Ever wondered what actually goes into a 90-minute movie? Or why the credits lists at the end of your favourite movies are so long?
Be you an aspiring filmmaker or you just have some curiosity about the filmmaking process, you can consider this article as your Filmmaking 101 guide. It is a result of in-depth research about filmmaking. The information is also provided in a bite-sized, easy to assimilate format.
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In general, there are five crucial stages that are involved in filmmaking, starting from the development stage when the idea for the film is first considered and ending in the distribution stage when the audience gets to see the film either at the cinema or through other distribution channels.
These stages include:
- Development Stage
- Pre-Production Stage
- Production Stage
- Post-Production Stage
- Distribution Stage
We shall now go through the various stages to explain what each one entails.
Stage 1: Development
The development stage of the filmmaking process involves a series of activities which include story selection, story development, writing the screenplay and finetuning the screenplay. The end product of this stage is the production of an accepted screenplay, which details everything about the story. The screenplay is what dictates the production cost, the actors, scheduling, location, technology and basically just about everything that will be needed for the production of the film, although these will be fleshed out during the pre-production stage. But let us not get ahead of ourselves; we will get to that later but first, let’s provide more details about what the development stage is all about.
Story selection is the beginning phase of the development stage. A story is selected to be worked on for the movie. The story idea may have come from a book or it could be a true-life story. It could be based on a play, it could be an original idea or could have originated from an earlier film. To a great extent, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from (bearing in mind any intellectual right that might exist). Once the idea of the story is expressed and the story is accepted for a filmmaking project, then it is time to proceed to the next phase, which is the story development.
The story development phase is where the story of the movie is structured. Every screenwriter has what works best for them. Some people opt for the popular three-act structure, namely: the setup, the confrontation and the resolution approach, but there are a lot of movies with different kind of directions. For instance, a writer may choose to use the following format: the setup, the opportunity, then new situation, the change of plans, the progress, the point of no return, complications and higher stakes, the major setback, the final push, the climax and the aftermath, approach.
Whichever structure is adopted, most great film story usually paint the picture of a hero that is battling with some very big obstacles as he/she chases a series of captivating objectives. The plot structure only orchestrates the progression of scenes that lead the hero towards the objectives.
Once the basic structure of the film story has been developed, then it can be used to write a scene by scene outline of the complete movie reflecting the order of appearance of each scene in the whole movie. This can be used to prepare a treatment for the project. A treatment is a description of the story, its moods and the characters.
Writing the screenplay
A screenplay or film script contains the movement, actions, expressions (screen directions) and the dialogues of the characters in the story. Writing the screenplay should only be ventured into when the screenwriter has fully grasped the vision of the structure, the plot points, the scene by scene outlines, the moods and the characters.
Finetuning the screenplay
There is a popular saying that “the best screenplays are never written once.” As a matter of fact, some professional screenwriters may work on a script for months; writing and rewriting, working on the clarity, trying to improve the dramatisation, working on the characters, embellishing the dialogues, making adjustments to suit the vision of the story structure or brushing up the overall style.
Sourcing for finance
Filmmaking projects are expensive. Even the low budget films require money; somebody has to pay for the equipment, crew, cast and other bills. This is where it gets tough for most independent filmmakers because raising finance is tough. Most independent filmmakers usually self fund their projects. While others explore other fundraising strategies such as crowdfunding and sponsorship, for instance via product placement deals. The lucky ones might get angel investors to fund their project.
Stage 2: Pre-production stage
Once the story selection, story development and screenwriting phases have been dealt with and funding is in place or guaranteed, then the activities of the pre-production stage of the filmmaking process can be set in motion.
This is where every step of the actual film production gets designed and planned. The pre-visualisation, the storyboarding, and the creating of the production budget for the project are all taken care of at the pre-production stage. Pre-production also involves activities like film crew selection, casting, location scouting, storyboarding, tech scout, production design etc.
It should be stated that getting the pre-production stage right would save one a lot of headaches later, so don’t try to cut corners if you don’t want avoidable regrets later on.
Film crew selection
There are usually a lot of people involved behind the scenes of a filmmaking process. All these people are important to the overall success of the filmmaking project. Apart from the producer, the screenwriter and anyone else that has been part of the project from the development stage; there are also the likes of the line producer, associate producer, production manager, assistant director, casting director, director of photography/cinematographer, camera operator, camera assistant, gaffer, grip, electrician, DIT, art director, boom operator, production sound mixer to mention just a few. These make up the film crew.
Although, in low budget filmmaking, a few groups of people can wear many hats; play different roles in order to minimise expenses, the crew for a major filmmaking project can be very large. The pre-production stage is where crew selection takes place.
Casting is a very important element of the filmmaking process that is key to producing a good film. This is taken care of by the casting director whose job it is to look for actors that best fit into the description of each of the characters being cast. Factors that the casting director considers include their looks, personality, authenticity, likeability and obviously their talent and ability to interpret roles.
However, it should be noted that it is the movie director who makes the final selection. However, the casting director takes care of the initial time-consuming and tiring selection process to make the whole process easier and faster because they are usually connected to countless of actors and can quickly figure out which of those actors will best fit into each particular role.
Casting is very important, a film can be doomed simply because just one role is miscast. Casting is a very crucial aspect of the pre-production stage.
In filmmaking, location scouting is an important process of the pre-production stage. Once the general kind of scenery required for the various parts of the film has been decided, the search for locations is initiated. Location scouts are generally known for fishing out interesting locations beforehand and keeping a database of them in case somebody reaches out to them with a request.
The shot list is a numbered list of shots to be taken. It describes the shots with details such as camera angles, camera movement, focal length, type of shots etc. and all the other elements that deserve attention during the shootings. There is no one particular rule for putting a shot list together; most directors have their diverse shot list templates.
A storyboard is a shot by shot pictorial representation of how the scenes in the movie will appear. It is just like a script that’s been turned into a comic book. It is a graphical presentation of the shot list with each shot represented with a square conveying the pictures or illustrations backed with notes that explain what actions and dialogue that are going on in each scene.
The script breakdown is a process in which the screenplay is analysed in order to identify and list out all the elements that will be required for the actual shooting of the movie. This includes locations, props, effects, stunts, vehicles, makeups, extras, special equipment, costume, film scores etc; everything that will be required to interpret the screenplay. Script breakdown is a very complex and tiring assignment, usually the responsibility of the assistant director.
Once all the locations are secured and the shot list/storyboard is in place, there is a need for the director and all the heads of production units to embark on a tech scout. A tech scout is a tour of each location in which the director takes time to explain the requirements/details of each shot, the positioning of the camera, details of each camera movement, what the actors will be doing etc. Having a tech scout will bring peace of mind during the actual setting up knowing that the crew will do what should be done having been thoroughly briefed during tech scout.
A shooting schedule is a detailed day to day shooting plan for the production of the film. It is one of the main responsibilities of the 1st assistant director (AD). It is advisable that a film director should make sure he hires an experienced 1st AD to ensure a solid shooting schedule. The 1st AD usually reports to the production manager, who manages the overall production schedule. The shooting schedule and the production schedule form the timeline detailing where and when which production elements are being used.
The production design is all about creating and organising the physical world surrounding the film’s story. In some movies, the production designer is responsible for almost the overall look of the film while in some other films the production designer’s role can be very limited. The main responsibility of the production designer is to design and oversee the production of set pieces and make necessary arrangements for the procurement of any other thing that needs to be purchased.
Stage 3: Production Stage
The production stage is the third phase of the filmmaking process. It starts once the activities of the pre-production stage are completed. It is the actual production aspect of the filmmaking process. It is at this stage that the actual shooting, otherwise known as the principal photography of the film takes place.
This is one of the most expensive phases of filmmaking. At this stage of film production, the actors are on set, the crew is active, everybody is busy, the cameras are rolling and the major part of the movie is filmed. Once the principal photography of a film is finalised, that film is already assumed to be a done deal, and a party may even be put together to celebrate the milestone.
The actual shooting of each scene can be divided into 5 steps, namely: blocking, lighting, rehearsal, tweak and shoot.
The first step of the principal photography is known as Blocking, which is about the determination of the best positioning and movement of the actors on set, and which line of dialogue to deliver at what point. It also involves deciding the positioning and movement of the camera for achieving a proper interpretation of the script. Blocking is a crucial aspect of the production stage that enables the actors and camera operators to know exactly how to position themselves and move on set during the actual shoot.
The second step in principal photography is the lighting. Lighting is another vital aspect of the production stage of filmmaking. Lighting is needed in film production to produce various effects, set the mood and to enhance the overall experience of the audience. Once the positioning and movement of the actors and camera have been decided, the lighting is set up and perfected to achieve the desired result.
The rehearsal is the principal photography phase during which every element of each scene gets rehearsed together: crew, actors, camera, sound, stunts, props, effects etc.
This is where necessary adjustments or corrections are made and everyone on set is sure of exactly what to do.
At this stage, the actual shooting of the film takes place.
Stage 4: Post-Production Stage
Once the production stage of the filmmaking process is complete and the necessary footages are ‘in the can’ and ready to be assembled, then, it is time for post-production. The post-production activities include editing, sound mixing, music and, if necessary, computer-generated imagery.
Film editing is the job of a film editor and it is both a creative and technical aspect of the post-production stage of filmmaking. The editing process involves joining various raw footages together into scenes and blending the scenes into a finished movie. Film editors usually work closely with the director in order to ensure that the director’s vision for the film is realised.
This is where the necessary sound effects are added, background noises are removed and the audio portion of the videos is polished. This is usually the job of a sound engineer or mixing/mastering engineer.
Appropriate soundtracks are added to the necessary portions of the film. Original scores may be composed and produced for use in the film if so desired and the budget allows kit. Otherwise, there are music sites like Songtradr where stock music are available in different genres for use in films and other types of projects.
Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)
CGI is used to create 3D images that can be used in films. Some film projects require special video effects that might be too difficult or impossible to achieve in real life. Computer Generated Imagery can be used to create such visual effects (VFXs).
Stage 5: Distribution Stage
Once the post-production stage of the filmmaking process is satisfactorily taken care of, then the film is ready for distribution. During the process, publicity and awareness for the movie are intensified through the use of trailers and other materials.
Check out the trailer for the award-winning Nollywood movie Alter Ego:
Distribution is all about putting the finished film out there in front of a viewing audience. Is the film to be exhibited directly to the public at the cinemas or television or to be made available for personal enjoyment through DVDs, Video-On-Demand etc?
Putting it all together
So, the five stages of the filmmaking process are: the development stage (which includes story selection, story development, writing of the screenplay and sourcing for funds); the pre-production stage (which includes film crew selection, casting, location scouting, shot list/storyboarding, script breakdown, tech scout, scheduling and production design); the production stage (principal photography – blocking, lighting, rehearsal, tweak and shoot); the post-production stage (editing, sound mixing, adding music/soundtracks and CGI) and the distribution stage.
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