In a nutshell
- Smaller production teams can now create studio-level video content thanks to technological advancements, such as digital cameras and collaboration tools.
- Effective pre-production workflow is essential for managing time and resources, keeping team members in sync, and preventing costly delays and mistakes.
- Smaller teams face unique challenges in pre-production, including workload distribution, location scouting, casting and budget constraints.
Producing a video, film, television series, web series, music video or animation project is more complex than some might think. It can be even more daunting when working with a small crew, a microbudget and limited resources. Filtering through the early stages of any creative project requires contribution and feedback from your team to maintain a streamlined process in the pre-production phase. Whether you’re juggling multiple projects, a feature film, video project or any other creative visual undertaking, you need a well-defined and effective pre-production workflow before the cameras start rolling.
The process of pre-production is constantly evolving. With the advent of more helpful tools to streamline the pre-production process, smaller production teams are achieving more than they could even just a few years ago. So, how are small teams conducting pre-production today? Let’s discuss.
First, let’s define pre-production
Pre-production is where all video ideas begin. It’s the stage when writers draft their scripts and teams plan their meetings. It’s also the stage of securing financing, detailing your budget, organizing your schedule, hiring both above-the-line and below-the-line cast and crew, scouting and securing locations and renting or purchasing equipment. Simply put, it’s everything that needs to get done before the actual production process can begin.
Why everyone — even small teams — need a pre-production workflow
A pre-production workflow helps manage time effectively and efficiently, akin to NASA preparing for the smooth launch and reentry of spacecraft. Without this preparation, the outcome would be disastrous. Through a flight control center and spacecraft operation teams, space shuttles are launched into orbit, guided back to Earth through reentry and landed safely. This coordination is achieved through a workflow, allowing teams to communicate, collaborate and plan collectively. This ensures that everyone knows what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and when. A workflow helps teams manage their resources by keeping team members in sync with individual contributors at different locations — even for those working remotely. By keeping everyone on the same page, a workflow prevents costly delays and mistakes.
How smaller teams operate during pre-production
Today, smaller production teams have become increasingly more capable of creating studio-level video content. This is due in large part to technological advancements and the growing availability of professional equipment. For example, in the early ages of cinema, cinema cameras were solely owned and used by major production companies. Why? Because these cameras and their accompanying equipment were very expensive (not to mention heavy). Since then, the cost of making studio-level quality has dropped significantly with the invention and distribution of digital cameras like DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. While mirrorless cameras still aren’t at the quality level of an ARRI or RED cinema camera, the footage they can capture is widely accepted in the professional industry. And now, with flagship smartphones like the Apple iPhone 13 or the Sony Xperia 1 V, smartphone cameras are quickly becoming pro-level as well.
So, with the increasing accessibility of professional video gear, along with a host of online collaboration tools and editing software, smaller teams can now not only manage their productions more efficiently but also plan and produce higher-quality work with fewer resources.
This, in turn, has revolutionized the industry, making it possible to create professional videos with smaller crews, even compared to just a decade ago.
A new era for small production teams
This new era of filmmaking is characterized by the agility and resourcefulness of smaller teams. Creativity and innovation become essential when faced with limited resources or constrained budgets. From repurposing a garage into a makeshift set to using social media for casting, these teams employ unique solutions to achieve results beyond their means. Their willingness to experiment and adapt to unexpected challenges equips them to navigate the ever-changing landscape of modern filmmaking, whether exploring new technologies — like virtual location scouting — or adapting on the fly.
Networking and community engagement have also become fundamental to pre-production for small teams. By leveraging social media, online forums and specialized websites, filmmakers can connect with potential collaborators, hire freelance talent and even crowdsource funding. These digital connections have expanded their reach and collaboration, opening doors previously reserved for larger entities.
Moreover, the smaller scale of these teams fosters a more collaborative and hands-on approach. Team members often wear multiple hats, working closely together in a tight-knit environment. This level of collaboration typically translates into a shared passion and commitment to the project, resulting in a more cohesive and personalized final product.
Ultimately, given the current landscape of the video industry, there’s never been a better time for smaller productions than now.
Challenges small teams face today
Smaller teams may find themselves delegating duties and responsibilities to team members who aren’t specialized or skilled in their assigned tasks. With smaller teams, the workload increases, and without a line producer, team members will likely have to take on multiple roles. Whoever handles gear and location booking may also have to run the business side of production and hire the rest of the crew. Ultimately, small teams, when presented with a task or challenge, have to adapt and shift around responsibilities if necessary.
To overcome these challenges, smaller teams are increasingly utilizing pre-production tools, technology and software. These digital resources can help streamline the pre-production workflow, allowing for a more efficient delegation of responsibilities and roles. Tools like scheduling software, budget tracking apps and work management platforms like Asana help manage production.
Scripting for small teams
Storyboarding scenes helps a team visualize each shot and scene, simplifying the storyline and providing an overall idea of how the action will look in the script. It also clarifies what has to be carried out. Wonder Unit offers Storyboarder, a digital software program tailor-made for this task. Known for being user-friendly, Storyboarder is used by many productions and is available at no cost. With six drawing tools designed for fast and easy sketching, this tool is not only useful for directors and directors of photography but also provides small teams with insights into budgeting for the project during pre-production.
Location scouting for small teams
Location scouting is a crucial part of pre-production for small teams. The location you choose dictates when and where you shoot each scene in the script. Typically, the producer, director and department heads scout the locations and decide on which ones will be used in the project. But small teams face additional obstacles and challenges during this process. Factors such as cost, availability, size, weather, lighting, electrical needs and rigging must all be considered before choosing a final location.
Small teams working with a microbudget or limited resources may need to be extra creative in choosing the right locations — especially ones that don’t require insurance or payment to local authorities for a permit. Permits may not be an option due to the time they take to process, and time is always of the essence in pre-production. You can consider creative solutions, like turning a car garage into a set for a warehouse scene or using a backyard for a gala event gathering. Changing sets is another option. For example, a single location can be redressed to look like two different places for various scenes. Ultimately, looking for and securing locations early is essential to save time and money for all productions — big and small.
Casting for small teams
The casting process can be time-consuming and expensive during pre-production, so it’s crucial to get it right the first time. Poor casting choices can ruin a project and damage your reputation. Small teams may lack the benefit of using talent agencies and reputable casting directors to screen acting talent. So, how do they find people to cast? They have to do the outreach themselves. For instance, production teams might turn to social media for casting calls. Or those handling casting may have to reach out to mutual friends and professionals for potential actors and actresses.
There are websites dedicated to casting calls that make the process a bit easier for smaller teams. Websites like Backstage and Actor Access are a bit more reliable than cast calling on social media. You know the people viewing the calls are at least interested in starring in a movie. They will also likely have some type of background in acting.
Project management tools for small teams
There are many great software tools that assist small teams in communicating, collaborating and delegating duties during the pre-production phase. Let’s go over a few of them.
Slack is an outstanding messaging app for businesses of all sizes. It connects individuals to the information they need by uniting them to work as one integrated team. For general communication, Slack stands out as a valuable tool during pre-production.
Scriptwriting and notes: Atlassian and Celtx
For scriptwriting and notes, Atlassian and Celtx have proven to be useful tools. If your team needs to share content, Google Drive and WeTransfer are popular, especially for beginners and projects with low or no budgets. For everyday tasks, Trello and Asana are highly regarded. Trello, for example, manages deadlines, meetings and visual layouts of to-do lists, simplifying the pre-production workflow for teams of all sizes. Asana, conversely, is helpful for organizing film and video productions and launches. It offers extensive customization but may overwhelm smaller teams with options they don’t require.
Storage is a necessity for small teams to save and transfer files. For those keeping pace with technological advancements, cloud space applications, such as Dropbox, have revolutionized the broadcast and cinema industries. Cloud storage services enable you to store data that can be accessed by anyone you authorize, from anywhere globally. It’s a beneficial tool for production, particularly if you plan on using Frame.io with Avid Edit OnDemand. Frame.io integrates powerful tools into the Avid Media Composer workflow, enhancing collaboration and accelerating delivery, making distant pre-production collaboration easier than ever.
Common mistakes made in pre-production by small teams
Many film and video projects fall into the same trap by concentrating their attention and time on the wrong phases or areas of production, neglecting the importance of pre-production. This oversight can set a project up for failure before it even begins. Here are some of the common mistakes made by small teams:
Ignoring pre-production workflow planning
Some small teams may overlook the necessity of a detailed pre-production phase. They believe that they can figure things out as they go along. However, meticulous planning is vital to understand the scope and budget of the project. Without a solid plan, teams may find themselves scrambling to solve problems that could have been prevented.
Failing to stick to the script and budget
Teams may become overly enthusiastic about the creative aspects, neglecting the importance of adhering to the script and staying within budget. This can lead to unnecessary expenses and deviations from the original vision, potentially jeopardizing the entire project.
Rushing through pre-production
In their eagerness to begin filming, small teams might rush through pre-production to reach the production phase. This haste can lead to overlooked details, miscommunications and inadequate preparation, all of which can create problems later on.
Lack of a backup plan
Pre-production should include contingency planning for unexpected situations. Some projects proceed without a backup plan, making them vulnerable to unforeseen like weather issues, equipment failure or casting difficulties.
No designated point person
Without a clear leader for each stage of pre-production, responsibilities will be muddled and tasks will fall through the cracks. All productions, not just small ones, need someone steering the ship.
Failure to utilize available tools and resources
Modern technology offers an array of tools designed to streamline the pre-production process. Ignoring these resources can result in inefficiency, lost time and increased costs.
Underestimating time and resource requirements
Small teams may underestimate the time and resources needed for various pre-production tasks. This can lead to last-minute rushes and compromises in quality.
Neglecting legal and compliance issues
Overlooking shooting permits, insurance and legal agreements can lead to serious legal complications. It’s worth it for every small production to allocate time and resources to ensure they don’t run into legal issues down the line.
Managing the process
Pre-production can be daunting and may even feel like a headache. However, with careful planning, strong management and a clear workflow, high-quality content is attainable. A well-managed pre-production process lays the groundwork for a smooth production phase and distinguishes professionals from amateurs. Reaching this level requires discipline, communication, organization and effective team and crew management. With those fundamentals in place, success is well within reach.