Thursday, January 14, 2010


Pre-production encompasses multiple activities prior to commencement of production.  The "big ticket" activities include breaking down the script, putting together the financing, creating a budget and schedule, casting and finding a director if one is not attached already.

Since my background is sales and marketing I have always used this as my starting point for financing.  Once I have a script that I like and think will fare well in the market, I pre-sell a certain percentage of the budget to distributors or broadcasters throughout the world.  I usually find that if I can pre-sell 30% of the budget I have proven to myself and to potential equity investors that the project is viable.  If I manage to pre-sell 80% of the budget I can borrow the money from a bank.

If you have never pre-sold a film make sure you know what you are doing or hire someone that does. The topic of pre-selling is too important and detailed to try to gloss over it here.  Finding equity is equally as important and detailed and since it can involve the sale of securities it is not a topic to gloss over either.  Both will be discussed in detail at another time in a future post entitled "Financing".

When it comes to casting I believe that money talks.  I am often asked to look at projects with actors attached.  This can be helpful if the actor attached loves the project so much that they are doing it for a reduced rate to help it get made.  Many times, however, I see projects come to me where the filmmaker has attached someone who is charging them "rate card" and the project is vrtuallly unmakeable given the costs already associated with it.

We will come back to casting again later as well.  Here is some food for thought in the meantime.  If I wait until my financing is in place before I start casting, I can hire a casting director who will put the project in the breakdown service which all the agencies read.  From there, not only can I pitch the project to actors I am interested in, but the agents with actors who are available and looking to work on a project in a genre or role similar to what I am making have an opportunity to pitch me on their involvement.

The main point is that you never know who you might attract and you don't waste time on talent that is not available or not interested.  Once you have your financing, you usually also have a start date and it is human nature to be motivated by deadlines.

Equally important for the project is breaking down the script and generating a first pass budget.  I used to hire people to do this until I learned estimating and take-offs for construction in my real estate business.  Even if you ultimately hire someone to do a more thorough budget and breakdown, the fact that you know the project inside and out will ensure that you hire the right people.  Having the wrong production manager or UPM can lead to disaster.

I recommend Planning the Low-Budget Film by Robert Latham Brown for learning the process and for using as a guide while you break down the script.  I also recommend The Budget Book for Film and Television by Robert J. Koster for actually setting up a budget program and doing the data entry UNLESS you have the money to buy one of the great programs already available and which include additional data on labor rates etc.  Entertainment Partners Budgeting is one that despite being expensive is used frequently by many in the industry.  Movie Magic Budgeting has a bundle that also includes scheduling.

I personally do not own the programs.  I feel that if I break down the script and get a general idea of the budget using the tools I recommended, I will then bring on an experienced production manager.  Bear in mind that the cost of having a professional production manager do a full budget for you is usually more than the cost of the program, but they are professional and are a second set of eyes on your project.

Armed with the breakdown and first pass at a budget, it is time to start talking to people.  On one hand you will start talking to directors, distributors, financiers and talent.  On the other hand you will start talking to below the line talent to bring  on board as department heads.

By the way, below I am including a list of the films I have either produced or executive produced.  You do not need to buy them to follow along through the process of this blog.  I may refer to them from time to time, but like I said, you will not need them.

I will make sure my comments are general and anecdotal when I refer to them.  If you do want to buy them, you can link below to Amazon where I am an affiliate.  As an affiliate I will make a tiny bit of money if you buy it there.  If you object to me making money, go to another site or buy it from the distributor.  I can assure you I make NOTHING extra that way!  You could also wait to see them on cable...

My Brother the Pig
Tale of The Mummy
Beneath Loch Ness
Good Cop Bad Cop
Attack of the Sabretooth
God Sex and Apple Pie


  1. Your post if quite informative, Phil. I will read more on your blog.
    We (me and friends of mine) are in the pre-production phase of Sci Fi movie (our second indie movie) and your suggestions helps.

    I also enjoy your posts on Liinkedin forums (film financing).

  2. Mircea,

    Sorry for the late response here. Glad you enjoy the posts on LinkedIn.

    If you have specific questions regarding the pre-production phase, please feel free to post them here on the blog and I will do my best to answer them.

    Good luck with your film!