How to stay organized in pre-production

In a nutshell:

  • Effective film pre-production involves the detailed planning of many areas, including budgeting, scheduling, casting, location scouting and more.
  • Leveraging online software tools for your team significantly enhances communication between crew members, stores documents securely and keeps tasks organized, streamlining the entire pre-production process.
  • Being adaptable and prepared to adjust plans as needed will help manage unexpected challenges.

Pre-production is the foundation of any successful film project. As an beginning film producer, staying organized during this stage is crucial to ensure a smooth production process.

In this article, we’ll explore the key tasks in pre-production, the tools and equipment you’ll need and tips to stay organized.

Understanding pre-production

Pre-production is the phase where all the planning and preparation for a film takes place. It can involve a multitude of tasks, including, but not limited to , budgeting, scheduling, storyboarding, location scouting, casting, assembling the crew, gathering equipment/supplies and more.

A well-organized pre-production phase ensures that your film has a clear vision for the project. But, that’s not all. With so many tasks, and the fact that production can’t start until these tasks are carried out, pre-production helps you create an organized workflow to manage all the moving pieces.

Staying organized

Staying organized during pre-production is all about planning and communication. Here are some strategies to help you manage everything effectively:

Step 1: Create a pre-production checklist for you film

Create a task list, breaking down all your tasks into smaller, manageable steps. This can be done using a whiteboard or with the help of computer software, such as Trello or Asana. When doing so, give each task a deadline and list the tasks in order by due date. Also, remember to focus on high-priority tasks first to keep your project’s priorities straight. 

Step 2: Delegate responsibilities

Clearly define the roles and responsibilities for each team member. Then, delegate tasks to the appropriate people. This ensures everyone knows what they’re responsible for and can work efficiently.

Step 3: Sign up for a team communication platform

Clear communication helps prevent misunderstandings and ensures everyone is working towards the same goals. Use your team communication platform of choice to provide frequent updates to your team. 

Platforms such as Slack and Discord are super useful tools to stay connected with your team. With these you can create multiple chats, or “rooms,” with different team members based on areas of responsibility. 

Step 4: Schedule regular pre-production meetings, using visual aids to help plan your film production timeline

Hold regular meetings to discuss progress, address issues and adjust plans as needed. Have a computer handy to update the team’s task lists and calendars on your chosen software(s).

For brainstorming sessions and to visualize project timelines, try using a large whiteboard. This setup encourages collaboration and keeps everyone on the same page. If it will help your production, create charts and diagrams to map out workflows and processes. After the meeting, transfer the information to your project management software.

Step 5: Maintain documentation

Keep detailed records of all agreements, permits and communications. Additionally, make sure all important documents are backed up, keeping digital and physical copies. This ensures you have everything you need for reference and legal purposes.

Step 6: Stay flexible

This doesn’t mean you should stretch in the mornings (though that isn’t a bad idea). Production timelines delays are almost guaranteed, so be prepared to adjust plans and schedules as needed. Monitor the deadlines that you made, and know when it’s time to kick it up a gear. Know that moving a deadline into the future isn’t the end of the world, and it’s likely you’ll have to do it a few times. When doing so, ask yourself:

  • Is this new deadline realistic?: If it’s not your own task, consult with the team member to make sure the new deadline makes sense. Step in and offer help, if necessary.
  • Will this affect any other tasks?: Sometimes when a task is bigger/taking longer than expected, it starts to take time from others. If this is the case, adjust other deadlines or re-delegate tasks so that your timeline is still accurate.

Tools to stay organized

To stay organized during pre-production, online software can significantly enhance communication among crew members, securely store documents and keep tasks organized. Here are a few tools you can consider to use in your film pre-production workflow:

Software tools to consider:

  • Scriptwriting
    • Final Draft
    • Celtx
  • Budgeting
    • Movie Magic Budgeting
    • Excel
  • Scheduling
    • StudioBinder
    • Gorilla Scheduling
  • Storyboarding
    • Storyboard That
    • Boords
  • Casting
    • Casting Networks
    • Breakdown Services

Online software

Best tool for communication: Slack

Slack is a popular messaging app designed for team collaboration. It offers a range of features such as channels for different topics, direct messaging, file sharing and integrations with other tools. Slack’s interface is user-friendly. So, this means that it’s easy for team members to communicate in real-time, share updates and collaborate on projects.

Notable features:

  • Channels: Allows you to create channels for specific topics or departments (e.g., #casting, #locations, #budget).
  • Direct messaging: Sends private messages to team members for one-on-one conversations.
  • File sharing: Uploads and shares files, images and documents directly within the app.
  • Integrations: Can connect with other tools like Google Drive, Outlook and Asana.

Slack’s free version includes basic features such as a single workspace with unlimited messages (but only 90 days of history saved), 10 app integrations and one-on-one video calls. The Pro version, at $87 per user/year, offers unlimited message archives and group video calls with screen sharing. Higher-priced tiers include advanced identity management, 24/7 support and more.

Best tool for project management: Notion

Notion is an all-in-one workspace that combines note-taking and task management. It’s highly customizable and allows you to create a structured environment tailored to your project’s needs. Notion can be used for everything from simple to-do lists to complex project management.

What it does:

  • Task management: Helps you set up tasks, assign them to your team, set deadlines and keep an eye on progress.
  • Database creation: It can organize everything from scripts and contacts to locations and equipment lists with custom databases.
  • Templates: You can save time with ready-to-use templates for project planning, meeting notes and production schedules.
  • Collaboration: Allows your teem work together seamlessly by sharing pages and databases for real-time updates.
  • Integrations: Can connect with tools like Slack and Trello.

The Personal Pro version, starting at $8 per user/month, offers unlimited file uploads, unlimited lines of text (or “blocks”) and priority support. Higher tiers include more features and advanced security controls.

Best option for storage: Dropbox

Dropbox is a cloud storage service that allows you to store and share files online. It’s ideal for pre-production as it provides a secure and accessible place to keep all your important film scripts and media files. Dropbox ensures that your files are always backed up and can be accessed from any device with an internet connection.

What it can do:

  • File storage: Store and organize files in a centralized location.
  • File sharing: Easily share files and folders with team members, with options for view-only or edit permissions.
  • Syncing: Automatically sync files across devices, ensuring you have the latest versions available.
  • Collaboration: Use Dropbox Paper to collaborate on documents in real-time, leave comments, and track changes.

For businesses, the Business Standard plan starts at $12 per user/month and offers 9 TB of storage, collaboration tools and admin controls. The Business Advanced plan, starting at $24 per user/month, includes advanced security, audit logs and more.

All-in-one solution: StudioBinder

StudioBinder is an all-in-one production management software designed specifically for film and video projects. It handles various tasks related to pre-production, making it an excellent choice for staying organized and efficient. StudioBinder integrates features for project management, scheduling, task assignment and file sharing, all in one platform.

What it can do:

  • Project management: You can create and manage multiple projects, as well as use task lists and calendars to track progress.
  • Visualization solutions: StudioBinder has the ability to create shot lists, storyboards and scripts with the help of templates, or build one from scratch.
  • Scheduling: The software can also help create a detailed shooting schedules, call sheets and production calendars.
  • Task assignment: You can assign tasks to team members, set deadlines, and track their completion. This ensures everyone knows their responsibilities.
  • File sharing: StudioBinder supports file upload and sharing.
  • Integrations: It also integrates with other tools like Google Drive and Dropbox.

Check out StudioBinder’s website for their pricing options.

Physical organization techniques

The assets and documents of your whole film shouldn’t be solely trusted by software: You’ll also want to keep physical copies. This ensures that you have access to your documents even if the online version becomes inaccessible, like if you’re in an area without reception, or if you become locked out of your account. 

If you don’t already have one, get a filing cabinet — preferably one that locks. Physical copies should be systematically filed and clearly labeled for easy retrieval. Additionally, hard drives containing sensitive information must be securely stored. At the end of each day, these physical documents and hard drives should be accounted for and locked in a designated secure place. This daily routine not only protects your data, but also makes sure that everything is organized and readily available when needed. 

Organization is the key to success

Staying organized in pre-production is essential for the success of your film. By following these tips and using the right tools for your team, you can ensure a smooth and efficient production process. Remember, effective pre-production sets the stage for a successful film, so invest the time and effort to get it right.

Kyle Alsberry
Kyle Alsberry
Kyle Alsberry is a multimedia producer and audiovisual technician at California State University, Chico and is Videomaker's associate editor.

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