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Guide to Preproduction

Guide to Preproduction

How to Make a Movie - The Workflow

You've Made the Decision

This is it. You’ve made the decision to make a film. It’s a big leap and I won’t lie one bit -- a BIG RISK, but when that decision is finally made there’s no turning back.

This article will explain the preproduction process up to Principal Photography --, what you’ll need, in what order to do it, and some key points to ensure that your production does not have more than one (or two disasters) because EVERY production will have at least one “Holy Sh*t” moment. Trust me.

This article also assumes that YOU are either one or two or all of the following:


If you are one of the above, “Good luck to you. I wish you the very best.”

If you are two of the above, “God be with you, and may God Bless You!”

If you are all three, “You are going to be on an amazing journey! You will remember this experience for the rest of your life. When it’s all over, make sure you save a little money for a vacation. You will need it!”

I am also going to use some terminology that you might know, or you might not. I will try to explain all film terminology as we go along, and much of the terminology will have links to further explanation.

So, let’s begin! These are the major points of the process of preproduction.

The Preproduction Workflow Chart

Assistant Director on Set

From Script Idea to First Shoot Day


I am going to assume you have a great idea. Or at least an idea for a story that you want to make into a film. The simple fact of the matter is, it is difficult to come up with a completely original idea, but that is not what filmmaking is all about. It’s about the execution of that idea into a medium that can be viewed as a film, or a television episode, or a short, or a documentary with the end result of creation some kind of emotion from the viewing audience, whether it be laugh, cry, get frightened, or be thrilled, and hopefully make money off of it, too.


Get a writer who has written before. Preferably, one who has had something published -- be it another screenplay, a short story, a or even a blog. The screenplay must be well-written. Any idea can be great, but if the screenplay does not execute that idea in the best way possible, you are starting at a big disadvantage.

If you are the writer:

I am going to assume you’ve taken screenwriting classes and read at least two Screenwriting books. At least. That’s the minimum. The more the better. There are literally hundreds of screenwriting books out there, but every screenwriter should have these two in their library:

Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman

All other screenwriting books have major elements of these two in them, and probably ripped off whole sections, so start with these.


A Prospectus is a fancy word for business plan. Why the film industry uses "Prospectus" and not Business Plan (which is what you write for EVERY OTHER STARTUP) is beyond me, but nothing in the film industry shocks me. They have to do everything differently.

Your prospectus should have the complete treatment of the screenplay, how much it should cost, what avenues of distribution are secured or being sought, the background of the major players of the film (both cast and crew), and potential revenue streams for the film.

Notice that I mentioned: the budget, the cast, the crew, and other elements that you don’t know yet. That’s ok.

Put in as much as you can, and if don’t have the lead cast (which you probably don’t at this stage), enter an actor or two that you want to get. Mention a director you want to get. “A director who would be perfect for this film would be Steven Soderbergh, because…”

A lot of research should go into creating the Prospectus. It is your films ‘resume’ and you need to put your best foot forward. Spend a little money getting an artist or a photographer to create or shoot an image representing the film. It doesn’t have to be the final poster (of course, the film hasn't been shot yet!), but you want an artist’s rendition, (your rendition, what the film is about. Images speak louder than words, and if you have a great image to represent your project, you have a better change to attract potential investors.

The more exciting your Prospectus is the more enticing it will be to potential investors. But, don’t lie! Don't ever promise "This film is going to make a $100 million dollars!" It's deceiving and besides, it's illegal to make such claims.

In terms of the budget, you haven’t created one yet, but you need to enter an estimated budget in your Prospectus.

Put it this way: Is your film a $100 million film? A $25 million film? Or a $5 million film? Pick the closest. Then break it down to the next level. For example, a major studio will say that they will create 5 $300 million films a year, 4 $150 million films a year, and 6 $75 million films a year. That doesn’t mean that the exact $ amount is $300M, $150M and $75M, but it is an estimate. You need to enter an estimate in your Prospectus.


Unless you are making a film in your mother’s basement for $1,000, get a name actor for your film. It doesn’t have to be Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lawrence, but it should be someone who is recognizable. If you can get more than one, great. But if you want to get any kind of distribution (and today distribution is not only limited to theatrical -- there are many avenues for distribution, much more than in years past -- it is essential to get a name actor. It’ not hard to do it. You’re Casting Director should give you tons of suggestions, and every actor is approachable. I was able to contact the agents of very well-known actors when I was casting my film. Remember, actors want to act. If they are not working they could be very open to doing your film. This is where the story (hence the screenplay) is incredibly important. If you can get a name actor to like your screenplay, and if they are not working during your production, you have a very good chance at hiring them.


The first rule of making a film is:

Don’t use your own money.

But, many people don’t know the second rule, which, strangely enough is more important than the first rule:

Second Rule to Making a Film:

PLEASE Don’t use your own money.

If you want to make more than one film, this is the golden rule. The ability to raise money for your project is not an easy one, but if you can do it, not only do you get to make your film, but chances are you can do it again and make a second film, and then a third, and a fourth, and so on.

Of course, you want your film to succeed, but if you shoot the film and ‘get in the can’ as they say, you’ve made your first film. And making the next one becomes easier for many reasons, but most importantly, you can say: “Hey, I made this film, and I got into the Blah Blah Film Festival, and it won this award, and I got this film critic to say it was great.” Pretty good way to start getting your next film financed and produced.


Wait… we haven’t shot the film yet. Or, did we?


You should research and know which festivals you want to submit your film to BEFORE you shoot the film. There are many guides to film festivals both in print and online. If your film is a comedy, check out the comedy fests. If your film is directed by a woman, check out Women in Film and Women Film Festivals. Call them. E-mail them. Find out the best way to get your film into their film festival. Also know that getting into a film festival (just like anything else), is WHO YOU KNOW. Many festivals claim they watch every entry, but don’t believe that. It’s who you know, and it’s best not to blindly enter a festival (and give them that $100 entry fee), unless you have a connection. In today world there are many avenues to make connection to people you don't know -- find them on Facebook or LinkedIn, find someone who can introduce you, send an e-mail...


So, at this point, you are ready to do some hiring. The Above-The-Line crew should be sought after and hired first. This includes:

• The Writer(s)
• The Director
• The Producer
• The Director of Photography

The next step is to seek out the Below-The-Line department heads, some of which include:

• The Set Designer
• The Sound Mixer
• The Caterer
• The Prop Master
• The Make-up Artist
• The Hairstylist

For a complete list of Crew Departments and Titles, check out our Crew Members Guide.

Also, extremely helpful, download our Free Credits Template, which also includes how to bill cast and crew in the opening credits and the end crawl.

All of the department heads should have their copy of the screenplay and should begin taking diligent notes – what they need for the scenes, they should also know their budget – but wait! We haven’t done the budget yet! It is at this time, that the order of things go more in a web or a crisscross, rather then a straight line.


This process can actually begin the moment the screenplay is locked, which means that the screenplay will not change. Although, it can and often will change, when a screenplay is locked it means that any additional scenes will be added with an “A” or “B” or another letter signifying it is an additional scene.

When creating your film schedule, it is best to use Film Scheduling Software. There used to be only one choice years ago, but today there are more choices from desktop applications to online (or cloud SAAS) solutions.

Gorilla Scheduling in 10 Minutes

All of the department heads should have their copy of the screenplay and should begin taking diligent notes – what they need for the scenes, they should also know their budget – but wait! We haven’t done the budget yet! It is at this time, that the order of things go more in a web or a crisscross, rather then a straight line.

As the creators of Gorilla, Film Scheduling and Budgeting software, we recommend using that. It’s been around for 15 years (since 2002 and constantly evolving) and is a solid choice for creating breakdown sheets, a shooting calendar including a stripboard, creating your cast and crew, location management, and shot lists, to list a few. It’s way too difficult to try to do all this by hand these days, so a solid film scheduling software package is the way to go.

For a complete working demo of Gorilla Scheduling click here for Macintosh or here for Windows.


Once the schedule is complete, it’s time to do the actual budget. You need to create the schedule first because you need to know how many shooting days a particular actor is needed for. Same with all your crew members. Creating a budget for a film is one of the most difficult things to do. Make sure you hire someone with experience! If you don’t, you’ll be sorry. Someone who has shot a production similar to the budget you are working with is crucial. They will know what to budget for.

Just like film scheduling software, we recommend using film budgeting software. Creating a film budget is more complicated than using Excel. You could do it in Excel, but why? There are so many things a film budget program can do that will help you through the process, it is well worth the cost of the software for even one film.

Again, you can use any budgeting software to your liking, but we recommend Gorilla Budgeting. It integrates nicely with Gorilla Scheduling and it is the only software that imports rates for cast and crew from The Gorilla Ratebook.

The Gorilla Ratebook can give you up-to-date guild rates for Assistant Directors and all other Crew Titles in the Director Guild of America (DGA).


This is always one of the more interesting aspects of preproduction – looking for places to shoot. Your Location Manager/Scout will usually go out first and check out possible locations. Then they will present the locations (hopefully with lots of pictures) to the Director, who needs to approve them. Another visit to the desired locations is needed with the D.P. (Director of Photography) to assess the location in terms of camera angles and shots and how to light the set. Then you need to get permits to shoot at those locations.


You’re getting close. At this point all the department heads have given you a list of what they need, hopefully within their allotted budget.


Try to schedule two weeks for rehearsals. It is also the best time to stage the scene and create a shot list.


Make sure you have your Assistant Director distribute Call Sheets, get to the set earlier than the call time says, and make a great film!



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