We’re almost there, folks. Almost to the actual filming of your web series, with someone calling “action!” and “cut!” and good-looking people bringing your words to life. But we’ve got one more step: pulling together everything you’ve done and everything you’ve gotten during the first six steps of this process and making a plan of action. That’s right, it’s officially pre-production time.
Technically, most of what we’ve talked about so far in this column has been pre-production, since pre-production is literally everything that happens before a camera starts rolling. Semantics. Onward!
By this point, you should have your script, your people, and your equipment, so the final piece of the puzzle is determining where in the world you’re actually going to film. In order to find these places, you’re going to have to location scout, or go to a series of locations, take pictures, and make decisions. Bring at least one other person along on these excursions, and if possible, bring the director, the director of photography, and the sound person, because all of them will provide valuable insight beyond how something looks in frame.
A few things to keep in mind when location scouting:
- How easy is this location to get to? How close to public transportation is it, or is there sufficient parking availability?
- Is there ambient sound that will cause problems? This means everything from crowds to a refrigerator you can’t turn off, to traffic, to a construction site nearby.
- Is there enough space for the camera and crew? Remember, there will be quite a few people behind the camera as well as in front of it, all of whom need to be hidden from view. Sometimes these problems can be addressed if you’re able to move the furniture around to accommodate, but if the space isn’t yours, ALWAYS ASK.
- Where is the nearest bathroom? This is especially a concern for outdoor shoots.
- Is there another area nearby you can use for “holding?” Holding is just an area, preferably away from where the actual filming is taking place, for cast and crew to hang out when they’re not needed. Even during breaks, try to take them away from set, otherwise you risk production design or continuity.
- Will this location be available again for reshoots or for multiple shooting days? You’ll frequently end up filming multiple days in a single location, so you need to make sure a location is available for as long as you actually need it.
- How much control do you have over the space? Can you control lighting/rearrange furniture/put up posters and set decorations? Can you redirect traffic or tell people in other rooms to pipe down? Does one need licenses or other approval for outdoor scenes? Do they need to be prepared to lie to cops?
The more control you have over the variables, the better a location is going to be. Otherwise, you better be good at improv.
Shooting Day Breakdowns
You’ve already made breakdowns for your props, characters, and locations, so now it’s time to do one last round. This time, you’ll be breaking down your script into filmable chunks. I’d suggest starting by breaking the scenes into locations, then breaking those down by which actors need to be there.
I polled Twitter for the average number of script pages different web series creators ended up shooting, per day. The results may surprise you, because they definitely surprised me. In general, on a traditional film shoot, you can expect to shoot 5 pages a day. This accounts for all the lighting changes, filming angles, and takes. However, according to Twitter, the average web series shooting day (at least for low-budget, often vlog or found-footage projects) is closer to twenty. Kate Hackett, creator of the award-winning series Classic Alice, told me she averaged about sixteen pages a day, and RJ Lackie’s award-winning show Inhuman Condition averaged closer to forty. Keep these things in mind when you go about planning your own shooting days, and make sure that you leave yourself enough time for actors to mess up, for multiple takes, and for more complex set-ups like stunts, motion shots, or changing locations midway through the day.
Then, once these are done, make “shooting scripts,” or scripts broken up by shooting day. That way, actors can focus on memorizing those particular lines, and your crew gets a better idea what they need to be prepared for, instead of needing to jump around the full season script.
It’s time for the absolute worst part of any film project! Some have compared scheduling cast and crew for low-budget film shoots to herding cats, but I bet those cats don’t all work retail with alternating shift schedules and no flexibility. Some suggestions:
- Ask for actors’ schedules as far in advance as possible, especially if you’re shooting in the winter or summer, when people are likely to be going on vacation. This will give you a general idea of their availability.
- Have three different schedule plans based on your shooting day breakdowns, but only share the preferred one with the actors. Don’t give them a choice — tell them “these are when we want to shoot these scenes. If you have conflicts, let us know.” People are less likely to flake if they feel like there’s only one option, but if there are unavoidable conflicts, you have an alternative to offer without fuss.
- Send out the final schedule, including who’s on set, how long the days will be, what scenes will be filmed, and the complete shooting scripts as far in advance as possible. Then, a week before each shoot, email the people involved to remind them, and again the night or days before.
- Seriously, remind people CONSTANTLY, because they will forget.
Purchase, steal, or borrow the rest of what you need for props, wardrobe, and equipment. Remember to write down everything you spend, whether it’s food for a production meeting or a set of fake throwing knives. Knowing what you’re spending the most money on will help make smarter financial decisions in this production and all future ones. Pro tip: most of your money will go towards food.
My friends, with all this complete, you are now ready to go into production! The most exciting and terrifying part of any film project. Next week, we’ll go over the basics of production, how to prepare and run your set, and the week after that, we’ll go through the most common production disasters and how to solve them.