The Stages of Film Production

Breakdown of the three main stages of filmmaking - Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production.

Misha Tenenbaum avatar
Written by Misha Tenenbaum
Updated over a week ago

The time it takes to watch a full-length film or series is short compared to the time needed to create it. These works of entertainment are made through a complex machine of people working in concert with each other through a process of development known as The Stages of Film Production. This process encompasses three overarching phases: Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production.

Pre-Production Stage

This stage is a critical planning and preparation period; on major productions, it can take up to one to two years. A significant amount of time and effort goes into creating an actionable strategy requiring consideration of many variables so filming can occur.

Early Development

Every film has to start with an idea, but first, it has to go from a concept to a screenplay. Filmmakers may start by developing an original idea, using a script already written, or obtaining the rights to adapt a book or news story.

Filmmaking is a creative endeavor, but it's still a business. Your goal is not only to create meaningful stories that connect with audiences, but you hope it earns enough money to return on the investments and make a profit. Regardless of the production scale, there are always expenses, including people, places, and resources; therefore, fundraising is critical for a project's early development. Raising money can vary from securing donations, like online fundraising campaigns, finding investors, or securing studio backing.

Planning and Preparation

Once you have a story and funds, the planning can begin! Many steps happen during this process:

  • Budgeting - Filmmakers need to create a budget as this is an essential tool for devising a spending plan and prioritizing needs. The budget is an evolving document in early development, but locking it from further changes will be critical for the production's Producer (s) to avoid going over budget.

  • Secure Cast and Crew - It takes an army to make a production. Lead creative people will need to be hired to oversee all the central departments and formulate plans. And a supporting crew is required to put those plans into action. Casting for all onscreen talent is critical, and these parts can range from major and minor characters or background extras to fill a scene.

  • Pre-visualization - The Producer and Director must create a plan for how the film will look and feel using various Pre-Production techniques. Storyboards and Concept Art may be designed to determine the overall goals for the look and feel of the film. Additionally, the filmmakers must evaluate how the screenplay will be broken into scene Coverage, what kind of lighting design is needed, and how that can be executed.

  • Scouting and Securing Locations - Will the production be shot on a sound stage or on location? Filmmakers discuss their options for what works best for the story's needs and their budget. If the film is shot on location, scouts will need to be sent out to look for options to provide to the lead creative team. Once the locations are selected, various logistics will need to be completed, such as:

    • Attaining shooting permits

    • Paying for location usage

    • Completing location agreement contracts

    • Acquiring insurance coverage for those spaces.

  • Production Design - Everything you see on screen results from careful consideration. The production design department oversees the planning, acquisition, and creation of elements seen within a film. They are typically responsible for the props, wardrobe, hair, makeup, set design and construction, set dressing, carpentry, and greenery, to name a few design aspects.

  • Scheduling - A plan needs to be mapped out for the duration and dates of filming. The schedule seeks to answer many questions: How many days will production take place? What or who are needed for the various days of production? What shots will be covered each day, and in what order? These are challenging questions to answer, and lots of communication occurs among all the departments to create the schedule.

  • Actor Preparations and Rehearsals - Talent will need to work with the Director and other supporting persons before appearing on screen. This rehearsal period often requires mental and physical preparations for their role, character, and story research, analyzing story beats and staging action in a scene, as well as discussing a safe plan for staged intimacy or sensitive content.

Production Stage

Often referred to as Principal Photography, this is when the actual film gets shot; it could last six weeks or even a year or more on some major productions. Despite all the planning, flexibility and learning to adapt are necessary. A sort of filmmaker's mantra comes from Murphy's Law, which states," Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." Even the best-laid plans encounter difficulties. However, with solid planning in Pre-Production, the filmmakers will have a stronger foundation and tools to address production issues. At the end of every filming day, the lead production team members check in with one another to determine if daily production goals are met and if plans need to be adjusted for upcoming shooting days.

Post-Production Stage

Upon completion of Principal Photography, Post-Production begins! This is where picture and sound will come together. It's said the final rewrite of the film happens in the edit. This is where the magic and power of Post-Production can help evolve the original screenplay into something more substantial. Post-Production also has several phases to bring the film to its final deliverable.

Picture and Sound Edit

Upon completion of Principal Photography, Post-Production begins. This stage is where picture and sound will come together. It's said the final rewrite of the film happens in the edit. This stage is where the magic and power of Post-Production can help evolve the original screenplay into something more substantial. Post-Production also has several phases to bring the film to its final deliverable.

Picture and Sound Edit

Editing is not just about piecing the footage together to tell a story; it's about constant review, revision, and evolution. As the edit progresses, it goes through several stages:

  • Assembly Cut - This edit is the first pass where the Editor assembles the film with first impressions of best takes and notes provided by the Script Supervisor on set in the form of the Lined Script and Facing Pages to identify the Director's preferred takes. This edit is not meant to be overly refined but gives a rough sketch of its structure. The story's overall structure is placed exactly as presented by the screenplay, as restructuring can happen later.

  • Rough Cut - As the name implies, the edit may still be rough, with notable errors that need to be fixed in future reshoots and edits. However, at this stage, the Editor begins refining the edit by removing unnecessary information and adding temp music, sound effects, and early visual effects. But this edit must continue to keep the overall aesthetic goals and intentions communicated by the Director.

  • Fine Cut - This next phase often sees a high level of collaboration between the Editor and Director as they work together toward further refining the edit. Major restructuring may occur, such as removing dialogue lines or shifting scenes. And collaborative differences of opinion are often agreed upon. The goal of the Fine Cut is to get to a tighter version of the edit that hopefully reflects a version that is as close as possible to the final goal for the picture edit.

  • Picture Lock - A rigorous final review of the picture edit takes place. The Director may use a test audience to collect final feedback and identify problematic areas that need resolving. Once those final revisions are completed, the edit is at a point where no more changes will occur to the visual timeline.

  • Finishing - The film needs further polishing now that the picture is locked. During this stage, the Editor will send the edit to other Post-Production departments to work on:

    • Visual Effects

    • Sound Design and Mixing

    • Color Correction and Grading

  • Final Cut - When the edit reaches Final Cut, no other changes to the edit will occur. The Director will use this version to create a Master or Mezzanine file to output the film for the various release formats for viewing and distribution.

Marketing and Distribution

As stated earlier, films need to recoup their losses and make a profit. Marketing plays a critical role in gaining viewership and sales. Money is often budgeted toward a film's marketing as it's the key to generating sales. The marketing team develops strategies to reach a target audience through social media engagement, advertising, movie trailers, posters, press releases, and media coverage.

But how will the public see this film? Distribution! There are many avenues where a movie could find viewership, such as theatrical release, television, Blu-ray, and various streaming services. With all the technological advancements in media, the landscape of distribution options is rapidly evolving.

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