Pre-Production & Planning

So, you’ve decided to commission a video to enhance your web site, add authority to your presentations, inform and motivate your team and/or adorn your Reception area.  You’ve done your due diligence, asked people you trust for recommendations, checked out some web sites, show reels and testimonials, allocated time and a budget and are all ready to go.

The foundation of any good film is a successful pre-production stage, when you and the production company get to know each other and all the steps are put in place for a film that can have a real and lasting impact on, and in your business. The story starts here.

Research & Discovery
Getting a complete picture of any new client or product, either before pitching for a project or after commissioning is essential. Every company and communications task is different. The differences help to define the personality of the business that we need to project, as well as the kind of information to be conveyed in the finished film. Before our first meeting we would typically ask our client to send us any information that they believe is relevant to what we need to communicate. This might take the form of web links, briefing or research documents, presentations, press releases or marketing literature. It’s also useful to know if there is a firm delivery deadline and at least a ballpark budget. Deadlines focus the mind and will affect cost. An indeterminate or distant delivery date can make it difficult to quote accurately as there will almost inevitably be more opportunities to revise the approach during the production period. Generally deadlines are a good thing, so everyone knows where they stand.
Production recce

On land or sea, recces are essential


It's Good to Talk
Whilst solid written background information is invaluable it will never replace meeting, ideally face to face. Making a film is a collaborative process and the openness and chemistry in the relationship has to be there from the outset. Most of the best projects we’ve worked on have started with meetings where energy flows and ideas take shape. We’ve been told by clients that our ability to grasp a product formula is astonishing and that we sometimes get to know clients better than they know themselves. Those are compliments we like – as a production company it’s our job to understand a product or business from the inside out so we can project it in the right way. That means getting to know the audience and competitors as well, so we can pitch the message exactly at the right level. For the launch of a piece of new technology it is often invaluable to talk to the designers or engineers behind it. They have lived and breathed the product for a long time and along the way have had to overcome obstacles and solve a whole series of technical problems to meet customer needs. That gives them a unique and usually very illuminating insight. Similarly time spent in conversation with the sales team is invariably time well spent. They are at the sharp end, encountering any barriers to sales every day so their opinion has real resonance. For a consumer audience we also need to know if there is any existing relevant research that might guide the way we approach the film – What are people looking for? How are your competitors addressing their needs? What does your product do that gives it that elusive edge?
Embrace Your New Consultant
The MD of one high profile hospitality business described us as “like really good, less expensive management consultants – and at the end of it all I get a film!” Because we have worked with literally hundreds of organisations across a wide range of market sectors and our work is usually deadline driven, with a tangible, measurable result at the end we tend to get to know businesses more quickly, more instinctively and maybe less formulaically than most management consultants. We really value this and so do our clients – that way the videos we produce as their production partners becomes integral to the business strategy and can help reflect the real ethos and ambition of the business. The process of commissioning and making a film should really help you to gain a different insight into your own company; if it doesn’t and you find yourself having to constantly tell the production company what to do maybe you are not getting the service you deserve.

Enter the Dragons (well, the crew anyway)

Time Management
By this stage too you should have an outline production schedule, showing all the approval stages so you can make sure that those who need to see the project at each stage of delivery are available to provide their input and sign off. The ability to use the Web to approve work remotely has become essential here. We recently completed a corporate film for a client based in France, working in tandem with colleagues in California. Following an initial pitch via teleconference and an online Keynote presentation the whole job was approved and delivered via the Web with various storyboards, scripts and edit versions uploaded for review and approval anywhere in the world.
On Treatment
Typically we would now offer 2 or 3 alternative creative treatments, approaching the same communication task in different ways. These may be purely written or also storyboarded by an artist. Some directors might offer “mood boards” or “mood reels” compiled from the Web to illustrate an idea but our preference involves a reassuringly middle aged man with an array of magic markers and the God-given talent to visualise a treatment or script – George, our storyboard artist. It’s a tried and tested method – and it means that whilst the client can clearly see the journey the film will take, they are not getting a false impression of how it might ultimately look. The treatments will reflect a style of film or television you will recognise – using visuals only, actors, models, presenters or a combination of any of the above. The approach taken will depend on the individual job and budget.


Money Matters
Assuming however you are happy with a treatment, the production company should by now have enough information to finalise the budget. Any treatment should of course in any case have been compiled in line with your ballpark budget guidance. Sometimes the simplest ideas work the best and a good production company will always try to come up with a solution that is driven by practicality as much as an original creative spark. They should also have a proven, thorough budget system – ours is based on a 280 line spreadsheet, regularly reviewed and refined to reflect the changing production scene. Once the budget is approved a purchase order can be raised and billing is normally phased over two or three stages. Production work tends to be front-loaded, with the shoot being the most expensive element of most projects so it makes sense to break the job up into separately invoiced portions.
Production Budget

Working out the budget


Script Development
If agreeing the brief and budget is the first of the approvals you’ll be asked for and the treatment is the second, finalising a script is the third. If you are making a documentary style film with a voice over this may not actually be the final script, but rather a shooting script that will dictate the scenes that need to be filmed. If it’s a drama or presenter-led film then any dialogue or pieces to camera in the shooting script will need final approval – whilst we can usually make changes to voice over narrative quite late on in the process, it’s harder to change what actors or presenters say in front of camera! We always prefer to present finished creative treatments and scripts in person – if a script is actually read through out loud, ideally alongside a complete storyboard it makes a big difference to simply seeing it on the page and you can begin to get a real feel for how it will engage and inform your audience.
Production Budget

Finalising the script


Preparing the Way
With the script approved, hard working and far-sighted members of the production team will have been quietly lining up shoot dates and assessing locations, cast and crew availability in the background. Any good production company is the creative and administrative hub for a much wider network of skilled technicians and professionals – directors of photography, camera operators, sound recordists, production assistants, data wranglers, runners, make up artists, props stylists, casting directors and many more. The best of them tend to have busy diaries so the earlier you can pencil dates with them the better. Similarly with locations – it’s important to be able to recce where we will be filming well in advance so any potential problems for access, power, sound, lighting and so on can be identified and addressed ahead of the shoot, saving stress and precious time on the day. It’s always nice to meet the people we will be working with on location too. The prospect of having a film crew around can be a little daunting, but if you can make contact first and reassure them that it really will be all right, normal life can still carry on and actually it should be fun it makes a world of difference. We appreciate it when people thank us for making it easy for them on a shoot – it’s important to bear in mind that everyone has their jobs to do and if people are reassured that your time with them will be both painless and efficiently managed that reflects on what ends up on screen.

We’ve filmed around the world in all kinds of locations – from factories to castles, luxury hotels to busy shops. Wherever we go we usually manage to make friends – maybe it’s our easy-going northern charm, or just saying “thank you” a lot. Whatever it is we are well looked after as a result and everyone involved gets to enjoy the experience, making the job for our client that little bit better. If we need a specific kind of location, for instance a house or apartment to shoot a home interiors film or a drama sequence we may need to use the services of a location finder who will already have a list of possible locations based on our brief. One commercial shoot we filmed recently included three different types of doorway, all of which we were able to film on one street with very amenable and friendly residents, thanks to our resourceful location finder. Result: a comfortable, efficient filming day that helped save time and money.
If the Face Fits
Casting is another essential element in the pre-production mix. If you are choosing one or a number of actors or models to be the public face of your business the way they look, sound and act on camera matters a lot. Sometimes a job calls for a known TV personality or actor. We have even written scripts with specific people in mind to help make the story more memorable (always ensuring they are available and within budget first). The production company will deal with agents over costs, the contract and any restrictions on what the famous face can or cannot say or do. If we are casting an unknown model or actor we would usually recommend using a casting director. She or he can then use their experience to put a suitable shortlist together from a casting brief prepared by the producer or director with the client’s input. The casting itself will happen typically over a day in a centrally located studio. As well as seeing at first hand what they can do casting is also a way to get to know the actors or models as people and to see if they have that innate personal confidence and chemistry that will translate from a crowded studio or location set into a genuinely affecting and believable performance.
Production Budget

Meet the cast



If you’re planning to harness the power of video for your company, service or product we would love to talk. Of course we’re happy to travel – our work takes us all over the UK but we also have clients in mainland Europe and the USA.

They choose us because we know exactly what it takes to bring brands to life on film. And we’ve been doing it for more than 20 years.

You’re also very welcome to come to us. Our production company is in the heart of beautiful Chester – both Manchester and Liverpool are neighbours and London is just 2 hours by train. We’re passionate about where we are, as well as what we do, and we like to share that passion.