place.

Finance

When considering finance, there is not only the cost of the production to think about. What possible profit the production is going to make is also important. If you want investors then they want to see what they are going to make by putting their money in your hands.

Always consider cost and profit in Pre-production

The types of cost might include, but not limited to:-

Equipment,

Transport,

Talent,

Crew,

Materials

Facilities

Location hire.

All the above would need to be considered prior to speaking to companies or producers to back the production. They will want to know the possibility of how long it could take to make back their money back as well as profits. For small short film productions, they may use websites such as Crowdfunder to get finance. Instead of a profit from the film they may offer small gifts for donating or acknowledged in the credits.

Time

Time relates to the project management of the production. This will provide the scheduling of the filming including the when and where. It takes into consideration the availability of personnel, contributors, locations and equipment. Certain personnel need to be in charge of the project. They will set deadlines and timescales for certain aspects of the production to be complete. The amount of time taken to film may vary on the budget available.

A schedule is of high importance in pre-production

Personnel and Contributors

Personnel and contributors are classed as any person who is involved in the making and production of the film. Whether that’s:-

 

Actors,

Singers,

Prop-Department,

Sound,

Editors,

Film Crew,

Make-Up Artist,

 

 

Background actors,

Narrators,

Voice actors,

Directors,

Artist

or Programmers.

In pre-production always consider who you want on your team

Personnel are classed as the official people involved with the production. Contributors are classed as people who drop in and out of the production. These could be people such as specialist directors, catering, make up artist for specific modelling, etc.

Having specific personnel, such as assistants and runners, within a whole team helps personnel and external contributors. They help people distinguish their role and aid in meeting deadlines in the production stages. Runners ensure personnel, such as actors, are in the right areas at the right time.

Contributors are also anyone who is involved in the distribution and funding of the production. So, for example, publishers and distributors also fall within this category.
All personnel and contributors will need to be identified in the early pre-production stages. They will need to be considered within the finance of the production. Consideration of how long they are needed and when they are needed so that schedules and deadlines can be arranged.

contributors can be a benefit to your production

The personnel/contributors available to hire will depend on finance available. If the budget allows then it may be possible to hire an expert in the area. Maybe if you’re working to a tight budget then utilising trainees or students may suffice. This will allow you to have someone with enough knowledge but also allows them to gain experience. However, this may impact on time if the trainee needs extra support to learn the skills required.

Facilities

facilities need more consideration than you think in pre-production

Facilities not only include a place to complete shooting productions. For example, an editing room might be needed as part of the facilities. Equipment and software needed to complete the production are also considered part of facilities. Some facilities in film production would include: cameras, tripods/camera rigs, lighting equipment, sound equipment, editing software and computer hardware.

If certain facilities are not instantly available or expensive to buy outright, then outsourcing could be an alternative to save money. Outsourcing is utilising other services to provide the equipment or complete the task. You may even decide to complete a task prior to the use of a facility to save time budget.  The opportunity to utilise a specialist contributor for their expertise could be beneficial.

Materials

Materials cover a lot of things in pre-production

Materials are the items needed to complete a film. The materials you need for a film can include:- sound, music, costumes, archived or online footage, photos, as well as the original material created from shooting. When considering materials you may do tests to see if it is possible to film in a certain location. Other materials might be more difficult to come across. 

A costume designer can help you get the right clothes in pre-production

For example, a shot of a volcano erupting might be difficult to shoot. Going out on set to film at a location in the hope that the volcano will erupt is time-consuming and expensive. There may be archived footage and the opportunity of using this might be more appropriate. Don’t forget the consideration of license to use, and permissions, etc. Special effects might also be cheaper and more appropriate.

Another example might be accessing a specialist contributor such as a costume designer. Their expertise might be helpful if doing a historical period drama or fantasy film.

Location

Planning where to shoot the film is a vital part of the film pre-production stage. Researching where best to film takes many considerations. For example, how to get there, cost to get there, time of year (weather permittable considerations), cost of location, etc. Consideration to film at a real location, on a soundstage, or a virtual location can be beneficial if budget allows.

Location may seem obvious to think about in pre-production

If filming at an airport, for example, then it may be logical to film at a staged location. This means the noises of the airport will not affect the production.

A location scout could be used to find options of locations. The scout would carry out a recce. This is a pre-production visit to work out its suitability for shooting. They will include assessments of access to necessary facilities and of any potential health and safety issues. The recce will also highlight any lighting or sound issues.

When considering to use a location, not only is the consideration of the availability of facilities and personnel needed but also when the location is actually available. Booking the locations at the right time is vital for scheduling. It also needs to be taken into consideration as part of the budget. The property or location may be private or public and certain permits or fees will have to be added to the finance. Planning locations round the budget means that cheaper or free locations may need to be utilised to meet the costs. Keeping locations to a minimum is beneficial in terms of costs.

Location Manager

A location manager can help in this process and ensure the location is utilised to the best opportunity. The location manager can also be involved with the recces and can be in charge of creating risk assessments for the locations. 

Monty Python And The Holy Grail, for example, used different angles of the same castle.  They used different setups of the interior to make the audience believe they were at different locations.

Finally, the main reason for shooting out of continuity is also due to access to locations. Outdoor shoots should be considered first as there may be weather delays which means the opportunity to go back later is possible or choosing a different location is possible within the time limits. The location manager should be in charge of this and have a big influence on the shooting schedule.

Obtaining Permissions

To shoot on most public locations, a permit from the town might be needed. For example, permission to close a certain section of a street while filming may have to be attained through the local council. Remember, This is separate from an agreement with the location owner. 

The Wolf of Wall Street

Ensuring you have the right permits in place before shooting on a location is vital. It will provide savings on time and cost. If the production were to film during public hours, it may need to request permission of any footage the public are in to be included in the film. However, changes have occurred where you can inform the public before shooting. This gives them the choice beforehand on whether to be included or not. 

If using any previously recorded footage from others then due to the copyright law, obtaining permission is vital. The current act is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The UK Copyright Service states that “Copyright is an automatic right and arises whenever an individual or company creates a work. To qualify, a work should be regarded as original, and exhibit a degree of labour, skill or judgement”. Considering the example of the volcano earlier, the footage may have copyright and permission will need to be obtained.

Using dedicated websites to look at stock film might be helpful. Paying a subscription to a dedicated website if there is a need for several stock film footages could save money in the budget. This would cover copyright costs but keep production costs down. Some stock footage also provides their work for free as long as they are acknowledged that it is their work in the production. 

Insurance

Any production should have public liability insurance. Public liability insurance covers the cost of claims made by members of the public for incidents that occur in connection with the production activities. Other insurance covers may include:-

Locations

Building cover of content,

Cover of equipment, for example, hire cover of equipment if utilising specialist equipment.

A good risk assessment for health and safety is essential as this will help with the costing of insurance.  It also provides evidence of good practice if needing to claim from the insurance at a later date.

Code of Conduct and Ethical consideration

Throughout all the production the legal and ethical requirements need to be considered. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) are the regulators of film production in the United Kingdom. Before a film can be released it must be classified by the BBFC. The BBFC have several ratings which consider:- Discrimination, drugs, imitable behaviour, language, nudity, sex, threat and violence. For example, a PG can contain nudity but with no sexual context. The BBFC need to consider certain legislation such as:

Cinematograph Act (Amendment) Act 1982, which references the Cinematograph Act 1909 and Cinematograph Act 1952,

Cinemas Act 1985

2003 Licensing Act.

The consumer (audience/viewer) can complain to the BBFC if they are unhappy about the certification of the film. The BBFC will either review their decision or explain the reason for their decision. However, the BBFC also states that “the ultimate power lies with the local authorities, who can decide to ignore the BBFC’s decisions at any time”.

Spider-man and the 2003 Licensing Act

The main example often used is Spider-Man in 2002 where it was classified as a 12 by BBFC. However,  some local council’s overturned this and decided to give it a 12A or PG-12 certificate, even though this was not officially a certificate by BBFC at the time. Spiderman was later released as a 12A after the new law came in.

Many believe that Spider-man was a big influence on the 2003 Licensing Act. However, the BBFC was already in the process of updating their film classification certificates prior to the film release. This was due to the Motion Picture Association of America changing their ratings. The 2003 licensing act brought in the 12A certificate instead of the original 12 certificates in cinemas.

12 Certificates are still used for video release. The BBFC also have to consider the  Video Recordings Act (VRA) 1984 for home video releases. The BBFC have to consider what the film depicts and whether it will cause harm to the viewer. They also need to consider if actual harm is being caused during filming.  Although the BBFC do refuse to give certificates to films, in most cases they will work with the production company to meet requirements for their ratings. Also, the production company may want to meet certain criteria for the ratings as it could allow more potential for revenue. If the film can still tell the story by being a 12A rather than being a 15, investors may be more interested due to the potential of making their money back quicker.

Some other laws that might need to be considered during pre-production 

The Obscene Publications Act 1959 and 1964

The OPA takes into consideration what is classed as obscene for the public to view in a film. Prior to this act, the only legal test applied to films was the more vague test of common law indecency. “Under the OPA, a film may be deemed obscene when, taken as a whole, the work has a tendency to ‘deprave and corrupt’ ‘(ie make morally bad) a significant proportion of those likely to see it” (BBFC).

An example is Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” which the BBFC classified the film as 18. Reports in the papers suggested that some attacks were happening due to being inspired by the film. However, no such behaviour by anyone over the age of 18 was ever reliably established as being related to the film. The BBFC stated “Disturbed though we were by the first half of the film, which is basically a statement of some of the problems of violence, we were, nonetheless, satisfied by the end of the film that it could not be accused of exploitation: quite the contrary, it is a valuable contribution to the whole debate about violence”. 

Therefore when considering the film as obscene, it is important that the film is considered as a whole. An individual scene must not be judged out of the wider context of the complete work. When considering a film in pre-production, being aware of scenes that may be classed as obscene is important. However, it is also important that a good moral should be made by the end of the film to justify the scenes.

The Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937

This law was passed due to public concern about the mistreatment of animals on film sets. Its intention was to encourage filmmakers to use more humane techniques when using animals in films. “It is therefore illegal to show any scene ‘organised or directed’ for the purposes of the film that involves actual cruelty to animals” (BBFC).

 An Example of animal cruelty can go back to  Yakima Canutt.  He was the stunt coordinator and stuntman for many of John Wayne’s cowboy films. Yakima created a device that had wires attached to the horse’s forelegs. They were threaded through a ring on the cinch and secured to buried dead weights.

When the horse ran to the end of the wires, the forelegs were yanked out from under the horse. Numerous horses were killed or crippled by the device, which has since been banned.

The Act does not prohibit documentary footage of cruelty, or scenes, even if set up for the film, depicting swift humane killings.  The test is one of cruelty rather than killing.  

In pre-production, there must be consideration of using the appropriate trainers if animals are being used in the film. The production may want it to be regulated by an organisation such as RSPCA.  This allows consideration of what is deemed humane to be verified. This again will need to be considered for budget needs and be in the scheduling of the film.

Final Thoughts

Pre-production is a heavy and long process but if done correctly can save a huge amount of time and money during the shooting and post-production stages.

The article has considered some important aspects of pre-production for a film and although it does not cover it all, for each aspect it has given examples of what might need to be considered in pre-production for a film or media product. It has also shown how many aspects of pre-production cross-over or are linked in the early stages. Finally, it shows an understanding of regulators and shows some examples of laws that need to be considered for production.

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Mitchell has a qualification in Creative Media Production Level 3 Diploma with “Triple Distinction”. In 2018 David was also the winner of The Best Student Award at the Golden Apple Awards in Cumbria. Read more about Moo Man Media

Moo Man Media's Director David Mitchell can provide full music video production needs for you or your band

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