Even the simplest program depends on planning. Production planning, or production logistics, can be so complex that Hollywood production companies devote whole departments to it. It is an essential part of the pre-production process. You can cover the essentials by wrangling just five elements: people, places, things, plans and budgets. Covering these elements in your production planning will ensure that your production runs as smoothly as possible.
People refers to your cast and crew. It is essential to find reliable people to be a part of your production. How many people you hire for cast and crew depends greatly on your budget. The larger the budget, the more cast and crew you can hire. Reversely, if you don’t have a budget to pay people, you will need to find volunteers who are willing to put in the work for free. This may sound daunting: who would want to work for free? You may be surprised. There are many people in the industry who are looking for experience that will be excited to work in your production. The most important thing is that you find people who are reliable, accountable and punctual.
Places usually mean locations. Find your locations and mapping them out is important in production planning. When you scout them prior to production, there are several things to look for. First, find out who’s in charge and establish friendly relations. People such as building superintendents, security personnel and custodians can facilitate your production or put obstacles in its way, depending on their attitude.
Next, check the facilities. Is there power for lights? Is there a lockable room for valuable equipment? How about a comfortable space for cast and crew to dress, apply makeup and hang out between setups?
Don’t forget comforts such as food, restrooms and parking. If you can’t afford more than a box of Krispy Kremes, is there a fast food place close by? If you’re out in the boonies all day, can you at least field a porta-potty and a blue tarp enclosure or tent? As for parking, nothing develops a bad staff attitude like a half-mile walk between their car and the location.
In addition to power, look for other video requirements. Is there too much contrast or too little light? Does the nuclear power plant in the background ruin the feeling of the trackless desert? Notice these problems in advance and prepare to overcome or evade them.
The same is true of audio. Even if you have access to a professional dubbing facility, you need to get good quality audio tracks. How bad is the traffic noise? Will heating, air conditioning or interior motors mess up your soundtrack? By checking beforehand, you can select microphones and plan setups that minimize problems.
There’s almost nothing worse than setting up at a distant location, only to find that someone’s forgotten a prop or costume or an extra battery—maybe even blank tape. To avoid this, you need to wrangle all your stuff by completing a three-step process: obtain it, check it, list it.
Make sure you’ve assembled all your camera equipment, including nuisance items like tripod quick-release components. How about special rental items like tele-extenders or a few extra movie lights?
Costumes can be a real hassle. Start by having cast members bring a few alternative outfits so that you can coordinate styles and colors. Then, if possible, keep the costumes. That way, you don’t care if your star won’t show up in blue jeans on one day and shorts on the next.
Do the same thing with props: obtain the oil lamp, the shotgun and the deed to the farm well in advance and then hold on to them.
Don’t forget releases and permissions. Each performer should sign a talent release and each owner should execute a permission form for shooting on his or her property.
When you’ve assembled production equipment, costumes, props, etc., check every item to see that it’s working. For instance, discharge and recharge all your batteries, to get the longest possible life out of each. Record and screen a short test shot on each blank tape.
Finally, inventory each type of item to create lists you can use before you head out to shoot. This won’t eliminate omissions but it will minimize them. Obtain your stuff, check it out and write a list.
The biggest part of production planning is scheduling. Romeo has a scene with Juliet and she has another scene with the Nurse; you can only get the vintage Ferrari on Tuesday; the robbery takes place at night—you get the idea. Most often, the easiest way to schedule is by grouping by place, personnel, props and weather conditions.
Generally, it’s easiest to shoot everything that happens in one location at the same time. That way, you have to transport cast, crew, equipment, etc. to that place only once.
Next, schedule your performers. Schedule Romeo and Juliet to shoot their scene at 9 AM, then schedule the Nurse for noon to shoot with Juliet and let Romeo go for the day. That way, the nurse doesn’t waste a whole morning waiting and Romeo doesn’t lose the whole afternoon.
You may have to organize by special props or locations. For instance, if you can shoot in the store only after it closes, you may need to return on several nights to complete your scenes there. That Ferrari costs $500 per day to rent and it’s used in three places. To control rental costs, you may have to schedule those three locations on one day, even though you may also be shooting there at other times.
Finally, outdoor conditions may drive your scheduling, especially night scenes. Though shooting day-for-night is fairly simple, night-for-day requires more lighting expertise—not to mention lots of lights and setup.
Many exteriors look best during golden hour, that time before twilight when long shadows, clear air and warm colors lend images a special glow. In scheduling to shoot then, you’ll want to budget time beforehand for rehearsing several setups at once. That way, you can move quickly from one to the next while your natural light lasts.
The last big pre-production item is the budget. Larger budgets have a lot more leeway when it comes to planning, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be planned out. The smaller the money pot, the more carefully you need to pre-plan your expenditures.
For instance, you should never have written that Ferrari into your script without checking its rental rate and verifying that you have the dough to cover it. Tape costs and special equipment rentals are obvious budget items but don’t forget makeup and costumes you may have to buy.
Finally, never start shooting without a contingency fund: a stash of emergency money to pay for unexpected expenses. How much should you allocate? If you’re shooting a training film in a company office, you shouldn’t need much. If your script requires bright sunshine in Seattle, you’ll need a hefty reserve. Even on bare-bones personal projects, $25 to $50 can provide a comforting hedge against the unexpected.
If you discipline yourself to do solid production planning, you’ll have a much better chance of completing a smooth, hassle-free production.