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What is Pre-production?

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

providing clarity to an unseen stage of projects

entry no. 23

It's easy to look at a final project and see it as great, but how did it get there? As video producers, we understand how easy it is for our clients to get excited about and value our work on set. Clients get excited about this stage because they physically see the work and can validate the money they are investing in us. I think we need to be working to show more work in other aspects of projects like pre-production and post-production as well, simply to reduce clients questioning our process. We're working hard, after all. They just can't see it. Yet.

Today, we're going to dive into what happens in our pre-production process and how you could start implementing some or all elements into your process. For us, we want these efforts to be seen and recognized before we get to production. Communication, paperwork, and listening to your client can go a long way and shows them you care about their project. We want to earn their trust, reduce stress, and create clarity. When this is all done in pre-production, it lets ideas come together with less resistance and empowers my team to work at their prime.

Pre-production truly begins before agreement. The foundation is listening to your clients wants and needs, usually in an initial meeting. Sure, you haven't got the project yet, but people work with people who care. A successful project reflects on us, from the client. We prefer a client to praise our personalities, work ethic, and team culture than the quality of our work because it's the differentiator. The tricky part is helping them understand what's absolutely essential and cutting away the wants that don't serve the project's best chances of success. Deciding this is easier once you consider all your limiters from the budget, timeline, track, project mission, and strategy.

Once we have agreed on a project, its time to take information and funnel it into a treatment and plan, which we refer to as a production book. For us, we listen to our tracks on a rule of 100. In doing this exercise, we start to form the pace of the edit, get in tune with the mood, and even start thinking about what tools and team it takes in building this idea. The obvious information is how long you have to complete the project, how much money you have to solve problems, and then to make the production successful based on this information.

For example, if the project has a quick turnaround time and medium budget, we're going to strip ideas to the bare minimum, plan out a detailed shot list, break the song down for the edit, plan for efficient production, and post-production. Our time is limited, so we have to make each move count and to be specific. Taking this approach does not mean the idea is basic. It means it's calculated, designed for success, and focus on results.

We use an idea of "simple executed dynamically," and at times, people mistake this with weak ideas, but we argue it's effective planning. We don't care how much an idea cost to produce or how hard it was, but that it was a success for our clients. We've had to scrape difficult shots because they didn't work in the final project. We need to separate the weak and only use practical aspects. A better way to look at simple is marrying the universe of your project through pacing, motion similarities or juxtapositions, color theory, and dual worlds. There are always outliers, but these are pretty frequent and in line with our process. We place all of this plan into our production books, which translates to communication for our clients. Creating the production book allows our clients to see the work that's been done, accompanied by a plan for getting it done.

Now we share the information. Having a playbook that breaks production down is now shareable information with our team, vendors, talent, and our client. We all can share the same goals and are in alignment with the goal. As well, this opens more dialogue around potential questions or other needed prep, like last-minute gear request, wardrobe choices, extra time, etc. The sooner we get this done, the more time we can shift things around. The reason, outside of efficiency, we do this is because production requires 5-20 people to be on a schedule. The more transparent we are, the smoother everything goes.

At the core, I think we all want to be recognized for our efforts to make a project a success. Quality is fine, but there are so many more layers to making a project a win. We've all been frustrated when a client doesn't respect our work or understand how hard we worked, but we should also put ourselves in their shoes. What they can't see or hear, they don't know. Creating more structure and showing your work will open up that dialogue. Even more than all of this, we want to be viewed as credible, earn more referrals, and gain repeat business. Making these extra efforts gives us a slightly better approval rate each time.

These tips can be applied if you're a large team or small. Even if it's dipping your toes one project at a time, we think this is these are helpful. The best part about these is you'll see the value each time and be able to refine your approach project after project. To help get you started, we've created a downloadable document available here. Download it and tell us how it works on your next project.

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