What’s the one thing that separates amateur filmmakers from the pros? I’ll tell you; it’s planning. Whether it’s a scrappy indie or a giant blockbuster film, none of them would be completed without careful, thorough planning and sticking to tried-and-true workflows that ensure nothing is forgotten.
In this guide, we’ll walk you step-by-step through the video production workflows used by the pros to tackle everything from an episode of your favorite TV drama to a theatrical superhero spectacular.
What is a Video Production Workflow?
A video production workflow is all the steps that any video project goes through, from the first plot idea to the editing process to the final screening. In any video production, hundreds of moving parts must be accounted for, usually while battling against tight shooting schedules, weather, and a host of other stressors. A surprising amount of resources are required to take even the smallest project from idea to screen, and so a whole host of “best practices” have been developed to keep things organized.
This guide will dissect the standard workflow that professional video producers use to ensure that video projects are properly planned, produced, and delivered. These workflows have been refined over decades of making movies and TV shows to ensure that all the tiny little details that come together to make the final product don’t get overlooked.
It’s also important to note that very few video production projects are undertaken alone. Even the most bare-bones of crews will have a handful of individual people in charge of different elements of the production. Before you undertake any project, be sure to gather a team around you to lead your different departments and help bring the project together.
The 4 Stages of Video Production
Pro-production is where all the ideas for a video or film project begin. It’s where writers perfect drafts and planning meetings are held to lay out exactly what will be needed to complete the project. This step includes scriptwriting, storyboarding, location scouting, and pre-production meetings. Any planning or creation that happens before the first camera rolls is considered pre-production work.
Production is where the film gets, well, “filmed.” Anything that has to do with actually shooting the video project is handled during production. This is the part of video production people are usually most familiar with, thanks to behind-the-scenes footage of shooting crews working hard to capture every moment that the script has laid out.
Post-production is where all the elements come together. It begins when editors receive their first batch of footage and ends when the film is completed and sent out into the world for distribution. This involves all the assembly of raw footage, general video editing and visual effects, sound/audio mixing, and title credits
Publishing and promotion
Once a project is finished, it is sent off to be published and promoted by marketing firms that specialize in getting the word out. Many people don’t realize this can take up a significant chunk of the budget for a project, especially if there is a planned theatrical release involved. Publishing and promotion can be as short as a few days to as long as a year for some major releases.
Constructing a Smooth and Successful Workflow for Each Stage of Video Production
Each stage of a professional video production typically follows the same steps every time. Here, we outline the most common workflows for each stage of the video production process.
Step 1: Write the Treatment/Script
The script is the roadmap for your project, so before anything else begins, you’ll need a complete script. This may also include developing any creative briefs that will be helpful for your team of creative leads and project managers who need to assemble specific resources or create specific “moods” for the project.
Step 2: Storyboarding
Storyboards are great tools to help everyone involved with the project visualize exactly what the intended look and feel of the project will be. Storyboards can be as simple as basic figures and shapes to indicate objects or as elaborate as full-color paintings of each individual frame. Storyboards are often constructed by the Director and/or Director of Photography who work with a storyboard artist to build the scenes.
Step 3: Meetings with Key Crew Members to Discuss Needs for Shooting
It takes a village to create a pro-level video project. Once you have a script in place, it’s time to bring in the team and discuss exactly what will be needed to complete the project. This is everything from locations to costumes to props. Pre-production is all about taking the time to have conversations about key elements at length before the pressure of production sets in.
Step 4: Budget
This is the least-liked but most necessary part of pre-production. Once you’ve had your meetings to discuss exactly what will be needed to complete the project, everyone must put their heads together on exactly how much it will all cost. This is typically done by department heads submitting individual budgets to the Line Producer, who will tally the numbers and coordinate with the other upper-level executives (or for commercial shoots, the clients) who will have the final say in how much money will be allocated to complete the project.
Pro-level shoots often have a preliminary budget declared up-front by the studio or the client, which is then revised after further discussions with the Director and other department heads during pre-production.
Step 5: Casting
During pre-production, any actors that are needed for the project are auditioned and cast.
Step 5: Location Scouting
Location scouting is a crucial part of pre-production, as it determines exactly where and when you’ll shoot each scene. Often the locations department scouts out preliminary locations, and then final locations are selected during a group walkthrough of each option with the Director, Producer, and other department heads.
Step 6: Scheduling
Once all the elements, people, and locations have been decided on, it’s time to build a detailed schedule of exactly when and where you’ll shoot each day. The Assistant Directors usually do this in coordination with the Producer and Director.
Production has a fairly simple workflow: shoot everything on schedule and as planned. Each day of shooting may vary slightly in the order of events; however, here are the highlights of a typical day of shooting on a professional set:
1-2 Hours Before General Crew Call: Begin getting actors ready for shooting with hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Certain crew members may also be pre-called to pre-light the set or lay down cables in preparation for the day’s work.
Crew Call: This is the time when most of the crew is expected to arrive at work. Typically there will first be a rehearsal of the first scenes for the day with the cast. Then cast will be sent off to finish getting their hair, makeup, and wardrobe while the shooting crew begins setting up for the day's first shot.
First Shot: This is the first time the camera rolls on the set each day. On professional sets, the time of the first shot is recorded and sent to the producers so they can determine how efficiently the crew is moving each morning.
Lunch: Most union contracts require a lunch break around 6 hours after a general crew call. For non-union projects, lunch is typically scheduled at the halfway point in the total day’s work.
Wrap: This is the term used to announce the stop of shooting for the day. Before crew wraps each day, the last shot is often called the “martini shot,” a term coined by golden-age film crews because “the next shot is out of a glass,” referencing their anticipated after-work drinks.
Seven key steps make up a successful post-production process. This is an area where there are very few deviations in the workflow because if you try to skip ahead, you usually end up with further problems down the line.
Step 1: Receipt of raw footage
This can come in the form of “dailies,” which is a daily delivery of all footage shot during that day of filming (this is typical on longer projects such as TV shows or films), or at the end of a shoot (which is often the case for shorter projects such as music videos or commercials).
Post-production starts once footage starts arriving at the editing house. This is the raw material that everything will be built around in post-production.
Step 2: Storage and organization of raw footage
Most video editors receive a shot log from the camera crew with each delivery of footage, which they use to organize the footage. This will tell them what scene each shot is for, which camera setup it is from, and which take each shot was. It sometimes also includes helpful information from the Director of photography and Director about which shots they would prefer to be used in the edits.
Organizing and backing up the footage is crucial to ensure that nothing is lost and help the editors work efficiently by limiting the need to constantly search for “that shot I saw” constantly.
Step 3: Assembling the rough cut
This is the first pass at making all the images make sense together. The rough cut, also called an “assembly cut,” is where editors, and often the Director and producer, experiment with the proper arrangement of the existing footage and hone in on the visual pacing and symmetry of the final product.
Step 4: Refining the rough cut into a final “picture locked” cut
After the assembly cut is finished, it is reviewed by the Director, producers, and other stakeholders who make notes and then send their feedback back to the editors to refine the rough cut.
Once they’ve gotten all the shots in the order they want them in and cut precisely, it is time to “picture lock” the project. This means that no further edits or revisions will be made to the order or length of the clips so that other post-production departments can add in their elements without the risk of things being thrown out of sync because of clip edits.
Step 5: Visual Effects (VFX)
Once the project is picture-locked, it’s time to add in all the extra visual goodies that will appear in the final project. This could be everything from adding small elements like birds in the sky to huge centerpiece animations like dragons or virtual worlds.
We’re putting color correction and color “grades,” which refers to using color to give the project a specific feel or mood, under the visual effects category. They are another element of “adding in” visuals after you’ve picture locked. They also help blend any added elements in with the raw footage.
Step 6: Sound mixing
Once all of the visual elements are in place, only then is it time to play with sound. The pros wait until after all visual elements are finished because you want to ensure that you can hear (or not hear) all the elements in the frame. They may need to add foley to incorporate added elements like CGI monsters, flames, etc. They may also want to clean up the on-location sound, add ADR (automated dialogue replacement), and balance everything. The soundtrack is also added, and everything is mixed together.
Step 7: Final watch-throughs and fine-tuning
This is often the stage where not only do the Director and Producers review the final project, but it is also often shown to test audiences to gauge their interest and reaction to the film so that adjustments can be made before the project is released to a wider audience.
Publishing and Promotion Workflow
This is an area where there is far more flexibility in what is and isn’t done. This may only mean publishing the final project to YouTube or similar video-sharing platforms for small indie video creators. For large motion picture studios, there is a huge laundry list of promotional work that is done to promote the project, from billboards to digital ads.
The film also has to be reproduced into different formats to fit whatever viewing options are slated. This can mean high-definition digital drives for some theaters and actual film prints for others. It also means creating digital files that meet the specifications of streaming sites such as Netflix or Hulu.
Film promotion costs can range from 50-150% of the total cost of the film. Film promotion is allotted so much money because it can have a significant ROI at the box office. It is estimated that typical box office returns to marketing costs sit around 3:1, though this number is also highly in flux. However, the point still stands that the more money you spend promoting a film, the more likely you’ll increase ticket sales at the box office.
So while there may not be a set list of “steps” to publishing and promoting a video project or film, here are some of the avenues that studios and filmmakers may pursue during this phase:
- Film prints for theatrical release
- Digital files for digital/theatrical release
- Print Marketing (billboards, magazine ads, posters, etc.)
- Digital Marketing (social media ads, sponsored content, etc.)
- Sponsorships and Brand Partnerships
- Promotional media (press interviews, behind-the-scenes features, trailers, etc.)
Costs for marketing a “blockbuster” film can easily run into the millions of dollars, but don’t feel bad if your wallet isn’t quite that fat. Thanks to good storytelling and peer-to-peer marketing, indie promotional campaigns have also been highly successful at getting smaller budget projects out to the masses.
Video projects of all sizes require careful planning and a lot of time and effort to make it to the finish line. A careful pre-production workflow can save you from wasting hours of valuable production time. In the same way, being thorough and deliberate during production can save you lots of time trying to figure out how to fix what’s missing in post.
There is an impression that filmmaking is always done in a frenzy, with people flying by the seat of their pants to get projects completed, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, slowing down and carefully thinking through every detail of the project before cameras ever roll can reduce the frenzy on set. Even with a great workflow, unexpected problems can arise, so it’s best to plan for as many problems as you can anticipate so you have more time to deal with the unexpected.
Remember, in filmmaking, just as in medicine, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Work smarter, not harder.
And, if you’re looking for a better way to bring your film production team closer together from pre-production through the final cut, check out Evercast. Evercast is a virtual collaboration platform that allows you to stream professional film editing software in ultra-low latency HD video while live video chatting with your team. Collaboration is the magic behind the movies, and Evercast allows you to stay in sync and enter that magic state of creative flow with your team members that will help you uncover those “aha!” moments that make a good film into a great one.