A Filmmaker’s Checklist and 10 Important Questions: Creating Lists from Pre-Production to Post by Melissa Ulto

Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, March 2007. A Filmmaker’s Checklist and 10 Important Questions: Creating Lists from Pre-Production to Post by Melissa Ulto. Pages 50 – 51.

Checklists are an organized filmmaker’s best friend. From pre-production to marketing, there are many different kinds of checklists used to make the production run smoothly. It is a good idea to create your own checklists, based on your own methods. I’ll share my checklist types, and you can fill in the body with your own items of importance.

Pre-Production

During pre-production, a Director, Producer or DP (director of photography) will be generating lists of what needs to be done, acquired and planned for before loading the cameras up. Producers often hire everyone and acquire the script, unless it’s a low budget production, and the producer is hired on to secure investors or do fundraising. A Producer will be looking for locations, contacting talent agencies or casting directors, contacting potential documentary subjects, from experts to man-on-the-street types, hiring a staff and a crew, and working on the legal documents required to secure content. Budgets, completely under the domain of the Producers, are the most complex and most revised part of the checklist process on a film.

A Director will be working with the script, hiring an Assistant Director to help with the breakdown, or if the film is a documentary, hiring researchers to find resources and background information. A Director will be making lists of crew they want to work with, in all departments, and forwarding this information to the Producers. The script breakdown or research will yield locations the director will need to go travel to for shooting. A Production Manager (or Production Coordinator) will take care of travel plans, accommodations, catering, equipment orders, payroll for the crew, asset collection and management, etc.

The DP needs to spec out the camera preferred, along with lenses, tripods, cranes, dollies, jibs, lights, preferred studios, camera mounts – basically, anything used by the camera and gripping departments to shoot or light the image. The DP passes this information along to either the director or, most likely, the producer.

Production

Production is a never-ending series of updated and revised lists. From call sheets, listing everyone on set and all vendors delivering to set, to camera reports, recording everything pertinent about each shot, lists dominate a well-organized shoot. If you don’t see crew with clipboards and legal pads, be worried.

Each department will have deliverables required for each day, week and month of shooting. Each part of the crew will have lists for gear brought to and from the shoot or studio. The budget will be updated regularly and amortized (balanced) against vendor invoices and staff payroll.

The Assistant Director will often have a file with a series of lists and forms. Most important of these are the release forms. Without a release, a production cannot use the footage of an actor or interview subject legally. With the advent of laptops, physical AD Kits became electronic – folders full of MS Word documents, ready to print as needed.

Production is where organization really starts to break down on films of all budgets. The projections of production companies or over-eager Directors can often underestimate the time and money needed to properly create a watchable film. Under the crunch, organization and anticipation of trouble areas, with contingency plans ready, will keep a production on schedule and sometimes, under budget.

Post-Production

After hiring the Editor and/or Post Production Supervisor, the Director and the post staff will collect and organize all visual and audio elements needed for the edit. List of shots, stills, sound effects, theme and incidental music will need to be organized into the structure of the film and then further organized by edit schedule. With so many items going into a film, copious checklists and records are kept for licensing and editing. Cue sheets, listing all the music, along with timecodes, are required from some distributors.

Often, I require Directors working with me to do some homework. Not only do they need to generate an outline, they need to list their answers to the following:

1. What do I care most about in this film?

2. What does someone who needs to care about this film as much as I do absolutely need to know?

3. Who represents the personal in the film?

4. How is the personal tied to universal values?

5. Is the protagonist a hero? How?

6. What are contemporary themes, and what are timeless themes in the film?

7. Who is the dreamer? What is the dream?

8. What does the dream require? What is the sacrifice, and what is the reward of the dream?

9. Where is the drama and conflict in the film?

10. What is the climax of each section and of the entire film?

A Director also should map out the arc of each scene or section, and how those scene arcs fit into the film’s dramatic arc or storyline. Editors need lists for edit selects, credits, lower thirds, animations, effects and graphic elements. There are lists for drives and their content, tapes and tape libraries, transcripts, DATs, scans and downloads from stock photography or video websites. A backup log of the project, along with a master and working copy list of tapes, are lists that should be updated often.

Checklist – Time vs. Value

This sounds like a lot of busy work. But it is crucial to running a smooth production, as well as saving your sanity. Recording keeping for rights and clearances starting from the beginning will save you additional time on the back end, tracking down the source of footage or images. Keeping camera reports will make logging footage and working with it in the edit much easier. Organization will focus the workflow and keep the production on schedule.

Productions are many armed, multi-faced entities, requiring constant communication, flexibility and efficiency. The more coordinated everyone’s effort is, the more successful a production will be at getting completed. Whether it is a good film is based on the creative and organized work of the Director, Editor and Writer.

Melissa Ulto (www.multo.com) produces, writes, shoots and edits documentaries and experimental films. She started her career in music videos and working for MTV in production. In 2005, Melissa edited the film, The Art of Love & Struggle (Eyes Infinite Films). As a DP, Melissa shot the first part of an HD documentary, Art & Apathy, on location in Israel. In 2006, Melissa edited Death Before Dishonor (Vivendi/Ruff Nation), and just finished the edit of The Mighty Humble Blueberry.

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