How to Successfully Plan Out Your Film Project - A Complete Guide

How to Successfully Plan Out Your Film Project - A Complete Guide

April 5, 2023
Ben Thompson

Got a film project coming up? This blog will provide the steps to successfully plan your next filmmaking project.

Not many people naturally enjoy the process of planning. If planning is second nature to you, that's great!

However, if you struggle with planning, keep that weakness in the forefront of your mind, so you can build habits to overcome it. In this article, we are going to show you some basics of how to plan a short film, as well as offer some tools and tips to equip you to plan your future productions effectively and confidently.

Plan out your next film project

3 Steps To Help You Plan Your Short Film

Whether it’s a passion project for an amateur filmmaker or just another day in the film industry for a professional, planning makes us all poised for success. 

Planning always puts us in a best-case scenario, so we can be in control, even when unexpected challenges inevitably arise. Below we will discuss three key topics that should be taken into consideration moving forward. 

Always Keep Notes

When it comes to planning, it’s paramount to always use a good note-taking app, such as Evernote to keep track of all the information you need for your shoot and share it with your team.

Slack and Band are great team communication apps you can utilize, too. Make sure everyone knows how to use your preferred organizational apps, and can communicate through them. If you want your notes and feedback directly on your video and projects, is a good choice for team collaboration.

Legal (plan 3-6 months ahead)
For production legal advice, contact a legal professional. Below are simply some areas that will need to be addressed as you plan your shoot. The notes below are not intended to be taken in place of a consultation with a certified legal professional!

  • What gear will you need? If your equipment is rented, make sure you’ve got equipment insurance covered, and also insurance for cast and crew members. 
  • Will you also need insurance coverage for any potential stunts, vehicles, or buildings? 
  • Can filming notices be easily posted?
  • What precautions need to be taken so that this shoot can be conducted as safely as possible? Depending on your resources, you may be able to designate crew members to handle specific areas of the set, so there are multiple operators committed to implementing safeguards in their area. 
  • Know where the nearest hospitals are located, and establish a plan for emergencies.
  • If using a drone, has your remote pilot-in-command provided a copy of his FAA Part 107 certification? Has he performed his duties of reviewing the appropriate sectional charts, weather reports, and received any necessary permissions/waivers to fly in the airspace required for the shoot? This is a big deal and can cause serious legal trouble if FAA protocol is breached. You can also have to wait an extended period to receive the proper permissions/waivers if they’re needed, and this could delay your shoot. Also, does your remote PIC have the insurance coverage you need? You can obtain a quick quote on drone insurance here.

One great advantage of using ActionVFX’s library is that you don’t have to worry about expensive insurance policies to cover pyrotechnics, firearms, or other safety hazards. Their affordable, high-quality visual effects stock footage assets allow you to relax and not stress over the "what ifs".

To learn more about production insurance, click here.

Weather (sometimes unpredictable, but plan accordingly 1-3 weeks ahead)
  • As the shoot date approaches, keep your eyes on the weather forecast, and have contingency plans if the weather doesn’t cooperate, if that’s a feasible option. Secured canopy tents and rain gear are always a good idea to have on hand in case of unexpected weather.
  • Watch out for heat. If your talent and crew are shooting outdoors, keep plenty of cold water on hand, and make sure everyone takes reasonable breaks and stays properly hydrated. It’s easy to get lost in the middle of the shoot and forget that you and others around you need to be mindful of the effects of the sun. Look for areas that can provide some shade, and use plenty of sunblock. Also, try your best to keep your gear from too much heat exposure.

In addition to everything mentioned above, it’s always a good idea on the day of the shoot to bring:
  • Plenty of quality backup batteries that you charged and tested the day before
  • Proper flash storage (the highest-rated cards you can afford), and format the cards once in-camera before beginning the shoot
  • Backup cameras and record backup audio from a secondary source (if possible) Always bring more than you will need.

You have so many resources available to make you a successful filmmaker, but you must put forth the effort to make planning a priority. Leverage teamwork and technology as much as possible, and set milestones for when you’d like to have goals completed. Meet regularly with your team, but make sure your meetings have a defined purpose, and end with clear action plans to propel you forward to the big shoot.

Now, let’s take a look at the more creative side of your shoot. Planning around creative can be a much more enjoyable process, so once the practical stuff is out of the way, you can focus more closely on the details of making your story come to life.

Legitimacy and professionalism are sacred, and they are only achievable with proper planning. If you want to grow in your video career, strive for those traits by kicking tardiness and complacency to the curb, in favor of pursuing something much better.

Prepare Your Script (plan ASAP)

If you’ve never familiarized yourself with the proper techniques of writing a screenplay, a great software such as Celtx can be incredibly helpful, and make following the consistent, standardized format of screenwriting a breeze.

Following screen-specific writing formats allows your team to have so much more clarity than a simple Word document, and it will give you a chance to explore your script in a much more detailed way.

Not only is Celtx great at guiding you through the process of writing your script, but it also offers cloud-based collaboration for your team, and can even provide a master document for your production team to work from.

Storyboards (plan 1-2 months ahead)

If you have access to a storyboard artist, share your script and vision with them, and have them draw some panels to accompany your most action-heavy scenes. This way, everyone can have a visual representation of what the end result is supposed to look like and can work toward that end.

It will also allow you time to see if some scenes may need to be re-structured or cut altogether. Try to do location scouting before storyboarding, if possible. That way, you can provide the storyboard artist with some photographic context of what the scenes will actually be like.

The value of a good storyboard artist cannot be understated! Spend plenty of time ironing out all the major scenes in storyboards with your crew.

Location Scouting (plan 1-3 months ahead)

  • Have you received any necessary legal permissions in writing to film on these premises?
  •  Do you need to notify surrounding residences, businesses, or city authorities? Sometimes it can take a lot of time for businesses or committees to approve filming in certain locations, and you want to ensure that you have plenty of time to receive permission.
  •  What will the foot and vehicle traffic be like during the day of the shoot? Could it be disruptive?
  •  What will the background noise be like on the day of the shoot? Take some audio equipment with you as you scout locations, and record the ambient sound to see if noise may be a problem.
  •  Consider potential lighting and camera placement at your locations, as well as crew and talent placement.
  •  Visit your locations at Golden Hour, if that would be ideal for your scene. You can find Golden Hour apps on Android and iOS to help plan out what times would be best to visit.
  •  Estimate scene setup and teardown time at each location, and put together an itinerary for everyone on the day of the shoot. This will keep everyone on track, and give you a guide when your mind gets busy on set.
  • Spend time absorbing the environment with at least one other crew member. What does the atmosphere feel like, how will it translate on-camera, and what can it lend to your scene? Many great cinematographers can turn locations into a character of their own, and the environment can often convey more than a simple line of dialog can.

Location scouting is incredibly important to setting the atmosphere of your film. Not only are you prepared to set up more quickly, but you can use the locations to inspire new ideas and shots. 

A great tool for location scouting is the Cadrage Director’s Viewfinder app for Android and iOS. It provides the capability to use your phone to test out simulated cameras and lens packages on virtually all major camera types. 

Cadrage also lets you save your location photos with embedded metadata regarding the lens and camera configuration, focal lengths, GPS coordinates, videos, and more. The app saves the photos and videos to your phone for quick reference later, and you can even compile a shotlist as a PDF to share with your team.

Another helpful tip, even if you aren’t using Cadrage Director’s Viewfinder, is to make a Google Photos album of your location photos, complete with annotations for your cast and crew. This way, you can set expectations for your crew, get new ideas, and your team can spend less time getting familiar with the surroundings on the day of the shoot. Plus you’ll have your shots backed up in the cloud.

Crew and Talent Prep (plan 1-3 months ahead)

  • Do you have appropriate crew waivers and talent release forms?
  •  Do the crew and talent fit their roles well, and will they be able to meet the physical expectations of the shoot? Running, driving, lifting, etc.
  •  Will you be providing makeup artists?
  •  If the shoot is more than a few hours, schedule catering or meal breaks to make sure everyone is well-fed. A fed crew is a happy crew.

You have so many resources available to make you a successful filmmaker, but you must put forth the effort to make planning a priority. Leverage teamwork and technology as much as possible, and set milestones for when you’d like to have goals completed. Meet regularly with your team, but make sure your meetings have a defined purpose, and end with clear action plans to propel you forward to the big shoot.

We could add on many other areas of planning that need attention during pre-production, but these are some of the trickiest and most prominent areas to cover.

Make Post-Production Easier with ActionVFX

VFX stock footage is created in such a way that you can add the clips to your shot to achieve realistic visual effects faster and cheaper than if you were to film the effects yourself. The ActionVFX library has everything you need and more! Our production-quality assets are not only used in the world's largest blockbusters. They can be used in your film as well. Visit our library to find out more or join AVFX+.

Wondering what makes ActionVFX assets so special? Look no further than our collection of free VFX elements! We're proud to display the quality of our work, so peruse our collection and see for yourself. Keep up with our latest releases by frequently checking our release schedule.

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