Basics of Production

A lot has changed over the decades of Film Making.  We used to do things with film which gave us an awesome product but was very expensive.  With the advent of the digital age, we all have cameras that deliver a better quality product and easier to edit and modify then before.  Sets used to be a very stressful place to be.  Every time the camera rolled, hundreds of dollars would spool by.  The slightest mistake could cost thousands;  I was on a set once back in the 90’s where the loader didn’t seal the can correctly.  We loaded it in the camera and ran 5,000 feet worth of takes.  The end of the night I dropped the cans off at the photochem since I was driving the camera cube thinking we knocked out that 1 day shot.  The next day while I was making runs, Production called and let me know that the can was exposed.  This meant we lost all that footage and we couldn’t get it back.  Also, back then, we needed all the man power to make sure the scenes where light enough for the film.  Being on a crew of 300+ was the normal.  Now, we can shot on a simple tripod and Cannon Eos with the sun as the key light and a bounce on the cross. Low light shots are easy.  Combine with Prime lenses and now you got direct focus with soft blur on the background.   This can be done with a crew of 10 or less depending on the needs of the script and talent.

The core things that have never changed in production are these:

  • KISSKeep It Simple, Stupid – When we first look at a script with a director and the writers, we have to look at how the scene will be set up and such.  If a scene calls for a ‘flying camera view’, should we get a helicopter? a drone? a jib? a ladder?  Of course, the director would ask for the helicopter, but we have a budget to maintain.  Most flying shots can be done with a jib, though the use of drones are becoming more popular and not as expensive.  Also, this leads in the ‘Stupid’.   A jib can be operated by nearly anyone, a drone requires a special certificate, insurance, etc to be operated.  Plus, most jibs can get wet, a drone cant.  Thus, lets keep the actual work end of the shot as minimal as possible but still get the look and feel required.
  • Organization – We must use notebooks and pads of paper to really keep it all going.  In this day of technology it is easy to forget how easy a simple pad of paper and pen are.  I Insist on the use of paper.  It is faster to flip pages of notes to find prior conversation then in a phone or computer.  Not to mention I am sure most of us can write faster with a pen then on a keyboard.  Keep notebooks, the 3 inch ones, and add dividers by departments with labels.  Put in Time & Date order and Alphabetical Order so its easy to find.  Print everything and make your vendors give out printed estimates and receipts.    Print out pictures and add to these notebooks, this ensures that we are trying to find the correct stuff.  The hard copies have saved me on so many occasions from unnecessary stress.
  • Listening – If a person walks up to you with a request, write it down.  If a person has a special need, make a note next to their name on your crew list. Never trust your memory!  If something needs to change, or its not in the budget; be assertive and flexible with a smile.  This is very important, especially the smile.  There is no reason to be stressed, “Where there is a problem, there is a Solution that is within the budget and time”.  Stress is caused by a lack of taking notes and then reading those notes when something comes up.  Keep track of everything that is done, including times and dates.  Take the 5 minutes everyday to organize the cash, receipts and needs of the day and the next day and the next week.  Never trust your memory!
  • Assertiveness & Flexibility – Our biggest constraint is the budget and time.  The Producers gave us a budget and the wants of the Clients and Director.  We have to make deals, hire and fire people in an ever changing environment with very tight time frames.  Ideas can come to mind at anytime and we have to be ready for this.  This flexibility is what makes the job so exciting and fulfilling.


We are the Production Team.  We take the writers story, the directors ideas and put that into a media we all enjoy.

The Production Team is made up of :

  • Producers – They find the money to get the project going and also have to approve any large budget issues and such.  They interact primarily with the Client and Talent managers.
  • Line Producer – This is the boss.  Everything must be approved by this person.
  • Production Manager – Handles the budget and is the person all the departments report to.
  • Production Coordinator – Finds the hotels, rentals, people, etc needed for the production.  This person usually has their own assistant to help with these phones calls and such.
  •  Coordinator Assistant – Assists the PC with tasks.  Sometimes has Office PA’s to help execute these tasks.
  • Key Production Assistant – manages the rest of the team and is usually the Production Driver as well.  This person handles the logistics of getting the equipment to set and returning it.  They also manage the PA’s on set and is there to assist with cross department issues.
  • Production Assistants (PA’s). – This is the introduction position into the Film Industry.  They are the grunts we need to make sure the set remains clean, to help when we need a third hand, to keep the set secure, safe, to help load and unload, drive vehicles, find talent, find crew, get stuff from the store, etc.


Once we have all the notes from the top, we start to find with what is known as “Pre-Produciton”.  This is the process when we hire the department Leads and give them the requirements for their departments and budgets.  We find the talent, the locations, set the up the insurances and all the equipment during this time.  It is mostly spent in an office making phone calls, getting estimates and such.  We also have a “Start Day” and pay rates set for the various crew members. The Leads give us their head counts for crew and names so we can make sure we have enough bodies and so we can order the catering and crafty needs. We must also take into account the location size and if we have enough parking, equipment staging, lunch, crafty, talent and client spaces.  I would gander that this is the most stressful time for Production since we have to do all this in a very short time frame.


Now that its all set up and everyone has their first Callsheet, we can start up the circus known as “Production”.  This is the actual filming of the script.  If a job has a huge build for the sets, we usually start with a “Pre-Light”.  This is just the core crew and we build and set up everything for the sets, the back end, etc.  No talent shows up for this.  Once everything is built up and ready, we bring in the talent and start doing takes.  During this time, Production is just in “monitor” mode.  If something comes up or a change needs to be made because of so many reasons, we are at the ready. Here too, is where we need to stay assertive and not let too much change.  We have a plan, lets stick to it.  The Key PA is the person that is the most worked now.  This person has to ensure the PA’s are in place and doing as requested and if that person is not doing their job, to move them to a better part of the set.  This person also becomes the liaison for the all the cross department requests.  Such as – talent needs a place to plug in their phone, the Key goes to the Electrics and asks. They advise and then he informs the talent.  You will have PA’s standing around on your set.  If everything is completed, ie – set is clean, trash emptied, crafty clean, etc, then this is a good thing.  We work them very hard and they work an extra 4 hours each shot day so they need a break every now and then.  On the flip of that, get them working and ensure they follow through with the task to completion and reward them for their hard work.


Each day during filming, a Callsheet is printed and emailed for every crew member.  Make sure to print enough Sides, Callsheets, and Schedules for the required personel so that they are aware of the next day’s needs.

When the Coordinator sends out the email, they should ensure:

  • Title is “Callsheet Day _ of _ – Shoot Name – Date”
  • set the “To:” to your email address.
  • set the “CC:” to the PM’s email address
  • set the “BCC:” to your crew list of email addresses.

Once The AD calls the Wrap on the last day, the gears shift again into “Post-Production”. This is where we gather all the receipts, write the checks and close all the invoices.  All equipment is returned and the crew returns to just a basic office crew.   Also, this is when the production is edited and finalized for distribution to the public.  This can be a very long process and can include many long nights.


There is way more to this simple tip of the iceberg post here to Producing a film.  The best way to learn this and do it right is to start of as a PA and work with them.  Nothing truly beats experience and patience – “Wisdom is the quality that keeps you out of situations where you need it”.