The Role of the Director During Pre-Production


Pre-production is the most important time for any director because it is the where we go through a “process of discovery.” Here is an overview of what is expected of a director during pre-production. Please keep in mind that all these pre-production activities will vary in time and importance depending on whether you are shooting a film or TV.

(1) Location Scouting

Location scouting is one of the first activities you will be doing in the pre-production stage of filmmaking. Once you have decided on what kind of look you require for the film, a search is then begun for suitable locations.

Who goes on location scouts: Director, Location Manager, 1st Assistant Director, Producer, Production Manager or Unit Production Manager, Production Designer or Art Director, Transportation Captain or a Driver

(2) The Budget

During script development, filmmakers produce a rough budget to convince film producers and film studios to give them a green light for production. During pre-production, a more detailed film budget is produced. This document is used to secure financing.

A budget is typically divided into four sections: Above the Line (creative talent), Below the Line (direct production costs), Post-Production (editing, visual effects, etc), and Other (insurance, completion bond, etc).

The Director should also understand the budget. You should know where you can make suggestions on what elements to take out – and on what to add in.

(3) Casting

When a director first starts prep, you read the script through several times to get a feel for what the story is about and who the characters are. You then have a meeting with the Producer(s) and the Casting Director to discuss their ideas of the characters.

This is an important meeting for the Director, because it’s where you find out what the Producer(s) are thinking and if they are on the right track.

After the meeting, the Casting Director puts together a list of actors that fit the character traits and specific looks discussed in the meeting with the Producer(s).

The Casting Director then has her/his own casting session where they record a “short list” of actors for the director and the Producer(s) to view.

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A Director never has enough time to work with the actors in a casting session, so here are the 3 most important qualities you look for when auditioning actors:

1. Do they look the part?

2. Do they have range?

3. Can they take direction?

(4) Meetings, Meetings and More Meetings

The Director will have many meetings during pre-production. These meetings are scheduled by the AD Department and range from script meetings and concept meetings with the producers to individual department head meetings.

The director should have the following meetings:

– concept meeting with producers/location manager/art director

– script meeting with producers and writer

– casting meeting with producers and casting director

– Director and 1st Assistant Director meetings

– costumes

– props

– set dec

– special FX

– stunts

– extra casting

– transportation

– animals

– visual FX

– Production meeting

(5) Script and Scene Analysis

Because a director is a storyteller, you need to understand every detail about the story you are telling. Understanding the story requires a lot of work on the director’s part because you need to take the script apart scene by scene to find out what it is about, what works and what doesn’t.

A Director’s first impressions are vital when you begin the script read through process. You need to keep in mind your emotional reaction to the story and what images the story stimulates in you. What you “feel” is really what counts, because it is your emotional response to something that defines it as a “Truth.”

To understand the script, a Director needs to operate in the sub-world of the characters. Therefore, one of the main purposes of script analysis for a Director is to find out who the characters are, and what happens to them.

(6) Character Analysis

After reading the script and making notes about script structure and scene analysis, the Director needs to figure out the objectives of the characters. You do this by understanding the characters background, objectives and dialogue.

You want to find out the answers to these questions:

– who is the MAIN CHARACTER (involved with the question)

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– what is the CHARACTER SPINE (motivation / goal / action)

– what is the SUPER-OBJECTIVE (the main needs of the character)

– what is the OBJECTIVE (what the character wants / active choices)

– what is the CONFLICT (inner/relational/societal/situational/cosmic)

– what are the THREE DIMENSIONS (thinking / doing / feeling)

(7) Creating the Visual Concept of the Show

A Director’s visual concept is how you create the image structure and style of the film – it’s the “visual stamp” or look you put on the picture.

Some examples of visual style are:

1. Deciding on what the audience is going to see (and not see) by deciding where to place the camera.

2. What is the pacing and mood of the story? (Fast or slow, dark and moody or light and fun?)

3. What is the rhythm of the story – a scene – an act? (Every scene should have highs and lows.)

4. What is the color of the story? Colors can be used to express feelings and emotions and represent certain qualities of a character that can affect the sets and the costumes.

5. What is the main image to take the audience into this new world?

(8) Mise-en-scene and Subworld

The French term mise-en-scène comes from the stage and literally means, “putting on stage.” When applied to the cinema, mise-en-scène refers to everything that appears before the camera: sets, props, actors, costumes and lighting. Mise-en-scène also includes the positioning and movement of actors on the set, which is called blocking.

The subworld of a film is all the feelings and sensations a Director creates to arouse certain emotions from the audience. To do this, the director directs the story “beneath” the main story by developing actions, events and incidents that portray the deeper meaning of the story and the subtext of characters.

– research any source that will help (immerse yourself)

– what do you want the audience to know or to experience

– what is the story beneath the story

– what generates the action for a character

(9) Shot Lists and Storyboards

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A shot list is a description of all the camera angles for a scene and can include shot size, camera movement, character movement, coverage and cutaways.

In the film business, there is no standard format to follow when preparing a shot list. It varies from director to director. Many Directors do not make shot lists unlike many TV Commercial directors who need to work with shot lists and storyboards.

Shot lists are very useful because they can help guide you through the blocking process. But the thing to remember is this – a shot list is like a road map: it gives you a path to your destination, but you don’t always have to follow it.

Storyboards are a series of images that are displayed in a sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing certain scenes in a movie. Some directors will want to storyboard the entire movie, but most storyboards are used for complicated action scenes and visual effects sequences.

(10) Script Read Through and Cast Rehearsals

For any director, spending time with your actors before shooting is an absolute must. The script read-through is when the director and cast discuss the script and their characters. This usually happens in a hotel room where the available cast, director, writers and the producers sit around a table and read the script.

This read-through is the first opportunity that everyone can get together to start the process of working on the script. If the whole cast cannot be present, two other actors (one male and one female) can be brought in to read the other parts. Or, depending on your budget, the producers will also read the other parts.

After the read-through, the director will want to rehearse certain scenes based on the specific needs of the director and actors. This is so they can sort out character and story issues privately before standing on a set with 100 crew members watching.

Most of these cast rehearsals take place in hotel meeting rooms, but many times they can take place on the actual sets or real locations that are going to be used in the film.