Discover what's new for Fall 2024

Prepare Your Body for Production

Shooting a movie is a very demanding and exciting culmination of months of work and preparation. It’s also gruelling, with each shooting day a minimum of 12 hours and often running longer, some productions shoot 6 days a week.  When you add travel time, many crew people barely get enough time to sleep, let alone find life balance outside of work.
Shooting a feature film is a lot like running a marathon – it’s all about pacing yourself and having the stamina to make it to the end. When getting started in the production phase of a movie, be ready for what awaits you.
  • Long hours–  Shooting a movie often leads to long, tiring hours. Be sure to eat healthy food and get enough sleep before the production begins. You’ll need as much energy as you can muster, so avoid sugary junk food from the craft services table, opting instead for solid, protein-rich meals to help carry you through your day.
  • Stress–  Be prepared for problems and stressful situations on set – equipment will break, actors will have bad days, locations will fall through, it will rain and you will go over schedule. The better organized you are in preproduction, the easier it will be to overcome problems as they arise. Remember Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will. Assume there will be problems, keep a professional, level head and rely on your crew – everyone on set has the unified goal of producing the best movie possible.
  • Keep organized– The secret to a smooth-running production is to be as organized as possible during the entire shoot. From organizing the equipment to keeping the office paperwork in order, always maintain a clean, safe work environment.
  • Be prepared – You are responsible for yourself, so be prepared with an extra pair of socks and shoes, rain gear, a flashlight, the necessary tools for your job, a first aid kit, extra sweatshirt and jacket in the even you shoot into the night, mosquito repellant, and sunscreen.
  • Do your homework – Always review the script for the next day so you know what to expect. Take some time to review the next day’s schedule, shooting requirements, and location, so you can mentally and physically pace yourself for the day’s challenges.
  • Know where you’re going – The easiest way to get fired is to be late to set. If you’re early, you’re on time.  If you’re on time, you’re late.  If you’re late, your’e fired.  Always Google map the directions to the location the night before and allow plenty of time to arrive.  It’s never good to start out the day stressed because you miscalculated your travel time.
  • Don’t drink – As tempting as it may be to join the crew for a beer after a shoot, avoid alcohol whenever possible during a shoot. You are already taxing your body, eating unhealthy foods, and falling behind on your sleep. Drinking will only dehydrate you more and make you hate life the next day.

Production is an intensive process that can take its toll on your health very quickly.  Take care of yourself so you can make the best film you can.

The Actor’s Responsibility

We often think of the director as the master storyteller, guiding the cast and crew towards one unified vision.  While much of the responsibility of crafting this vision falls on the director, the line can be come blurry between the director’s work and the actor’s responsibility.

For the actor, much of his work happens before the cameras even roll. The actor bears the responsibility of creating his character under the director’s guidance. By better understanding the actor’s process, you, the director,  can more effectively work with him to create a multidimensional character.

  • Backstory – The actor is responsible for creating her character’s backstory. What was her life like and what events in her life lead to the events of the movie? Although the director plays a role in helping the actor craft her backstory, she is solely responsible for doing the work.


Remember that good actors prepare for the role on their own. A good director is there to guide them… not do the work for them.


  • Research – It is the actor’s responsibility to do the research necessary to render an accurate on-screen performance. If the actor is playing a policeman, then he may consider working with a local police department to learn the life of a cop on the street. If she’s playing the British Queen, she must understand the life, customs, time period and behavior of a British Queen. Each role requires a different amount and type of research, the responsibility of which falls on the actor.
  • Delivery, Dialect and Behavior – If you’re shooting a period film, or a movie that involves a language other than the actor’s native language, consider hiring a consultant or acting coach to train the actor in the proper dialect or accent. It is the actor’s responsibility to learn the proper dialect of his character. In addition to the spoken word, the actor must also learn how to carry himself. Whether its learning the mannerisms of a real-life person for a biopic, or understanding the social morés of the 1890s, the actor has been hired to convincingly play the role and is expected to fully understand the person he is playing.
  • Memorize lines – This, although it should go without saying, is a the true mark of a professional. In the same way that professional crew members arrive on set with the tools they need to do their job, so too must actors arrive on set with their lines memorized and with a firm understanding of the scenes they are performing. Actors who don’t memorize their lines cost the production time and money as the crew much shoot take after take, all because of the actor’s lack of preparedness.
  • Know the objective of every scene – Talk to the director and make sure you’re clear about what the character’s goal is in each scene. What does he want and what is he doing to attain it? Know where the character is coming from in the previous scene and where he is going in the next scene. If you don’t know, then ASK!
  • Act the subtext –  Acting isn’t about reading lines; the dialog is a symptom of the deeper feelings and drive of the character. Act for the subtext, or deeper meaning, not the dialog. Ask yourself WHY the character is saying a certain line, what is the underlying motivation for this comment, and is that motivation the real driving force behind the movie?
  • Know the story – The process of making a movie means shooting it out of order. When shooting a scene, know where, how, and why it fits in the overall movie. Understand the complete plot and character arc so that when you’re asked to film Scene 46, you know what your character’s behavior, feelings, and motivation are in Scenes 45 and 47. When the editor edits Scene 46 together with Scene 45 (which you may have filmed a month later), the transition of performance must be seamless.

The director’s primary job on set is to work with the actors to get the best performance for the story, and this process begins long before the cameras roll, during rehearsal. Once the actors are cast, work with the actors to craft their character’s history, motivations, and subtexts so they can play their characters realistically during the time of their lives in which the movie takes place. This is when the homework you did by defining the subtexts, themes and motivations of each scene in your script is helpful.

Pre-Production on Low Budget Movies

The process of preparing to shoot a movie can be pretty frustrating because of how many different tasks you as a producer have to juggle. It’s even more challenging when you don’t have a lot of money to spend and you’re wearing multiple hats.

After I wrote a 60-minute period mystery “Time and Again,” I had about six weeks of pre-production, so I had very little time to get everything ready. The trick I found to work is that I started looking for locations immediately, since the entire schedule hinges on their availability.  During the same time, I would stop and visit thrift shops and antique stores to collect props and wardrobe after work each day, storing them in boxes at home until the shoot.  I was also calling prospective crew members and organizing the auditions, while preparing my application for production insurance and contacting the city for shooting permits.

The secret to success is to multi-task and understand that EVERYTHING WILL TAKE LONGER TO DO THAN YOU INITIALLY THINK. Remember that pre-production isn’t difficult, it’s keeping the hundreds of small tasks organized that is the challenge.

I always keep a dry erase board by my desk where I can track of all the small details I need to accomplish, checking off the ones that are finished and always adding new ones.

A few tips I learned during pre-production:

  • Complete the final script, copy and distribute to cast and crew – Nothing happens without the script, so save your (and everyone else’s) time by finalizing the script before you start pre-production.
  • Breakdown the script, create production board and make the production schedule – The sooner you can determine the number of shooting days, how much you can afford to spend each day, and when you are planning on shooting, the sooner you can ask people to get involved. With a schedule in hand, you can ask “Are you available on X day.”  “Can I use your lighting gear the afternoon of Y day?”
  • Set-up a production office and bring on necessary resources –  And yes, your production office can be your home.  Just be ready to have a lot of people coming and going, equipment, props and costumes stacked up, and room for a table and chairs for conferences and meetings.
  • Set-up insurance, bank accounts and company structure –   It’s always wise to separate the production from your personal life.  This keeps your finances separate, but protects your personal assets in case someone gets hurt on set.  Always hire a good attorney and accountant to help.
  • Begin location scouting – Start this right away.  Locations are not always easy to find, and the sooner you can start looking, the better.  Also remember that you don’t have a location until you have a signed location agreement.
  • Begin scheduling auditions for principal actors and extras – Contact local talent agencies to assist.
  • Begin talking with crew members, focusing on main crew positions –  Call the film commission for the production manual that lists all local crew members. If you time your production right, you may get some amazingly talented and qualified crew people if you schedule your shoot off-season.
  • Prepare agreements, deal memos and contracts with cast and crew – You can download all the contracts and forms you need from FilmSkills, but always consult an attorney for any legal documents you plan on using.
  • Review budget with newly hired crew members to determine feasibility – You hire qualified department heads for a reason, so listed to them.  They will tell you if your vision is attainable, and if not, what you can adjust to make it happen within your budgetary restrictions.
  • Research and assemble props and costumes – Start this right away, and keep an eye out everywhere you go.  Also use FaceBook and other social media to put word out for any unique props or costumes. You never know what someone may have gathering dust in their basement.
  • Contact local film commission and establish relationship for permits and city services – Never shoot without a permit. You’d be surprised how many cities are willing to work with new filmmakers.
  • Begin set construction and set decorating – If you need help building sets, contact a local general contractor.  While they usually build additions, renovate office buildings, and build homes, a GC may be up for the challenge of building a movie set.  He may even have access to scrap materials to help you cut your costs.
  • Negotiate with vendors for cameras, lighting and grip equipment – Again, if you time your production so it doesn’t coincide with another film, you may be able to get your gear for a great deal (or even free). Offer to plug the rental facility in your social media to help.
  • Contact post-production services including editors, composers and visual effects artists – It’s never to early to think about production, and the sooner you do, the more help you will have on set. It’s better to start the editing process as early as possible so you can pick-up any missing shots while you are still in production.

All in all, start early, be prepared, and surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing. It will help you, and ultimately, the project.

Directing – It’s All In the Script

Although we all think of the director as exerting his or her influential on set, in reality the director’s work is mostly done well before hand in pre-production. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the complexities of production. From working with difficult actors, to fighting the setting sun, to trying to overcome problems with the location, it’s easy to lose sight of the fragility of the emotional moment you’re tasked with creating amid this chaos. As a result, it’s always best to do your homework in a quiet environment, and look to your script for the answers.


Prep is where the big part of the director’s job happens. That’s where we figure out: what is this scene really about, what is the story I’m telling, what is the emotional point of view of each character, and what is the intent and obstacle of each character? Now how do I illuminate that by how I shoot this scene? Where do the characters want to be physically in the set, and how do I demonstrate that with a camera? I cut it all together in my head before I shoot a single thing, so that my screen direction will be correct. And so that I can answer any questions that an actor might have about intention, or about obstacle, or about subtext, or about point of view. I have to know it all through and through and completely, know it cold. Once I know that, I can come on set that day and throw it all away, just like an actor does, and let the magic happen.


– Bethany Rooney, Critically Acclaimed Director, “Brothers and Sisters”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Desperate Housewives”, and “Private Practice”


Here are a few tips to get the most from your script before you start shooting:

  • What is this scene about? Know the complete story arc of both the A-story and each subplot.  Work through how each scene moves the story forward and the narrative purpose of each scene. Determine what each character wants in each scene, where each character is going, and where each character is coming from before the scene begins.
  • How does it fit into the scene that came before and the scene that comes next? Determining this will help you design transitions to segue from one scene into the next scene.  Let the emotion, energy, and pacing of each scene guide these transitions.
  • What is each character’s motivation in this scene? Perform a character analysis for each and every scene.  You can learn more about this process in the chapter,  “Analyzing Character.”
  • What is the driving subtext of each line of dialog? Invariably, actors will ask you why their characters are saying a particular line, so be clear what each character really means, and why he or she is covering this truthful subtext with the written line.
  • What does each character really want and is he/she speaking the truth or masking it? While dialogue can seem to be a truthful representation of how a character feels, it probably isn’t.  Look at the scene to determine why the character is masking or revealing his true intentions.
  • How would you like the lighting and cinematography to serve the theme?  In addition to the performance, determine how the other creative elements of filmmaking will work to enhance the emotion of each scene.  From the blocking of the camera to sound design,  understanding how the technique can adorn the actor’s performance can greatly enhance your control of the moment.

By unraveling and understanding these three principles in advance, you’ll be able to much more effectively tackle each scene on set.