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Pre-Production for Commercials

Now that you've assembled all the information into a clear message and have the script together, it's time to take it apart. In this segment, we discuss breaking down your script, creating a shot list and story board, assembling the resources for the shoot.

Go ahead... ask. “Why do all the work of putting it together, just to take it apart?” The answer is simple. Pre-production.

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Video Transcript

Now that you've assembled all the information into a clear message and have the script together, it's time to take it apart. Go ahead... ask. "Why do all the work of putting it together, just to take it apart?" The answer is simple. Pre-production. In this segment, we discuss breaking down your script, creating a shot list and story board, assembling the resources for the shoot. Pre-Production is one of the most important steps when making a commercial. Having all the necessary pieces in place will make your entire production process go much smoother. The production all starts with a simple piece of paper - The script. Your task is to take what's on the page, and extract all the information you need from it. This process is known as breaking down a script. There are some standard ways of breaking down a script that have been in place for years. Many of these may not be necessary depending on the size and scope of your commercial. The basic idea is to color code your script. Red is for any actor who has lines. Orange is for stunts. Stunts are anything that can't be done while acting. It's not necessarily jumping a car or skydiving from a plane. Yellow is for featured actors who don't speak. Green is for background or extras. Blue is for Special or Visual effects. This can be anything that happens during the shoot or special effects that will be done in post production. Violet is used for anything that an actor picks up or touches. And Finally, Brown indicates a sound effect, music or ambient noise. This color coding process is known as marking up your script. Now you'll use the marked up script and transfer the information for each category onto a breakdown sheet. The breakdown sheet will essentially be a one page reference for you to know what's required for each shot. You may notice that you have some things in mind for a shot that aren't in the script. These are called "Inferred Elements" An example would be if the script calls for a shot of an actor eating lunch. You need to make sure that you have food, drink, napkins and any other items you'll need for the shot. Add all these extra elements into the breakdown sheet. Repeat the process for each shot until you've made your way through the entire script. You can take the headings from each breakdown page and list them on a single page. Just like that, you've created your shot list, and by doing it this way, you already know exactly what elements you need for each shot. So you've got your shot list, and now it's time to work out the schedule. Generally, for smaller commercial shoots, the schedule is comprised of a couple hours in one day. A commercial shoot can be very invasive to a business and it does the client no good to lose business during those hours, so plan to work as efficiently as possible. Be sure the client has a clear expectation for the shoot length, and what you'll need from them, and then stick to the timetable whenever possible. A general rule is to always schedule locations that are near each other in consecutive order. Even though you may only be shooting at one business, you don't want to repeat setups if you can avoid it. One thing that may hinder shooting locations in order is the availability of an actor. The actor or "Talent" may be needed in two locations that are far apart, but may only be available for limited amount of time. In this case, try to shoot the talent first, in all the required locations, then be as efficient as possible when scheduling the remainder of the shots. A final note on the paperwork portion of pre-production - It's a great idea to storyboard your shots. A storyboard is the term for sketching out a rough idea of what each shot should look like. This is not a task reserved only for the drawing savvy. Stick figures and simple shapes are totally acceptable, since you're really drawing them for your own reference. Having a good ideas of what your shots will be ahead of time will streamline your shoot. Ok, now we know the script inside and out. Your breakdown sheets show the necessary elements for each shot, and it's time to begin gathering the props, talent, crew, and gear that you'll need. Assuming you're shooting at at your client's business, your location is taken care of. But in some cases, you'll need to secure additional locations. In most small communities, you won't have too much difficulty getting a park, roadside or driving shot, but it's a good idea to check with the chamber of commerce or local law enforcement to see if they require permits for shooting video in public. As for props, the business owner will typically have the necessary items for a normal commercial shoot, but if not, it's up to you to get them. Sometimes a local thrift store or antique dealer may have what you need. Or if you have the room in your budget, you can have a local artist help create your props. If the budget is small, borrow anything you can to keep the budget down. Remember, anything you get for free will be money in your pocket in the end. When it comes to talent, most low budget commercials use the business owner, a close friend, or maybe even a relative or employee. When possible, bringing in professional or semi-professional actors to achieve a higher production value is a good idea. It's beneficial to form relationships with the people in local theater groups, high-school or college drama departments or other local performers. Keeping a roster of available actors may come in handy more often than you would imagine. These people may be very flexible on their rates or even do it for free to bolster their own demo reel. Talent also includes any voice-over performers you may need. A great resource for this is local radio personalities. They can usually record the voice-over on their own and send it to you via email, saving you time and scheduling hassles. Be sure to indicate to the tone, style, and any other notes they might need to get the read you're looking for. If budget allows, it's helpful to hire a crew. If budget doesn't allow, find another videographer or two to team up with that are willing to exchange their services for yours. Having another set of hands and eyes while shooting and moving equipment around can save time, and prevent little details from being missed. When you've got your talent and crew set, you need to make sure the gear that you have is sufficient to capture the shots you need. If you don't own a piece of gear you need, there are many equipment rental places in most major cities, or local owners may be willing to rent or lend you their gear if you can show that you are careful and willing to guarantee fixing or replacing any items that you damage. First, be sure the camera and tripod you have are up to the task. HD camera's are affordable and available everywhere these days. Plus the image quality is far superior to SD, and your shots will look the way the client expects. Stable shots and the ability to tilt and pan smoothly are also a must, so be sure you have a good tripod. Don't forget to think about your lighting gear as well. Ideally you'll have a 3 point lighting kit to work with. Depending on the shots you have planned, you may need to invest in some color gels and diffusion for the best possible picture. The third major piece of gear you may need is a sound recording device. Many cameras have a built in microphone, but the quality is usually unacceptable. If possible, hire a designated sound person. They can run the audio recorder and hold the boom pole or mic the talent. These three things are critical to a high production value, and should be considered a top priority. There's also a host of accessories you should bring on just about any shoot, including gaffer's tape, clothespins, which are affectionately called C-47s, clamps, extension cords, cue cards or a prompter. If the pre-production process seems like a lot, it is. It takes hard work, planning, and tenacity. But good pre-production shows in the final product. In our next segment we talk about shooting your commercial. It's where the meetings, brainstorming, and planning all come together to get the great shots you need.