Transcript of 'Video 3 – Introduction to pre-production '


Hi, my name is Genevieve Clay-Smith and I am a writer, director and producer.

And I'm going to be chatting to you about pre-production.

Pre-production is important because the time that you invest in planning and communicating before you shoot is always reflected on screen.

Good prep means that you and your team know what you're doing, you're aligned on the vision and can work cohesively together on the shoot on the day.

In this video we'll be exploring what you need to consider during pre-production and some useful tools to help you achieve your goals.

When I come to approach pre-production, I like to lock in what I call the big rocks first. So, for me that's auditions, the cast and rehearsal days. The location, where are we going to film? We need to ensure that wherever we're going to film, we're allowed.

So, remember that if it's a public space, you're going to need to check with council that you can actually film there.

I like to lock in my heads of department and give them creative briefs.

I like to lock in my shot list and the unit also known as craft services. So, that's a department which looks after and manages the food and how we keep the cast and crew fed and hydrated and who's going to manage this. And that's very important because you do not want hungry, angry crew members.

Now the schedule of the day is also something I try and lock in very early. And I like to do at least three drafts to ensure that it works and that nothing has been left out or missed. And that'll also include how people are actually going to get to set. Getting these things organised will propel your planning along and put you in good stead for a successful shoot.

It sounds like a lot to organise, but if you write a script that can work within your limitations, this shouldn't be a stressful undertaking, it will just take time and commitment.

A very important role when it comes to pre-production and actually filming is your first assistant director. The first AD is an important role when it comes to pre-production because they are the one who is responsible for scheduling the day.


Hi, my name's Michael Santos. I am an assistant director (1AD) working in the Australian film industry.

The first AD, to me, it's kind of a tricky question, it's an easy question. For me, I always say that an assistant director is your first point of contact. So, any of your heads of department, whether it be makeup, wardrobe, the director, anyone, you are the first person that they go to because you're essentially in charge of anything logistical.

So, anything to do with schedules, anything that's going on, you're the guy that knows everything or the girl that knows everything. And also you're the first person they to when there are problems on set. You're the person that has to figure out how to fix it.

So, I guess in the broadest terms, an assistant director is mainly responsible for schedule and logistics.

So, whether that be the call sheet. A call sheet is essentially a document that has all of the information on a shoot day of what you're going to be doing, what you're filming, who the actors are, what props you're using. Pretty much anything.

I guess as well, they are also in charge of timekeeping. So, the way I like describe it is if making a film is like being on a pirate ship, your directors your captain and you are the first mate.

The director may be have an idea of like, 'oh, there's this treasure on this island that we need to go to, I've put this crew together'. Then he goes to you as a first man goes, 'all right, I need you to steer the ship. I need you to figure out how we get there'. So, that's kind of to me what a first AD does.

Communication is essential during pre-production. And there are lots of moving parts and sometimes it's hard to keep track. I always keep a live to do list on a Google doc Excel sheet that I share with my team and each team member has tasks delegated to them. Remember, filmmaking is not a solo sport, it's a team effort. So, you need to work with a team.

The first AD role is a bit tricky when it comes to the dynamic with a director because it's almost 2 sides of a coin where your director is fighting for creativity and assistant director does that as well, but just as much as your assistant director is there to assist, you are also fighting to get the film done.

So, like a very common sort of cliche is if you put a bunch of creative people in a room together, nothing's ever going to get done because they'll be like, 'oh, we could do this as well and this as well'.

And that's to me, the importance of an assistant director is holding people accountable and saying, guys, we don't have money to film another day, so we need to actually get this done.

So, it's this dynamic of when you're talking about anything creative, whether it's like directing the actors or how something is framed up, that is very much a director/DoP that gets the last say in it.

But you almost have to be bit harder as assistant director when you say, we've actually run out of time on this and if you don't get this done now, you're not going to finish the film.

So, it's that sort of comes down to you to say, ‘nope, we have to move on.’

Your call sheet is your go-to document on a filming day for any information that you're going to need. So, whether it's just something as simple as like, this is the address we're shooting at, these are the actors that we have for us today, these are their contact details. I guess from my end, the most important bit of information is the schedule that you've put together for the day.

That's the document that you'd find that in. The way I make a call sheet is either using Excel or using Excel Docs on Google Docs. The great thing about Google Docs is that you can edit it.

So, whether you're sitting in different rooms at different locations, everyone can be editing at the same time. In terms of what you'd have there, there's plenty of free online resources.

Studio Binder is a great resource where you can get templates and it'll basically outline at a base level what you'd be having is information on location, your schedule, any contact details for the cast and crew.

But on a more detailed level, you'd start to go like, how is the data transferred over at the end of the day? What equipment is being hired? What props are we using that day?

So, yeah, just it can be quite detailed. There's no set number of pages, it's basically just depending on how big the shoot is, you may need more information or you may need less information.

The reason pre-production is so important to making sure your short is successful is everything comes down to time and money when you're making a short film is you always have a limited number of money and you have a limited amount of time in a day. And the way that you maximise the amount that you get, the amount of shooting time you get, is by everyone knowing what's going on.

And that all goes into pre-production because that's your planning phase because for example, you may get to set and if you don't plan properly, you realise, 'oh, we actually have this big prop or we have something that we need that's actually half an hour's drive away'.

So, then you lose time that's potentially an hour in a day that you lose filming. And keep in mind as well, yeah you don't want to be shooting a 15 hour day.

I tend to find that by hour 12, even on professional crews, no one's working at a good pace. So, I think it's all about time management and planning at the end of the day. I think the most important thing that you as students need to consider when you are in the planning phase is whoever you're working with get them involved as much as possible.

I don't like to assume things, so it's because that more often than not tends to be wrong. So, something as simple as if you have someone that's in your wardrobe department, okay, how long is it going to take to get our 5 cast members dressed?

I wouldn't make an assumption on that. I would ask them the question and you work it back into your schedule.

I think another main thing to consider as well is the nature of filming something is things rarely ever to go as plan.

You can plan everything to the minute detail, but at the end of the day things may happen, gear may stop working, something may break, someone may need a moment and may need to have a half hour break.

And you just need to consider those things. So, when you're building a schedule, give yourself as enough leeway as possible to take into account anything that may go wrong. That's the thing that even on a professional level, sometimes people don't take into account.

So, for example, a light may break and then to get that replaced, to get your lighting person to change a light bulb, you may lose half an hour.

So, in that time as well, don't waste that time if there are any breaks immediately hop on with all of your heads of department and think, all right, while we have this break, is there anything that we can film or is there anything that we can do? It's about being economical about your time.

If you are waiting, always find something else that you can do. I think 2 of the biggest mistakes that I tend to find with first time filmmakers is a lack of preparation. They go into a shoot, and you spend more time figuring out what you want to shoot when that could have been time spent in pre-production and figuring that out. And then you end up shooting a lot less than you probably wanted to because 50% or 60% of the day's spent figuring out things that could have been done beforehand.


To communicate creative briefs to your heads of department, you can use Canva's free moodboard generator to collect images.

You can use moodboards to collect images that are going to help your costume designer visualise what your characters will look like. You can use them to help your cinematographer understand the look and the feel of the film that you're going for.

You can use moodboards to help with the production design so you can collect images of interiors and exteriors to show them the lighting setups, to show the wallpaper, you know how this film is going to look.

Using visuals is really important when it comes to communicating what's in your head to the people that are going to help you make this film. Visual and written briefs are important and can be designed in anything, even a Word document, so long as they clearly articulate what you have in your head.

Storyboards in my opinion, are essential when it comes to figuring out what you're going to shoot. They also help you create your shot list. Storyboards look like comics. And they help you work out what shots you need. You can then take the boards to your first AD and work out what shots you need. And then you can put those into an Excel spreadsheet using simple abbreviations so that you know exactly what shots you're getting.

So, for example, CU is for close-up, MCU is for medium close-up, W is for wide shot and so on.

Sometimes when you are story boarding you might draw the edit. So, exactly what you see in your head. That's because in your mind's eye you can see the movie playing out and so you can see the edits shot by shot, but that can actually confuse you a little bit.

You think you might need more shots than what you actually need and this is why you need to sit down with a first AD. Or to sit down to think about the shot list on its own because you'll find that one of the 6 close-ups of that one character is actually a two-hand conversation and you can cover everything in one sitting, one shot.

So, you don't feel like you have to kind of shoot it one close-up after the other and so on. You don't need to stipulate that you have 6 close-ups, just get the one and then edit together.


One of the main software programmes that assistant directors use for planning a film is called Movie Magic. That's kind of the industry standard now. It is paid.

So, there are some free alternatives. I think when you're making a student film, like Movie Magic is if you like, they're used on feature films and they're used for multiple days if not multiple week shoots.

So, as a student you probably don't need it. So, something that I'd suggest to, that are free alternatives is everyone has access to the internet. So, Excel sheets are your best friend, whether it's online or whether it's offline. Google Drives are great but it's just about being organised. I like even on a lot of my short films, working with a lot of friends or industry professionals Google Drives, they work well.

It's just about being organised.

You segmented up, you have a project file, you have a different folder for your scripts or for every department, whether it's a hair and makeup breakdown, a wardrobe breakdown and just try and find a way.

The way that I like to function and the tools that I like to use is that when someone hops on a project, they should just be able to go into these folders and find everything that they need to without asking anyone.

Now they can still ask questions, but like that's ideally what you're aiming for is that you set up your folder in a way that anyone hopping on can just figure it out without having to speak to anyone more or less.


When you have your shot list, you can work out with the first AD how you're going to schedule the day. And that includes the call time of the cast and crew, meal breaks and wrap time. I highly recommend getting some software called Studio Binder. You can get the basic version for free.

It's a great platform for creating call sheets and logging all your pre-production activities. Good communication is vital in pre-production. Making sure everyone has the information they need to turn up to the right place at the right time and know exactly what they are doing, will mean you have a stress-free shoot.

So, invest in pre-production because in filmmaking there's really no such thing as just rocking up to set and winging it. If you plan well, you'll shoot well and your film will be all the better for it.


A schedule is something that's pretty straightforward. It's the same thing as like you get a schedule in school. It'll have information on what scenes you're shooting, what times you are shooting from that particular scene, the actors that are involved in the scene, where you are filming. Because sometimes you'll be filming in multiple locations.

So, your schedule include information like, oh, we're filming, say we're in a school, for example, we're filming in the canteen room or we're filming in a classroom.

How I figure the schedule out is, sounds obvious, but you read the script, you break down every. I do a complete read through of the script and then I go scene by scene.

So, generally scripts are broken down to scene numbers. I will go through each scene number and break down what elements are involved, so whether it's all right, we know these actors are involved in this, we'll need extras involved in this one as well. These are the props that are involved that are written into the script. And also, this is the location as per the story.

So, the factors that affect the schedule is everything always comes down to availability. So, whether it's the actors availability. Sometimes you have locations that you only have access to at particular times. You take into account anything that is time dependent and you work around that.

But as a general starting point, all of those elements aside, it's probably not a good idea to start working on a schedule without knowing that information because you may find yourself making a schedule and then you realise, oh well we can't actually use that actor on that day because they're not available.

Or we can't use the building at this time because it's not open. So, find out as much information, logistical information, where you're shooting, when it's available, what actors you have when they're available and then you structure around that.

So, a great example of how I would structure a day is I did a short film for bus stop films with director named Gen Clay-Smith.

It was called Groundhog Night. It was all filmed in the same house. But I think you'll tend to find when you start making short films where the crews are big enough and there's enough things to move around, it's best to stay put and shoot all of your coverage in one location.

So, I know in that those particular 2 days, all right, well let's get all of our coverage that's in the dining room, that shot at night time.

Alright, let's move to the backyard and get everything that needs to be shot there. And because if you are bouncing back and forth and that all comes down to scheduling.

If you have to go back to the kitchen where you've lit that and you've set up for that and then you go to the backyard and then you're going back to the kitchen, you spend half, if not more than half of your day just moving things around and not actually filming.

I think the best way of keeping a team on time during the day is just holding people accountable for the timings.

The one of the first things that I always say to people is everyone is an expert in their own field, whether it's a wardrobe person, whether it's a director, your camera team, hair and makeup.

One of the things that I always say, and this is particular to me, is I always ask, how long is this going to take? And don't give me a time that sounds nice, give me the time that you're going to need.

Because what you're essentially doing is if someone gives you answer back and says, oh, it's going to take me 5 minutes. You are then going to set everyone else up and say, all right, be ready in in 5 minutes. And if it's actually going to take them 15 minutes, then you have the rest of the crew standing around doing nothing when you could be doing other things.

So, it's just that reminder of, hey, give me accurate timings and that repetition of like, hey, here's where we're at in the schedule guys, we are trying to pick up time here.

Or guys we're actually running on time.

So yeah, it's that constant reminder of time.

Owning a watch is also helpful.

The way that you manage your relationships with anyone on set, not just the director or the DoP or whoever it is, is I've worked for a lot of people that are a bit old school that were trained up decades ago.

And there is this old school mentality where you as an assistant director, you have to be really hard.

Now I'm not saying that there is an element of that, but it's just be nice to people and be understanding is one of the lessons that I always say to people. If you want to be a good assistant director and not get flustered every time someone says they need this amount of time, pick up a hair and makeup brush and try and do the same thing that they do in 5 minutes and then you'll understand, oh, I understand why it needs this time.

Or try and film something with a camera and try and rack focus and see how hard it is.

So, when someone misses a mark, you'll understand like, oh no, it is quite difficult. So, it's just a matter of like, I'm constantly asking questions on set how to every department, I'm just like, oh, so what are you doing right now? Like, how does this work? And that way when you understand things better, you'll get a better sense and a better understanding of how a set runs timings.

It's all just experience at the end of the day.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see from assistant directors is when things start going pear shaped is there is a tendency and there's a lot of stress, there is a tendency to panic and at the end of the day, if you are steering the ship, the last thing you want to see is the person steering the ship to panic. So, it's about maintaining a level head.

And I think it's emotions on set run pretty high as well. So, something that's important is even if you are feeling that way as much as possible, try and keep it to yourself. And that's not specific to an assistant director, that's anyone on set because I tend to find that the atmosphere, especially amongst the head of department, sort of spread a bit like a disease.

If someone is very outwardly panicking or they're yelling at people, that momentum and that emotion sort of filters throughout the crew and it's kind of not a pleasant experience to be working or making a film in.

A great way to break down a project folder, especially on a smaller scale is I'd have a separate folder for anything production related. So, whether it's Excel Docs that have lists of your entire crewing cast and all of their contact details.

Those are the small details that sort of make planning a lot easier because they tend to get overlooked. So, it may be something as simple as, oh, we didn't realise that one of our crew actually lives an hour and a half away, so that's something that we need to take into account.

And that's just it seems like a simple thing, but just knowing even something as out there is like, hey, where does our crew live? is super important.

Another folder that you'd have in there is a director's folder. So, there's any treatment. So generally, we put together documents, a director will put together a document of this is the tone or these are the influencers.

So, there's a folder in there, there's a script in there.

You'd have a folder for any hair and makeup breakdown. So, if you do tests beforehand in pre-production, which I highly suggest, you'd have all that information there. Any props that you've hired, especially if you have to return those props. You have all of your reference images.

So, those, you just go department by department, you tend to split it up that way.

My biggest piece of advice for student filmmakers would be to write a script that you can make for nothing or you can make for very little.

Now I produced a short film with one of my good mates director in DoP named Mikey Hamer. It was called Baby back in 2019. And we want to do something that was a bit genre, a bit sci-fi, but we also didn't have a lot of money.

So, what it ended up being was just one man sitting in a sci-fi tub and an older scientist talking to him. And that was the entire short film and it was really contained.

We're able to shoot it in a day. And we just shrunk down our cost.

Now you don't need to do genre, you don't need to do anything that ambitious, but what I will say is try and make a simple idea and do it really well. And don't over complicate things. If you've got a phone, you can make a movie. Make your mistakes on projects where you don't have to spend a lot of money.


This is the making of Baby a short film by Mikey Hamer. That's me there. And this is how we made it. The film Baby is all set in one room, a lab, housing, a tank holding baby, a hybrid human clone. And his maker Claude. We were lucky enough to shoot in the Farr Street Art Centre housing these amazing concrete textured walls.


My last bit of advice and the one that's most important to me is the importance of just planning and pre-production. So, if you're going with a solid plan on the day, I'm not going to say that there's not going to be any problems, but you are going to get the most out of your day that you can.

A bit of advice that I can give to you guys when you jump into your short film is the nature of what you're doing is you're not going to be a completely filled out crew and you're going to have to wear multiple hats.

The best bit of advice that I can give you, if that's the case, if you are juggling having to deal with both directing and shooting or maybe even wardrobe or whatever it is, find some friends that can help you and just make sure that what they're responsible for on the day is very clear.

So, delegate to them. So, hey, I just want to be focusing on directing today and shooting, but I need you to be in charge of everything that happens with costumes, actors and makeup.

And if you could do that and just a clear delineation because I tend to find, if you say everyone's in charge of everything, that's where you tend to miss things and problems tend to happen on the day.

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Last updated: 18 November 2022