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How To Make A Short Film - Part 3: The Pre Production Steps In Filmmaking

With the script ready, you begin the pre production stage. We will cover the first steps to take, so you have everything covered ready for your shoot! Including a film production checklist template to use.

Your script is ready and you are dying to jump right onto set. While it may be tempting to rush right in, hold up there. Because without a proper grasp of pre production steps, you may find yourself up shit creek (so to speak).

Why Is Pre Production Important?

Thorough and well-planned pre production means that when you are on set, you can focus. Because the homework is already done! It means you can enjoy the experience without any nasty surprises. Or at least as little as possible. Of course, something will go wrong. But that's just being on set. It's inevitable. If you don't believe us watch The Last Watch.

But with so many things to suddenly work on, where do you begin? Pre production planning 101 coming at you hot!

The Checklist:

  • Gather your team

  • Hone your vision

  • Create a budget

  • Find Finance and Funding

  • Cast some talent

  • Don't forget the contracts

We've created a pre-production checklist template here. Just copy it into your google drive and away you go!

Gathering your team:

Here's a guide to film production roles, who you need and who does what.

  • Producer - You! The producer is the group leader. They are responsible for managing the production from start to finish. The producer develops the project from the initial idea all the way to the after the shoot is complete. They arrange the financing and manage the production team that makes the film. The producer also coordinates the filmmaking process to ensure that the team is working on schedule and on budget. Without the producer at the helm, films do not get made!

  • Director - The film's primary visionary. The director oversees the shooting and assembly of a film. While the director is similar to a novel's author, s(he) would not be able to make the film without the whole team around them.

  • DP - The director of photography, or DP, is the one capturing the script on film or video. The DP will pay attention to lighting and the camera's technical capabilities. They bring the director's vision to life. When the director wants a shot to achieve certain visual or atmospheric qualities - that's for the DP. With his or her choice of lighting, film stock and careful manipulation of the camera - they work to achieve this. This craft is sometimes referred to as cinematography.

These are the bare bones of an indie filmmaking crew. If you have the budget or the contacts available, you could also consider having:

  • AD - The role of an assistant director is usually tracking daily progress against the filming production schedule. They arrange logistics, prepare daily call sheets, check cast and crew, and maintaining order on the set. They also focus on the health and safety of the crew.

  • Gaffer - In film and television crews, the gaffer or chief lighting technician is the head electrician, responsible for the execution (and sometimes the design) of the lighting plan for a production.

  • Production Designer or Art Director - responsible for the film's settings: the buildings, landscapes and interiors that provide the physical context for the characters. This person is responsible for acquiring props, decorating sets and making the setting believable.

  • Costume Designer - costumes convey masses about the film's time period and the characters who wear them, including their economic status, occupation and attitude toward themselves. Be sure to think about how costuming can show something about the character visually.

You might also want to have an editor in mind. But we will discuss this further in post-production!

Often on low budget indie film, the producer will take on some of these roles, as well as the director.

Finding Film Crew:

If you don't already have some contacts here are a few ways to find them:

  • Ask actors you know - often they will have worked on sets and may know of crew that they enjoyed working with.

  • Watch short films - find them on youtube or vimeo, and see what elements stood out to you. You can find names in the credits and hunt them down.

  • Mandy.com - has a directory of film crew available.

  • Freelance Video Collective - has a database you can search.

  • Facebook Groups - search London Film Crew and you are bound to find some relevant pages you can join.

  • Film Schools -films schools like Met and LFS often have students willing to work for experience.

What to look for in a film crew:

  • work with good people - sets are long and tiring, work with people you know have a positive attitude. It goes a long way!

  • use recommendations - see the above!

Hone Your Vision:

Once you have a crew, it's time to hone your vision. Once you know what it is you want to see on the screen, you can start to work out what you will need on set. This means creating mood boards, a storyboard and a shot list. Usually, this is done by the director, with some input from the rest of the team on their relevant areas. As a producer, you will usually just facilitate this process.

  • Moodboard - Also known as an idea board or theme board, a mood board is a collage of images that inspire you for your film. This can be the centre point for discussions on lighting, sound and cinematography. A strong mood board is a central point to return to. It means you can stay true to your initial vision throughout the process when making decisions. It can also help when you approach people for funding, so they have a sense of what it is they are investing in.

Make your mood board realistic in line with your budget. Try and find low budget films that fit your aesthetic, this will help you stay on track and not blow your budget!

Moodboards from The Dinner Party

  • Storyboard - A storyboard is a series of sketches on panels that shows the visual progression of the story from one scene to the next. Creating this sketch of the film on storyboards also ensures the visual continuity of the film from start to finish. Storyboards serve as the director's visual guide throughout the production and will be a template to follow during the editing process.

Psycho - Alfred Hitchcock

  • Shot List - A shot list is a document that maps out exactly what will occur and what will be used in each shot of your film. It serves as a detailed checklist that gives the team a sense of direction and prepares the crew for film expectations.

For a detailed shot list example check out this guide.

Once you have your mood board, shot list and storyboard, you can collate a list of everything you need for the shoot. This means you are ready to work on your budget.

Create A Film Budget:

Here's a great film budget template - just copy and paste it to your google drive.

There's a lot on that template, perhaps more than you might need. But here's a rundown of a basic film production budget:

  • Staff Salaries - if you can afford it, paying minimum rates is the correct way to pay for a film crew. You can find advice on rates on Mandy's website here. For your actors, if you can, you should pay Equity Minimum for a student or short film. This is "at least National Minimum Wage/National Living Wage per hour." If you can't afford to pay your cast and crew, you can work on a profit share basis.

Here is a profit share agreement template. Make sure you read it through thoroughly and change any stipulations relevant to your production.
  • Location and Travel - If you can't afford to pay crew, you can sometimes offer travel and expenses to help get them on your team. If so, this needs to be factored into your budget. As does any location payments you may need to make, or budgeting for the travel cost between locations. If you can, try and find locations to film in for free - houses or flats of friends or local business who might be willing to let you film. In exchange, you can offer them publicity in the credits of the film and in any promotional materials.

If filming near the houses of others, it's polite to give them a Resident Notification Letter like this one.
If filming in a location, it's good practice to get a Location Release Form signed, like this one.
  • Set Design - Think about any elements you may need to bring your vision to life. Here's a good guide to set design if you are a little stuck.

  • Costume - what will your characters need to be wearing? Think about each scene carefully. If you can see if your actors may already have the clothing you need. Also bear in mind you mind need hair and makeup supplies, like bobby pins, hair spray and face powder.

  • Equipment - this one's a biggie. If you are lucky, your crew will have the equipment they are willing to bring along and use. That's what we struck gold with The 2 Ed's. If that's not the case, follow your DP's guidelines and try and get what you can. Fat Llama is a film equipment hire site with good day rates or discounts for weekly use. Or contact local companies and see if they will give you an Indie/First-time discount. Make sure you have all the lighting and camera equipment your director and DP think is necessary. It will make a world of difference. Or just use your iPhone? It is 2020 after all...!

  • Special Effects - if you need any VFX you'll perhaps need to budget that in. You can again use film school students to get discounted rates on this.

  • Music - Music isn't free! If you need a composer that could set you back a fair bit, but can sometimes be worth it. If you have any connection with the composer that can work. Franz Bohm managed to get an incredible score for Good Luck just because he shared a hometown with the composer! For something more simple, you can find copyright-free music by searching online. Sometimes grassroots and beginner artists are happy to let you use their music for free. Check out artists on youtube who are just starting out!

  • Publicity - are you going to want posters? If so Snapfish is a good budget option. They sometimes have great sales on posters. If you offer Crowdfunding rewards, bear in mind you will have to budget for posting and creating these. You might also include film festival entry under this category too.

  • Insurance - it's better to be safe than sorry! Insurance is pricey but is a way for you to sleep at night, knowing you aren't going to lose money if you break the camera you hired! Aston Lark is a fantastic option, allowing you to pick and choose what you want to insure. They allow you to do short bursts of insurance too, unlike other companies. If you want to go without insurance, make sure EVERYONE signs a waiver, meaning they can't sue you if they get hurt.

Here's an example of a waiver.

  • Contingency - every film budget should have a built-in contingency of at least 10%. Because it's a film. Which means you are bound to suddenly realise you need curtains to cover that huge window you forgot about. Que the trip to B & Q...Seriously, don't skip the contingency!

Finance and Funding:

Once you have a goal in mind for your budget you can start to look at how to fund a short film. There are a few ways to finance your film. You can, of course, finance it yourself. This way you have total artistic control! Which is great! But, if that's not an option, which for many it isn't, there's no reason you can't hunt down some cash for your creative vision.

Your first option is crowdfunding.

We used Indiegogo to crowdfund our film. It's a great way to set yourself a goal, which means that if you don't reach that goal you won't take peoples money. This is a good fail-safe because you don't want to get yourself into a position where you have to refund anyone! You can also use sites like Go Fund Me too.

Top Tips For Crowdfunding Your Film:

  • Be aware that Indiegogo and other sites often take a small percentage of your total! Factor this into your budget so you don't come up short.

  • Be realistic when it comes to perks - Perks are a great incentive and can really make people invest with gusto. But make sure you don't offer a tour of the set unless you are actually willing to do that...! Also make sure that the cost of say posters, for example, covers the cost! Make sure you won't lose money on these (including postage!)

  • Research - research other films on Indiegogo that have done well and look at why they might have done well. Look at their perks and the materials they have used. Videos work well, mood boards are eye-catching. Think about what it is people will want to know about your film.

  • Hammer Social Media - Come up with a social media strategy before you go live. This way you can schedule posts ahead of time and generally feel confident with how your campaign will progress. Tools like Sprout allow you to schedule posts.

  • Timing is everything - Shorter campaigns generally do better than longer campaigns. This is because it seems more urgent. I can guarantee you will get most of your money at the end of your campaign too! So that's when you should hit it hard.

  • Update investors - make sure to keep investors updated. Send them cool pictures and little fun facts. That way they feel like they are getting an insight into where thier money is going.

  • What's your USP? - why does this project deserve to be made? What will it add to the lives of those who invest? Be bold and clear about this.

  • Be Aware - that most money will come from friends and family. Unless you have a high-interest niche (like sci-fi or horror) these are the people who will be supporting you, so be considerate. It means you might not crowdfund a project again for at least a year (if you still want any friends that is).

Film Funding

You can also apply to some film funds. This can sometimes affect your creative control, but often means you have more money to play with.

The BFI has an extensive list of film funds available. As does We Are Uk Film.


Casting is a huge part of the process. Bringing the right talent to the right roles is crucial.

Draw up some character profiles and with your director, shortlist some actors you think might be right. You can use Mandy.com to find actors if you don't know any yourself.

Make sure you are upfront with actors about dates, location and expenses. They will want to know as much about the project as possible if they are going to commit, especially if there is little to no pay involved. Make it clear how you will look after them, and make sure they get a copy of the project for their showreel!

Before you shoot, your actors will need to sign a release waiver also, basically meaning they allow you to film them and show that footage.

You should also draw up an actor's agreement so that it is clear what they will receive and what you will do to look after them on set. It also states what is expected of the artist, which is always good to have in writing.

Here's a template for a release waiver and an actors agreement. Make sure you read these thoroughly and change any stipulations relevant to your production.

Next week we will look at the production process itself and all the factors to keep in mind when you move on set.

We hope this helps with the process of making a short film for you. This pre production checklist is hefty, but once it's completed you are well on your way! If you have any questions please do let us know, we'd be happy to help!

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Part 1: The Introduction

Part 2: The Script

Part 3: The Pre Production Checklist

Part 4: How To Run A Film Set

Part 5: What Now? Post production Tips For First Time Indie Producers

Author: Olivia Foan