Composition

Back to Composition...

The Structure of Prep (2 replies and 1 comment)

mattritenour
9 months ago
mattritenour 9 months ago

Hi Roger and everyone, 

I've heard a lot of discussions about the importance of prep in creating a great looking film, but am not sure what those discussions actually look like, or how they are organized. Do the Director, DP and Production Designer just sit in a room for 8 hours a day for a couple months, or is there a more or less standard approach that the decisions made during this time are tackled in? Of course it would vary from team to team, but am curious how to structure my own prep time to make the best use of everyone's time.

Thanks for any advice or information!

dmullenasc
9 months ago
dmullenasc 9 months ago

Prep is a process of breaking things down from the general to the specific. I find it useful to work backwards from the first day of shooting when organizing my prep needs as a DP.  Now in the following case, I'm talking about a typical mid-level feature or TV pilot, not a huge Hollywood movie:

The last week of prep usually is taken up by a number of things -- for example, the tech scout where every location is visited by the department heads, their assistants, and the director, who lays out the work involved at each place. That usually takes all day if not two days depending on the number of places to visit and how long it takes to get there.  After the tech scout, on the next day, is usually the production meeting where all the department heads and assistants go through the script and schedule, a meeting lead by the Assistant Director where everyone can ask questions to the director and each other.  This takes up a half-day usually but some go on longer.  After all the tech scouts and production meetings, the department heads submit their final budgets so there are meetings with the production manager to go through these department budgets (since often they come in too high).  The last days of the week are taken up by equipment pick-ups, camera tests, hair & make-up tests, visits to the post house to finalize workflow, look at tests, and during this, the director is trying to squeeze in some rehearsals with the cast in between their wardrobe fittings.  So that's the last week of prep -- not much time for one-on-one creative discussions with the director.

The week before the last week is usually made up of last-minute location scouting where the locations are finalized - these scouts usually consist of the director, DP, production designer, AD, producer, location manager as the core group, plus whoever else is needed to look at these places before the tech scout.  During this week, the director might be finishing casting sessions, meeting with department heads (the "show & tell" sessions where department heads like the props master, set decorators, costume designers, etc. lay out what they have created, assembled, gathered, made, etc. for directorial approval), meeting with the writer to discuss re-writes, etc.  The DP is often meeting with the gaffer, key grip, DIT, first AC to lock things down, answer questions. Some final crew hiring might be taking place.  The shooting schedule is also starting to get locked down and the DP might be meeting with the AD to double-check some things (the schedule is never really ever locked down completely so the discussions between the DP and AD never really end...)

Anyway, my point is that the last two weeks of prep are sort of booked solid with logistical issues, which leaves the weeks before those last two weeks for more creative discussions.  It's in those early weeks where you might have some daily meetings between the director and the DP, Production Designer, etc. to go through the script -- often the meetings are one-on-one, let's say between the director and the DP, or the director and the PD, etc. and then meetings are arranged between groups of three or more.  At the beginning, before the director gets too busy, I often request that 3 hours per day are blocked in the schedule for the director and I to go through the script.  And if you only manage to discuss ten pages of script in that meeting, you can imagine that it will take at least two weeks of these daily meetings to get through a 100-page script.  And outside of our meetings, there will be scouts (which give you another opportunity to discuss things on the van rides.)  

So there isn't an exact formula to how prep is organized, it's a bit free flowing depending on the project.  The AD office will usually post a weekly schedule and a daily schedule during prep because meetings are constantly being put together as needed.

shenzo
9 months ago

Great overview, David! Thanks!

mattritenour
9 months ago
mattritenour 9 months ago

Thanks so much David! That is a great outline!

Back to Composition...