Managing the pre-production process can vary for each type of production, however many of the same issues and problems you will face as a Unit Production Manager or Line Producer will most likely remain the same. Below I have listed 7 ideas to manage the pre-production process as a UPM / Line Producer.
1. Figure out what’s urgent and important
Often I will start prepping a movie and come up with a list of 100 things on the to-do list. Its important to figure out from that list what things need to be accomplished today or this week and which things can wait a bit. I typically like to assign certain tasks to the various weeks of pre-production knowing that many of these tasks will be on-going and overlap.
Example if prepping a low budget movie for 4 weeks:
WEEK 1: setup production office, hire essential production staff, publish crew postings, setup accounting system, secure hotels or housing for out-of-town crew/cast, cast day players
WEEK 2: hire crew, background actors casting, finalize budget/schedule, secure missing locations, vendor quotes
WEEK 3: secure vendors, finalize travel for cast/crew, finalize signatory paperwork, secure basecamp/parking for each location,
WEEK 4: tech scout, production meeting, organize pick-ups, schedule cast fittings/rehearsals, finalize missing crew members
2. Keep the crew and cast Informed
As you get going there can be a lot of changes and updates that will be pertinent to the cast and crew. Its a good idea to routinely send out updated scripts/schedules on a weekly and sometime bi-weekly basis. I generally prefer to not send out updated scripts too often as it becomes cumbersome for everyone involved. One thing I like to do when I hire crew members is to send them a link to the google calendar that they can subscribe to that has important information (tech scout, production meeting, cast fittings, flights etc) along with a 411 info guide (if shooting out of town) with pertinent information. I also create a secret Facebook group that I use to share location photos, 360 photos and videos of the locations so that the DP, PD, Art Director, Set Decorator, Gaffer, Key Grip etc can all be in the loop prior to the official tech scout.
3. Figure out the needs from the department heads early on
To avoid surprises on Day 1 of principal it is a good idea to talk with all department heads and ask them about their needs in terms of crew, supplies and budget. I typically like to have these talks as early as possible so I can avoid last-minute problems.
Example when talking with your sound mixer…I might ask the following questions:
Do you anticipate needing a 2nd Boom Op or Utility on any days during the shoot?
What does your sound package include? Do we need to rent any additional lavs, comtechs etc?
How many batteries do you generally go through? We have X amount slated for the budget…will this work?
When it comes to sound reports what is your typical work flow?
How do you feel about wiring all the actors? Is there ever a time that this is problematic?
4. Be creative with the budget and look for ways to save money
In an effort to bring the film in on time and under budget you want to be able to be in a good place financially before you begin principle photography. When getting quotes for vendors I generally like to get at least three different quotes for each big ticket rental ie… (camera, g&e package, vehicles, hotels etc). Having at least three different quotes will give me the ability to compare numbers before I go back to the vendor and ask for that big discount or deal. Many times vendors will cut their prices to a number you might never think they would simply because they want the gear to work. I have occasionally found that renting equipment (especially smaller jobs) from individuals on SHAREGRID can be more cost effective than renting from a big rental house. Its possible that many of your crew members will own gear…so consider renting their gear at a discounted rate that will be a win-win for both sides.
Here are a few things you can do to make sure you stay under budget
-Adjust prep days on all crew members…eliminating unnecessary prep
-Reduce dept size and consider day-playing crew members on more difficult days. ie…adding more electrics on night exteriors
-If hiring non-union crew consider which crew members rates you might have to reduce
5. Keep the ship moving with an on-going to-do list and daily prep meetings
During pre-production I like to have a brief prep meeting at the beginning of each day to talk about the tasks for each day. Having this meeting gives clarity on who is doing what and also gives accountability so no balls are dropped. I like to use a whiteboard so that the tasks are visible to everyone and also document these in an online program like todosit, asana or google docs.
6. Think with the end in mind
Don’t wait to create the credit list till the end of the shoot or you may hate yourself. Begin this document as soon as possible with a separate special thanks section. I also discuss with the producers what the delivery requirements will be in terms of stills, video and social media. Depending on the project you may be allowed to post social media before and during the shoot….although many shows will want this to be off the grid until a distributor is brought on board.
7. Find ways to build relationships and develop the team
It can be easy to get caught up with tasks, to-do lists and paperwork that you neglect the people who are making all this possible. Consider scheduling times where departments can hang out and have fun prior to the shoot. These will be key moments that the cast/crew will not forget and will be essential to maintaining a positive atmosphere throughout the film.