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Preface

This guide is designed to help businesses, marketing directors, social media managers (really anyone who wants a video made) understand what they need to know before hiring a film production company.  We hope this guide will be useful even if you don't hire RedFox for a project. We want to see a more informed market and in turn better films. If this has been helpful for you, let us know we'd love your feedback. This is a long guide feel free to bookmark it and come back as you need.

 

Film Production 101

(everything you need to know before starting a project)

 
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Introduction

Hiring a new service type is like being invited to a party. It's super exciting until you realize that you know nothing about it, so you ask your friend a thousand questions before you commit to going. A lot of times we don't end up going because we just don't know enough about it. Wouldn't it be nice if you could see pictures of the party before it even happens? That's what this guide is supposed to be. So let's party.

This guide will cover the basics of what a film production will look like from your perspective. A film has four steps to it's life cycle: Pre-Production, Production, Post-Production, and Delivery. This guide will have five sections, one to cover each step and a final section to cover some other things you need to know. (And for those of you who skim, their will be bullet point summaries for each section.)

Every time I go to a movie, it’s magic, no matter what the movie’s about.
— Steven Spielberg
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Pre-Production

  1. Every project is different.
  2. Tell them "why" instead of "what".
  3. Set measurable goals.
  4. Know your budget.
  5. 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.)

PRE-SCRIPT
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.

SCRIPT
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.

There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.
— Frank Capra
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Production

  1. Be flexible.
  2. Also be flexible.
  3. Relax.

Production is the actual shooting of your project. Everything that happens from day one of your shoot until it is all shot and in the can (a film term for putting shot celluloid back in the can and off for development). There isn't a lot for you as the client to do during this phase. Depending on a lot of variables there are two options for you: being on set or not on set.

WHAT GOES INTO PRODUCTION
For people who have never seen a film being shot, it can seem like a unicorn. People say "I've never seen one but I hear that actors get trailers and there is steak catering on set." While some of these things are true, unless you've seen it, you'd never understand why. Shoot days can last a long time and be very monotonous. There can be anywhere from three to fifty people on a crew. Everyone knows the plan and they all have their jobs. It can take an hour to get one shot done and another hour before the next shot is ready. 

A typical shoot day looks like this. Cast and crew show up with a shot list for the day. It will take the crew about an hour to prep the first shot. The director works with the actors to rehearse. They do three takes of the shot which takes fifteen minutes. The crew then changes the lighting setup which takes another thirty minutes and then they do three more takes. This goes on until all of the shots are completed. That's a typical film shoot. See, less cool than a unicorn.

ON SET
If you are on set during shooting hopefully there is a project manager there with you to interpret what is going on. You also may have a monitor to look at as well. If you are concerned about something feel free to ask, but do your best to stay out of the productions way. They are following the plan that you agreed to in the pre-production phase. There is a saying in the film world "Trust me or fire me." That phrase is true for this too. If you don't trust the company you hired to get it done, you hired the wrong company. If you are on set you might be asked creative questions or called on to make a decision about something too. Production days are crazy, do your best to be flexible and have fun with it.

NOT ON SET
If you are not on set during production send a follow up message to see how things went the day after the shoot. Just enjoy the fact that your project is coming to life, and relax, if you planned well everything will be fine.

I think one of the privileges of being a filmmaker is the opportunity to remain a kind of perpetual student.
— Edward Zwick
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Post-Production

  1. The rough cut is rough.
  2. You don't want the raw footage.
  3. It is over when you say it is.

Post-Production is the editing phase. It is where the raw materials gathered during production are turned into the project you designed in pre-production.

WHAT GOES INTO POST-PRODUCTION
Post-Production has what's commonly referred to as a pipeline. Each production company's pipeline is different, but a common pipeline is this: rough cut, revision, screen lock, audio, visual effects, color, export, approval.

A rough cut is where things are placed in the timeline to show pacing and determine if re-shoots are needed. This rough cut will be sent to you for notes. After you give notes to the production company they will make any changes requested. They will give you a revised cut which you can either approve or you can ask for more changes. These "rough cuts" will probably look dull and sound funny too. The problem is that the production company has to get it to screen lock (A point where all of the visuals timings are locked and no more changes to the edit are made.) before they can make it look and sound good. So again, relax, if you hired the right company it will come out better than you ever could have expected.

Once you approve the screen lock the production company will work on the color, audio, and any visual effects needed. After this is all completed they will send you a final copy for approval. Assuming everything went well, this should be exactly what you both agreed on during the pre-production phase. Once you approve it, it is done. Don't ask for more changes in the future, don't ask for a shorter version or a longer version. These are all things that would have needed to be mentioned in pre-production and need to be planned for. I'm sure for an extra fee the production company would honor your request, but it isn't the best option.

Also, don't ask for the raw footage. If this is something that you need, bring it up in pre-production. Asking for raw footage in the film world is slightly insulting. It's like asking a chef to buy the ingredients and then you bake it yourself. The reason production companies don't like giving the raw footage away is because it is only half of the process. They shoot specifically so they can edit it specifically. A project only has that RedFox feel if we shoot and edit it. It doesn't work if we only do half of it. There are instances where having the raw footage is appropriate, like a concert or seminar. Something where the footage can be used again in a future video, but again bring this up in pre-production so it is not a surprise. Often there is an extra fee for getting the raw footage.

 

But having a really good understanding of history, literature, psychology, sciences – is very, very important to actually being able to make movies.
— George Lucas
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Delivery

  1. You're only going to get a file.
  2. Back it up.

Delivery is the last phase of production. Your production company delivers you the project. 

WHAT GOES INTO DELIVERY
99% of the time you are going to get a digital file. Back it up somewhere. Most companies will tell you how long they keep the file for. At RedFox we guarantee that we will have your raw footage for three months and your final project for one year. We do this in case you lose the project or need a change made. But please, back it up. 

If for some reason you do lose the file don't be afraid to call. Our guarantee may be three months and one year, but our goal is to keep everything forever. So if something does go wrong, we can fix it. We hope whatever company you go with can do the same for you.

 

When given an opportunity, deliver excellence and never quit.
— Robert Rodríguez
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Conclusion

If you made it this far, congratulations you know the basics of hiring a production company. To review,

  1. Every project is different.
  2. Tell them "why" instead of "what".
  3. Set measurable goals.
  4. Know your budget.
  5. Agree on a story.
  6. Be Flexible.
  7. The rough cut is rough.
  8. It is over when you say it is.
  9. Back it up.

Also, use these as markers when talking to film production companies. Here are a few red flags when hiring a film production company:

  • They don't ask for "why" or your goals.
  • They try to sell you technology (4K, drones, lenses, etc). 
  • They can't concisely tell you their process.
  • They sell you faster edit times.

Hopefully this guide has been helpful and you feel more confident in having a film made for your company. RedFox isn't the right fit for every job, but we would love to at least talk to you if you are interested in moving forward with a project.