Do you want to make movies? Do you see yourself as a filmmaker or a creator of video content? If the answer is yes, then you are likely familiar with the existence of the video production process to some degree, but you may not be familiar with the specific stages of video production. We’re here to explain those elements in more detail so you may have a greater grasp of this topic, whether you plan to implement it in your own work as an independent creator or within your production company, or to have a greater understanding when working with such individuals.
While there are differences between making a big budget Hollywood feature film, an indie feature, a commercial, or a wedding video for your cousin, there are different phases of production that you have to go through in order to have a final product which makes you proud, and pleases whatever client you may or may not have. The film production process may look slightly different based on the nature of the project you’re making, but you will traverse them nonetheless.
The five phases of filmmaking are development, pre-production, production, post-production and distribution. And yes, I know what you’re thinking: “Haha… Distribution?”. Yes! Now more than ever distribution has become so important because it’s completely changed the game. But more on this later.
Phase 1 - Development
The development stage is the first step in video production. This phase includes all of the elements of a video project that occur before elements directly related to what happens during production. Think of it as the stage when the production team will brainstorm all ideas for a project are put on a page and you start figuring out the story or concept of your project. These elements include script writing, creating storyboards, organizing potential department needs and more. As it slowly starts taking shape and direction, you will most likely create several different drafts of your story until you think you have one that really carries across your ideas, storylines or concepts effectively and clearly.
This phase of the production process also includes figuring out the financial logistics of the project, requiring you to start doing research as to what expenses will need to be made in order to successfully make it happen. Although it’s not necessary to break down the budget into a very detailed list of expenses, it is a good time to see if it is within your range or if you (or entity producing the project) have or can get the resources needed to put your ideas on the screen. Similarly, you begin to figure out who your target audience is, whether the final product will be a narrative or advertising style final video.
Depending on the type of video or film you’re making and who you can get involved with, development can last anywhere from a few days to a few years. Movies, for example, take months or years before their Development phase concludes and they move on to the next one.
Phase 2 - Pre-Production
Once a project concludes the development stage, it’s time to start the pre-production stage. As the saying goes: “Pre-production is Production”, meaning this phase is just as important and if done right, it will help you have a smooth and successful production phase.
In this phase, in an efficient and well run production, all variables of a production are taken into account and properly planned for in order to optimize the time on set. That’s why pre-production is sometimes very intense, because the pressure is on, the project is set to happen, and you (and your team) are responsible for getting everything you need ready to start filming. This includes location scouting, finding and hiring cinematographers, grips, set designers, cast, and more. This is also where you finalize any of the creative elements originated in the Development stage, and utilize them to formulate a production schedule. The pre-production phase is also known for being the time when you get permits from your city to shoot in public areas that might need to be cleared and reserved to you, so you must do your research to understand what the requirements are in the city or cities where you’ll be filming. Depending on the nature of the project you’re filming, you may want to have production insurance if you’re renting equipment, props, costumes, or other elements that will need to be returned upon the project’s conclusion. This will protect you in the event that something unexpected happens that prevents you from carrying out your production.
So, do you know where you’ll be shooting your project? Do you have actors and helping hands, the equipment needed, a polished final version of your script, costumes, makeup, and everything else you will require to film the entire script? Okay… time to move on to a very exciting stage of the process!
Phase 3 - Production
This is the time when you see all your hard work slowly start paying off. The production phase is when you actually begin the process of filming. Sometimes it goes by in a blink of an eye, and you might feel like it took you longer to develop and pre-produce the film than it took to actually film it. And that’s okay. This is a sign that you effectively executed the previous phases.
By the time you walk onto set, you should know every shot you want to get within every scene. Your team, if you have one, should know what the shooting schedule looks like. Even if you’re working “solo”, you should prepare and know what you plan to shoot and when. As mentioned earlier, having a strong pre-production will allow you to go through the production phase without hesitation or big obstacles, which can often result in unexpected expenses. Once you’ve gotten every shot of every scene you need for your film, it’s time to move to the next step.
Phase 4 - Post-Production
The Post-Production phase is when all the pieces to the puzzle start being put together and the project starts taking shape. Many filmmakers say it’s their favorite stage because it’s when they are able to see on the screen what they’ve been working on for months or even years, converting from the raw footage to a streamlined rough cut. The most known component of this phase is the video editing, although there are many other elements that fall under that umbrella. Post production starts the day production ends, and it’s when all the footage is handed to the editor to start cutting it and piecing it together. Sound effects, music or scoring and visual effects are added, along with any voiceover, color grading, and compositing any special effects or b-roll, if it’s a corporate video, into the timeline.
The editing process is often longer than people imagine, and it might not be that smooth, but it is definitely encouraging and motivating, since you as the video producer start seeing your movie as you imagined it finally taking shape.
Phase 5 - Distribution
Defined by many as the queen of media production, Distribution is the final stage and the one where you get to see how receptive the audience is about your creation. Movie theaters, television, home video, digital media and streaming are some of the various media platforms by which video production companies distribute their work. It is important to optimize your distribution plan for the type of content you’ve created. .
Now more than ever we are living in an era where we no longer depend on studios or big entities to share our work with the world. Don’t think of distribution only as getting your film screened at 3,000 theaters across the nation or having your work televised. Nowadays a lot of creators distribute their work themselves. Sharing your work on social media, YouTube, or a website you create also counts as distribution, and has often proved to be even better and more profitable than waiting on a studio or network to pick up your work. Even when you shoot a wedding video for your cousin, there can be distribution. You will most likely screen it at a family gathering, or your cousin will share it online.
Nevertheless, a lot of studio movies and shows are “canned”, meaning they never see the light of day after being finished. There are multiple reasons for something like this to happen, and it’s typically a big loss for the producing entity. Can you imagine spending all the time and money to then just dispose of the film without putting it out in the world?
The five stages of film production are vital for a successful project to be made. Some are smoother than others, but as you might’ve perceived, they all have their own challenges. Typically, working hard and thoroughly on one phase will allow you to have smoother operation in the following phase, which is why you shouldn’t take Development or Pre-Production lightly, as the lack of preparation will carry through to the rest of your project and you’ll be problem solving instead of doing what you initially planned and envisioned. Lastly, every stage is beautiful in its own way, so enjoy them and appreciate them for what they are. Happy shooting!