The stages of pre-production are:
- Script development
- Breaking down the script
- Assembling a crew
- Finding a cast
- Securing locations
- Establishing a look for the film with the art department
- Collaborating with the director of photography so this look will be carried into production
- Carrying out rehearsals/table reads
- (Rea & Irving, 2015:xxv-xxvii).
Development – the script
This is also so that the director’s vision for the project can begin to take shape, making the collaboration between the existing writer and the director essential – due to this, “it is the producer’s job ultimately to see that the project is best served by this union” – since until this stage of development the writer provides vision for the film, yet, as the film gets closer to production, it is the director who is ultimately responsible for making decisions which affect the ‘vision’ of the film, such as those involving visual style, casting, crew, and locations, because the director is the creative head of the project (Rea & Irving, 2015:28).
Breaking down the script
- Scene strip – one scene for each strip, the colour depending on whether the scene is set at day or night, and whether it is interior or exterior (see fig. 2) – who is the in the scene, where it will be shot, and the number of script pages it covers can be included if needed
- Day break – indicates the end of a filming day – all scenes prior to this will be filmed in a single day, with the day break including how many scenes will be filmed that day and the date
- Banner – indicates breaks for lunch or wardrobe changes and changes of location
- (StudioBinder 2019).
From the stripboard the producer is then able to create the schedule for the production, since scene strips and banners can be lined up with day strips to indicate how many shooting days will be needed – however, it is advised this be “determined by arranging the strips in the order that makes the most “production sense” – that is, that requires the least amount of time to shoot”, as budget needs to be taken into consideration (Rea & Irving, 2015:53).
Stripboards have largely been replaced by computer programs (Rea & Irving, 2015:53), however the method of organising scenes is the same as it would be using a physical board – as can be seen in fig.3 which shows an example of a digital stripboard.
The producer is responsible for hiring the crew members who will make up the art and camera departments, and then helping to guide and facilitate their plan for the film so it stays within budget – the art director and director of photography lead these departments, with the two departments working together to “support the visual plan of the director” – thus the producer supports these departments, and the director collaborates with them (Rea & Irving, 2015:xxvii).
Both of these collaborations depend on what kind of ‘look’ the director is aiming for, which will originate from the script, as the writing will convey ideas of mood and tone, although one directors’ ideas about this will be different from another’s for the same script – the director then develops these ideas with the director of photography, and the art department will then work to make these happen in the film (Rea & Irving, 2015:155).
Production designer and art director are two separate roles who work closely, with the production designer responsible for planning the look of the film with the director and director of photography, and the art director responsible for bringing together all the elements needed to translate this planned look to the screen – yet, these roles can be one on productions with low budgets (Rea & Irving, 2015:111). It is possible for production designers to both develop a look for the film following on from the director’s ideas, or take their own ideas for a look to the director – both allowing for more possibilities and thus a better collaboration which could improve the film (Insdorf, 1984).
The first time the production designer meets with the director, it is recommended they discuss “setting a visual tone, discussing the feel, rhythm and emotional color of the film” (Insdorf, 1984), since these act as the foundations for the development of the look.
Visual research can also act as a foundation – this involves watching other films which are similar to the project in genre, location, time period, or tone, as well as using other reference points such as magazines, paintings, documentary footage, objects, photographs of locations and any other images from which the director can create a “visual wall” (see fig. 5), allowing the film’s look to be developed as more images are added and rearranged to define the intended look (Rabiger & Hurbis-Cherrier, 2013:284-5).
- “What economic bracket are the characters in?
- What educational level?
- Which ethnic background?
- Geographical location?
- Is the character influenced by his surroundings or does he influence them?”
- (Insdorf, 1984).
Working with a storyboard artist
- Editorial storyboards – these show the film as it will be edited together in post-production, their main aim to show the director’s vision by focusing on portraying the intended camera angles and shot sizes – they are distributed to the crew for reference during production, so, due to this, they are normally black and white (easier to photocopy and retain detail) – (see fig. 8), yet for some films these are rendered in colour (such as Raiders of the Lost Ark – see fig. 9) if the production is highly stylised and has the time and money (Begleiter, 2010:12).
- Key frames – rather than whole sequences, these show specific shots with highly detailed drawings, often showing lighting and shadows (see fig. 10) – compared to editorial storyboards they intend to convey mood and style (Begleiter, 2010:14). They can be used if the production has very little time to help plan complicated shots and sequences such as those involving special or practical effects and lots of camera movement (Begleiter, 2010:23).
- Production illustration – used by the production designer to show concepts for sets and locations to the director and producer – thus, the drawing is a wide shot, involving no characters (Begleiter, 2010:15). For example, Star Wars concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie drew a production illustration showing an idea of what the planet Alderaan would look like for A New Hope (1977) – (see fig. 11), which although not included in the film was repurposed for The Empire Strikes Back by George Lucas as Cloud City (Scoleri, 2014).
- The look of the location – whether or not this fits the plan made by the director and production designer, and whether set dressing would be required (it is suggested that practical locations normally do). The cinematographer should also think about lighting possibilities. An additional element the director could consider is whether “the location can contribute to the tone and theme of the film”
- Logistics – safety, whether there is enough room to place cameras and lights as needed, enough electrical plugs for lights/chargers, space, if there are toilets and parking, and the distance members of the cast and crew would need to travel
- Availability – whether the location can be used when the production needs to film, and if the location is available within budget
- Sound – whether there is any noise which could get in the way of recording clean sound and if anything can be done to minimise this outside noise. It is also necessary to consider if the location could have too much of an echo for clean sound, and if the ambient sound of the location fits with the scene/world of the film
- (Rabiger & Hurbis-Cherrier, 2013:289-90).
The producer should consider the budget and schedule of the production when securing locations, as well as the distance cast and crew members will need to travel since travel expenses will influence the budget (Rea & Irving, 2015:147). For this reason, the producer may need to advise the director of alternative or backup locations if the location the director wishes to use is too expensive for the film’s budget – but “should the director insist on a particularly expensive location, the two will have to strike a compromise” (Rea & Irving, 2015:147).
After the producer has secured the locations, the director sometimes holds a walk-though of the locations, along with the director of photography, production designer, first assistant director and sound recordist to see how cameras and lights will be placed, and so that the sound recordist can determine if there will be any problems recording sound – this allows the opportunity for these crew members to ask the director questions, acting as “a dry run of the production” (Rea & Irving, 2015:146).
Casting – Auditions & rehearsal
To find the right cast, the producer organises auditions (Rea & Irving, 2015:xxvi). Producers can do this by sending out casting calls – these include basic information about the project, such as filming dates and locations, a synopsis of the film, expenses etc., as well as character breakdowns (also known as casting breakdowns), which is basically a short character description (Unitas, 2019). This should include the character’s age, traits, profession, and their relation to any other characters (Rabiger & Hurbis-Cherrier, 2013:215), as shown by the examples in fig. 12.
Auditions can be held in several different ways, the most common technique being to have each actor read “sides” – these are a whole scene or a segment of a scene which can be read by the actor during the audition to test how they fit the character (Rea & Irving, 2015:126). Yet, this can be known as a “cold reading”, since the actor reading only a portion of the script can mean they are unaware of how this fits into the rest of the script, thus, especially if the script isn’t long, it is more useful for the actors to read the whole script in advance of the audition so they are aware of the context of their sides (Rea & Irving, 2015:126).
An actor can also be asked to provide a monologue they can perform (it has been argued that along with sides this can more effectively show the actors’ performance capabilities), or to improvise as the character they are auditioning for (Rea & Irving, 2015:127).
When actors arrive to auditions they are sometimes required to fill out an audition form to give the producer and director an idea of their acting experience and interests which can help during the casting process (although some of this information can now be found on online casting platforms for some actors) – the form also has room for the director to make notes as the actor auditions (Rabiger & Hurbis-Cherrier, 2013:219) – (see fig. 13).
Auditioning can be a nervous experience for some actors, thus it is the director’s job to help them feel more at ease when they enter the audition by greeting them warmly with a handshake and eye contact, as well as introducing them to the other people in the room, and showing them where the camera is if they plan to film the audition, which is not required (Rabiger & Hurbis-Cherrier, 2013:219), but is recommended, since “recording the casting sessions is an excellent way to review auditions”, as well as testing how an actor performs with a camera present (Rea & Irving, 2015:129).
During the audition, the director should first have the actor interpret the side(s) in their own way, without giving them direction, because this could uncover the possibility that an actor interprets a character in an original way which has not been considered before, and then if they like the actor’s performance, the director should give directions when they read the scene again – called “adjustments” – to see how the actor takes direction (Rea & Irving, 2015:127). If the director did not like the actor’s performance, it is advised that they have the actor answer some questions instead of reading the scene again, to see if one of their answers provides something which fits the character and allows the director to consider listening to them read the scene again (Rea & Irving, 2015:128).
Yet, casting also give the director the opportunity to hear the script read by actors for the first time, which can allow the script to be improved by the writer and director as “readings can expose fat that might be eliminated” (Rea & Irving, 2015:125).
Once the auditions are over, the director and producer then watch back the auditions or review notes, judging the performances on how well the actor fit the character, their acting skills, their confidence and energy, their ability to take directions and collaborate, and their work ethic/loyalty to and enthusiasm for the project (Rabiger & Hurbis-Cherrier, 2013:221).
During this process, the producer assists the director by managing the casting process and also “serving as a creative sounding board when the director requires an objective opinion” (Rea & Irving, 2015:120). Thus, as well as arranging auditions, the producer then plans rehearsals (Rea & Irving, 2015:xxvi).
These are important for the collaboration between the director and cast, which is vital to the project because of how the director helps the actors shape their performances, since this collaboration begins during casting and develops during rehearsals (Rea & Irving, 2015:119).
Rehearsals can be carried out in the following stages:
- Table read (also known as first read-through) – the actors gather around a table and read their lines together for the first time – the director should have the actors read neutrally, so that the director can see how the script flows, how characters relate to one another, how the actors interpret the film’s theme and contexts, and where the script can be improved. The director or assistant director normally read the action (Rabiger & Hurbis-Cherrier, 2013:248).
- Second read-through – the director and the actors begin rehearsing scenes in their scripted order. The director begins by not giving too much direction, allowing the actors to naturally discover their character’s movements and motivations. The director should carry a notebook so that they can write down any notes whilst watching rehearsals to refer back to later
- Blocking & shooting rehearsals – the director then begins blocking the scenes with the actors, beginning to record these on camera once the actors have memorised their lines and the blocking (these are then shooting rehearsals). The director should always keep in mind the pace of each scene, and consequently the overall film, since this is determined during rehearsals, important to a project as, “if the actors peak emotionally too early or too late, the delicate fabric of story can be torn” (Rea & Irving, 2015:135-7).
List of illustrations
Figure 3. StudioBinder (2019) Example of digital stripboard – from StudioBinder. [Chart] At: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/shooting-schedule-stripboard/ (Accessed on 1 January 2020).
Figure 4. Rea, P. & Irving, D. (2015) Budget top sheet. [Diagram] In: Rea, P. & Irving, D. (2015) Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video. Oxon: Focal Press. p.84.
Figure 5. Rabiger, M. & Hurbis-Cherrier, M. (2013) Example visual wall. [Photograph] In: Rabiger, M. & Hurbis-Cherrier, M. (2013) Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics. (5th ed.) Oxon: Focal Press. p.285.
Figure 6. Bright colour palette in La La Land (2016) [Film still, DVD] In: La La Land. California: Summit Entertainment.
Figure 7. Cold colour palette in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) [Film still, DVD] In: Pan’s Labyrinth. California: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Figure 8. Burgard, T. (2019) Editorial storyboards from Salt. [Illustrations] At: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/storyboard-examples-film/#Drama-Movie-Storyboards (Accessed on 2 January 2020).
Figure 9. Verreaux, E. (2019) Colour storyboards from Raiders of the Lost Ark. [Illustrations] At: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/storyboard-examples-film/#Science-Fiction-Movie-Storyboards (Accessed on 2 January 2020).
Figure 10. Lucas, G. (2019) Key frames from A New Hope. [Illustrations] At: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/storyboard-examples-film/#Star-Wars (Accessed on 2 January 2020).
Figure 11. McQuarrie, R. (2014) Production illustration for concept of Alderaan from A New Hope. [Illustration] At: https://www.starwars.com/news/an-annotated-guide-to-the-star-wars-portfolio-by-ralph-mcquarrie (Accessed on 2 January 2020).
Figure 12. Rea, P. & Irving, D. (2015) Example character breakdowns. [Descriptions] In: Rea, P. & Irving, D. (2015) Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video. Oxon: Focal Press. p.121.
Scoleri, J. (2014) ‘An Annotated Guide to The Star Wars Portfolio by Ralph McQuarrie.’ In: StarWars.com 14/1/14. At: https://www.starwars.com/news/an-annotated-guide-to-the-star-wars-portfolio-by-ralph-mcquarrie (Accessed on 2 January 2020).
StudioBinder (2019) How to Make a Better Shooting Schedule with a Stripboard. At: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/shooting-schedule-stripboard/ (Accessed on 1 January 2020).
Unitas, A. (2019) ‘The Ultimate Guide to Casting Auditions.’ In: StudioBinder 14/5/19. At: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/ultimate-guide-casting-auditions-free-casting-sheet-template/#create-a-casting-breakdown (Accessed on 2 January 2020).