There are countless books and courses on filmmaking, with hundreds of videos on Youtube, so I won’t repeat what already exists. But I will outline some of the essentials which will be useful in your role as the producer, link some timeless advice on storytelling and add some personal tips which have been helpful to me.
A lot of these concepts and language are being applied (with variations) for the production of 3D or VR experiences, cinematic framing and the emotional responses we have to storytelling to those camera positions remain relevant in a computer-generated world. It’s very helpful to get a good grasp of these and help reconcile them with strategic objectives when possible!
The goal of the chapter is to give you a summary idea of key concepts and methods to producing a commercial video for your digital project.
Effective Storytelling Techniques
As a creative producer, your role is to orchestrate the production not the narrative, but I believe producers should be experts in their craft and these are fundamentals that if omitted will affect your final project. The first is Pixar’s rules of storytelling:
Brand storytelling: Pixar’s 22 rules for a good story - Toast Studio
A look at the most important rules of storytelling, as set out by the masters of practice: Pixar Animation Studios. Pixar is the organization that has been able to tell us excellent stories through films for several decades. Toy Story, Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Inside Out, Monsters Inc, Cars. Film after film, their ability to make […]
There are a few other best practices I believe are important to consider to have an effective story.
- Let the Story Unfold Organically: Instead of dictating the story, let it unfold naturally from your subjects' perspectives. This leads to authentic storytelling.
- Treat Every Shot as Important: There's no such thing as 'just' B-roll. Each visual sequence carries weight and contributes to the narrative.
- Cut Fillers: Remove superfluous words like "um" and "you know" in post-production for cleaner, more focused dialogue.
- Keep Asking "Why": Every edit should have a clear rationale. Each image should serve a purpose. If one idea equals one image, your narrative will remain clear and focused.
- Start with a Solid Foundation: Craft your narrative and visual choices first, then layer on elements like music. Each storytelling decision should be intentional.
- Lead with Character: Establish your characters and their context first. This allows audiences to empathize with the problems or situations you present later.
- Respect Your Subject's Story: Although your style and craft shape the film, remember it's their story. You're giving them a voice.
- Use Effective Language: Clear, persuasive language is key in negotiating and selling your vision, especially to those who aren't visually inclined.
- Avoid Time Constraints: Don't box your films into specific durations. Let the story dictate the length.
- But… and therefore (the course from the creators of South Park embedded below)
Film Production Phases
Pre-production: The Blueprint Phase
Pre-production is about preparation and planning. This is where all the groundwork for your film takes place. Key steps in this phase include:
- Conceptualization: What story do you want to tell? This is where you brainstorm ideas, develop your narrative, and create your story outline.
- Scriptwriting: Turn your concept into a detailed, written script. Remember, this will be the guide for everyone involved in the production.
- Storyboarding: Visualize your script scene by scene. This helps clarify the cinematography and guide the filming process.
- Budgeting: Plan your financial resources. This includes funds for equipment, location, cast, crew, and post-production work.
- Casting: Select actors who best fit your characters. This involves auditions and selection.
- Location Scouting: Identify and secure suitable filming locations. Keep in mind your script and storyboard as you do this.
- Scheduling: Develop a timeline for the production. This includes a shooting schedule detailing when and where each scene will be filmed.
Production: Lights, Camera, Action!
This is the phase where all your planning comes to fruition. It's about execution.
- Filming: Capture the scenes as planned in your storyboard and schedule. Your director and cinematographer lead the process here.
- Set Design and Props: Establish the visual tone of your scenes with appropriate set design and props. This can be real locations or constructed sets.
- Lighting: Ensure your scenes are well lit. Lighting plays a crucial role in setting the mood and tone of each scene.
- Sound Recording: Capture high-quality sound. This includes dialogue, as well as any necessary ambient sound.
Post-production: Perfecting the Puzzle
Post-production is where the magic happens. It's where your raw footage is turned into a compelling visual story.
- Editing: Review the footage, choose the best takes, and put them together. The goal is to create a cohesive narrative that aligns with your vision.
- Sound Editing and Mixing: Perfect the audio. This includes cleaning up the recorded sound, adding effects, and integrating music and voiceovers.
- Color Grading: Adjust the colors to enhance the visual aesthetics of your film. This creates mood and tone.
- Visual Effects (VFX): If your film requires, add visual effects. This could be anything from simple scene transitions to complex CGI.
- Final Review and Export: Watch your film in its entirety, make necessary tweaks, and then export it in the required format(s) for distribution.
By understanding these basic stages of film production, you're already taking a significant step in your journey as a creative producer. It's a multidimensional process that requires a blend of creativity, technical skills, and administrative prowess, but with the right knowledge and resources, you can make your vision a reality.
This is an all-time bible on film production which I strongly recommend:
The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (All New American Edition)
The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (All New American Edition) [Genevieve Jolliffe, Chris Jones] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (All New American Edition)
Planning and preparation are key to a successful film production. Here's how I would approach a short film or commercial project:
- Start with a Creative Treatment: Before diving into the details of production, it's essential to have a clear vision of what you want your film to be. A creative treatment is a document that outlines this vision, including the story, style, tone, and visual elements. It serves as a blueprint for your project and can be used to pitch your idea to potential investors or collaborators.
- Storyboarding: Once your treatment is in place, the next step is to create a storyboard. This is a visual representation of your film, scene by scene. Storyboards help you visualize the sequence of events, determine the composition of each shot, and plan camera movements. They are a great tool for communicating your vision to your crew and cast.
- Scripting and Edit Sheet Planning: Before you begin production, it's essential to have a well-thought-out script and edit sheet. The script should include not only the dialogue but also any specific actions, expressions, or camera movements you want to capture. An edit sheet, on the other hand, is a document that outlines your plan for editing the film, including the sequence of shots, transitions, sound effects, and music. Planning this ahead of time can make the editing process much smoother and more efficient.
- Locations: Location plays a significant role in setting the mood and aesthetic of your film. Once you have your storyboard and script, start scouting for the perfect locations that match your vision. Remember, any location you choose needs to be practical for your cast, crew, and equipment.
- Rehearsing: Before the cameras start rolling, make sure your actors are comfortable with their roles and understand the characters they are portraying. Conducting rehearsals can help them deliver a more authentic performance and can also help you spot any potential issues with the script or scenes.
- Scheduling: Create a detailed shooting schedule that includes the order of scenes to be filmed, the actors involved in each scene, and the location of each shot. This will help you manage your time effectively and ensure that all necessary personnel and equipment are available when needed.
- Budgeting: Keep a close eye on your budget. Film productions can easily go over budget due to unforeseen costs. Planning your budget in detail and monitoring your expenses regularly can help you stay on track financially.
Remember, every film production is different, and these best practices may need to be adapted to suit your specific project. Always be flexible and open to changes that may improve your final product.
Interview Best Practices
Conducting interviews can be challenging, but these tips have helped me drastically improve my interviewing process and results:
- Ensure Quality Audio: Prioritize clear, uninterrupted audio. Avoid making noises or rustling papers during the interview.
- Have a Conversation: Instead of focusing on your notes, engage in a genuine conversation with your subject. This leads to more organic responses.
- Use the Power of Silence: Instead of asking your subject to repeat something, use silence as a tool. It can often prompt your subject to elaborate or clarify.
- Encourage Complete Thoughts: Ask your subjects to fully express their thoughts for better soundbites.
- Utilize Double-Barreled Questions: For instance, ask "how long did it take, and how did it affect you?" This method can lead to more comprehensive answers.
- Open-Ended Questions: Ask your subjects if there's anything else they'd like to share or if they can summarize their experience in a single sentence. This can often lead to unique insights.
- Capture Room Tone and Video Portraits: Remember to record the ambient sound of the location (room tone) and video portraits of your subjects for potential use in your film.
Familiarise yourself with the film production templates: Call Sheet, Treatment, Beat Sheet and Folder Structure.