- Every project is different.
- Tell them "why" instead of "what".
- Set measurable goals.
- Know your budget.
- Agree on a story.
Pre-Production is the beginning of the process. This includes everything from first phone call until the day before shooting. The pre-production process is the single most important part of the whole production, but is also the least understood by clients. (This will be the longest section, bear with us.)
You've done your homework and found a production company that has a cool demo reel and seems like they've got it all together. You look around on their website but you can't seem to find their prices. So you check another one, same thing. This happens for a few minutes and you think "This is all a gimmick so I have to call." Well, sort of. It is true that once you interact with a person you are more likely to use their service, but their is another reason too, every production is different. Don't be afraid to give them a call or send them an email. They won't bite you. It will make their day that you gave them a call.
Once you've picked a company you will be asked a bunch of questions. The first is "What do you want to make?" The best possible answer to give them is a "why" answer not a "what" or "how". A lot of times we get calls from clients and they tell us exactly how they want the video to be. They either saw a commercial they loved or a video from another company and they wanted to have one too. This is not the most efficient nor cost effective manner of marketing. Start with your objective. Why are you making the video in the first place? It is okay not to have any ideas for a project as long as you know why you are making it. The creative team at the production company will have a field day coming up with an idea for you.
For the sake of this guide Jake (not a real person) the marketing director at Factory Co. (not a real business) will be our case study. Factory Co. wants to build more brand loyalty before launching their new line of tractors. He calls RedFox and sets up a meeting. We show up and he tells us "I want a 30 second commercial with a guy speeding down a street in one of our tractors with an animated logo at the end." That's great, and we can do that, but it might not the best option. Jake should have said "We want to build brand loyalty ahead of our new tractor launch. I think it would be cool if we had a thirty second commercial with a..." you get the idea. There is nothing wrong with saying what you want or ideas you have, it is very helpful. But the most important thing is that we are all on the same page about why this is happening.
The next step is setting measurable goals. This is critical to measuring success. We should be able to have a focus group and see if we succeeded or not. A bad objective is "I want people who see this to like Factory Co. more." A good objective is "I want people who see this to know we were founded in 1912." or "I want people who see this to visit our website." These are measurable and will help us measure our success with the project. Which will lead to more efficient use of marketing dollars.
The next question you will be asked is "What is your budget?" Don't freak out. If you picked a good honest film company they are not trying to play you. The reason they asked you is so they can understand the scope of the project. (Scope in the film world usually refers to the size and scale of the project. It's shorthand for can we hire Ryan Gosling or not.) This will allow them to give you the most bang for the buck. Knowing the budget for a project is critical for a film production so they can determine what is possible or not. If Factory Co. has $3000 for their project, we probably won't get the shot of guy on a tractor racing on a city street. If they have $50,000 then we can talk about it.
Once we have established why, objectives, and the budget we can begin working on the actual project. This part will vary drastically depending on what company you choose to work with and the scope of the project. Before we can write the script we need a story. Usually the production company will take charge and come up with ideas or run with ideas you gave them. An "idea" would be like what Jake pitched earlier "We want a guy racing on tractor in a city street." But we don't need an idea, we need a story. For a story there needs to be a beginning middle and end. Jake's pitch doesn't have that, let's fix it "A guy is at a stoplight on his tractor next to a Ferrari. There is a guy driving said Ferrari and a cute girl with him. The two guys make eye contact and they race at the light. The tractor guy wins. The girl gets out of the Ferrari and gets on the tractor." That's a story. For a testimonial video it might be as simple as "Client had problem and we solved it." Once there is a story that is agreed upon the production company will go make the pre-production materials.
Common pre-production materials are: script, shot list, storyboards, budget, and schedule. A script is a paper that outlines everything that is both seen and heard. A shot list is exactly what it sounds like, a list of the shots needed to complete the project. A budget is self-explanatory, but a production budget might be structured differently from other budgets you may have seen. People are usually payed by the day instead of the hour and other things like that. The production schedule also will be structured differently as well. It is generally cheaper to shoot a project out of order (for a multi-day shoot). Depending on the scope of your project, you might receive all of these materials and more or you might not get any of these. A $50,000 will have all of these. An interview video probably won't have any of these.
Once all of these things are in place and everyone is on the same page, it's time to begin shooting.