Pre-Production Checklist for Beginner Filmmakers

Every director and filmmaker starts off somewhere. What separates those who become ultimate great in their craft is their willingness to learn and adopt good habits from the onset.

If you’re a complete beginner and have no clue what to do prior to actually shooting, then here are several things you need to tick off first before you can even start. Keep this as your guide and you should have a great foundation for your career.

Come Up With A Solid Shot List

A shot list is basically a numbered list of the shots you’ll be taking. It will include details like composition and camera movement. You can also add editing notes, actor notes or guides that might affect the camera work you do. You can create your own type of shot list but just make sure each shot is numbered and identifiable.

Create a Storyboard

A lot of filmmakers sometimes skip on this thinking they can “wing” it. But, a storyboard is helpful when it comes to plotting out the composition of your shot. You can note in special details like tracking, panning or zooming shots when needed. Don’t be afraid if you can’t draw. You don’t even have to show your storyboard to anybody else. The important thing is you learn the discipline of being able to visualize your shot even before picking up a camera.

Always Know The Tone of Your Film

A tone is what hooks an audience and gives them an idea of what your movie is about. Always resolve this during pre-production and never during, or worse, after the film. Essentially, just have a clear vision and idea of the kind of movie you are creating.

Know What Kind of Performance You Need from Actors

Always have a clear idea about the performance you require from actors. Communicate, whether verbally or in written form, the kind of performance you need in advance. It might help if you have readings or rehearsals with the actors so you can give them the proper direction. It’s also best practice to write it down during your shot list or notes.

Getting Production Design Right

Since you’re directing, you need to correspond your ideas and inspiration for your film to your production designer. Your director of photography also needs to know this. Start compiling visual references. It can be objects, paintings, other films or photographs. You can do this traditionally or digitally.  

Scout Locations and Obtain Permits

This will take time and you need to already have a good vision of what you want and what you’re looking for in order to find the right spot. Keep in mind some cities would require permits for you to shoot so make sure to obtain them ahead of time. Once you’ve settled on the locations, do a tech scout to make sure they’re suitable or objects that need to be taken out can be removed.

Do Pre-Visualization

For some this may seem tedious but if you really want your film to look good then do this. Pre-visualization means shooting the scenes in your film using whatever camera you have and with stand-ins just to see if the scene you have in mind will work. The key is to find the best shot you can possibly get. You can experiment at this stage to find out which ones work best. This will also help save you time once you shoot the actual project. The point is to shoot something in the rough and see if it works. This will help you ultimately decide whether to go with the same shot, sequence, feel etc. or alter it.