“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” – Jean Luc Godard
Yeah…what he said.
Even when you’re pulling 18-hour days on set, there’s not a whole lot of time during production. Those debates (or shouting matches) about the artistic merits of a certain camera angle or the emotional impact of a line reading need to be settled by the time you arrive on set. Pre-Production is the time to figure out your creative vision for the project, from the overall look and style to more minute details like prop placement. It might not fit your romantic notion of walking around with headphones and yelling “action” for a take, but most of the important creative decisions should happen before all of that. Because failing to prepare during Pre-Production means preparing to fail in production.
Unless you’re one of Will Smith’s kids, you would never try to write a novel without reading at least a few good books. Visual style may seem like a natural talent, but the most visionary filmmakers relentlessly study other films, shows, photographs and paintings. So before you arrive on set with your brand new RED Dragon – okay, maybe second – or third-hand unless it “fell off a truck” – you want to have a distinct visual look in mind for your project. Not only will this save you time on set and make you appear more professional, it will also improve the quality of your work.
Good production value is one of those qualities that’s easy to spot but hard to define. We can tell that Christopher Nolan’s films have high production values, and we know that Cinemax After Dark has pretty low ones. Sure, money and equipment play a role, but millions of dollars and the best cameras won’t matter without anything visually stimulating in the frame. Your production’s value starts with your production design, and deliberate camera/lens choices.
Maybe you’ve tried to hold on to as much creative control as you possibly can throughout the process. Well, if you’ve ever met any actors, you know those days will be long gone once they sign on to the project. And to be fair, you need your actors to interpret the characters and story, as long as they don’t create a new character for an entirely different story. Pre-production is the time for discussion and rehearsals with the cast so that everyone is literally working off the same script.
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