The Value of Pre-Production

Steve Buckwalter

October 25, 2017


When you see a great movie in the theater, or a great commercial that is memorable, or a branding video that excites you, you’re seeing the result of a long and detailed process of collaboration between a team of talented individuals. Achieving that final product can be a challenging, fun, and sometimes difficult process for both clients and production companies. This is because the process can be confusing and daunting for anyone who doesn’t have the time or attention for the detail that goes into planning. This lack of time and attention leads people to skim over the most important part of production: pre-production.


Production happens in 3 phases:

  1. Pre-production – everything that happens before the cameras start rolling.
  2. Production – when the cameras roll and someone yells, “Action”.
  3. Post-production – when the footage comes together and you build the finished video.


Let’s say you’ve decided to partner with a great video production company (like MAKE films) to create a great project. So now what?

It’s time to start locking down your concept. Why are you making your video? Who is your audience?

As we answer these questions and more, we start to develop the story and mold it into a script. This is the most important part of the production process. If you’re not happy with the concept and story at the beginning, you won’t be happy with the final video. If something doesn’t seem right at this stage, it won’t get better later on. Be sure to speak your mind and finesse the story until you are happy with it.

pre-production meetings


Once the script is finalized, we (aka the video production company) plans every aspect of the shoot. A lot of this planning is invisible to the client until you get to the actual production part, and if done well, it stays invisible. But if no one has the key to the location you’re using, or the correct wardrobe wasn’t brought to set, or people don’t know where to go or what time to be there, then the lack of pre-production starts to be very visible, and serious problems arise.

pre production planning


This is because filmmaking is nothing if not answering a never ending series of questions. Both the large, “Why are we doing this? What’s the story we’re telling?”, to the small, “What’s for lunch today?” (wait… we do get to eat on our shoot day, right?) “Did anyone tell the shop owners we’d be here?” “Where do we park?” “What size shirt does the lead talent wear?”.

When you get into the production stage and everyone is ready to work, there’s no time to deliberate on these questions. Time is money, and the more questions you have answered before you’ve rolled a camera, the more efficiently you will work. As a cinematographer, there are a whole series of questions that I like to answer before the camera starts rolling. Like, “How is the lighting, the lens choices, or the camera angles going to serve the story that we’re telling?”, or, “What color are the walls in the room and the outfit the talent is wearing?”. When I’ve discussed the tone of the film with the director before we start shooting, then we can all work faster and more effectively when it’s time to roll a camera. We want nothing left unknown.

pre-production meetings


If you get to post-production and you still don’t know what the tone of the video is meant to be, it’s too late. If you don’t know what story you’re trying to tell, it’s too late. If you aren’t happy with all of the little details, it’s too late. There’s a cliche in the industry that, “We’ll fix it in post”. We prefer to use the opposite, “Let’s fix it in pre”. Our goal is to solve problems before they arise.

pre production planning


Good pre-production is answering all the questions at the beginning of a project. This leaves everyone with a clear idea of the overall vision and knowledge of all the small details, leaving nothing but smooth sailing through production, and ultimately a fantastic final project that meets your goals and connects with your audience.

video shoot