Jan 16, 2022
Video content is an artform. And like most artforms, anyone can pick up a camera or smartphone to start recording videos. But that doesn’t mean your stop-motion LEGO shorts are primed to win you an Academy Award nomination in the near future.
It’s easy to imagine an impossible gulf between hobbyist or amateur filmmakers and the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese, or even your favorite YouTube creators. But the truth is that the gap is less about a masterful artistic vision or an expensive film school degree.
Instead, it comes down to a few basic building blocks, like access to expensive equipment and other essential resources (like royalty free music). These are the basic building blocks of filmmaking, really.
And most of those blocks can be grouped into one big bucket: the video production process.
When it comes to filmmaking, even the oldest dogs — the grizzled veterans — can still learn new tricks. The industry’s always evolving, and most of the time that includes things that can make video production faster, easier, and cheaper.
Understanding the video production process doesn’t mean you’ll go out and shoot the next Saving Private Ryan or JAWS. But knowing the parts of each production phase will help you plan, shoot, and polish better video content.
For the purposes of our discussion today, we can break video production into three distinct stages:
If you’re familiar at all with video production, none of these main phases should be surprising. And at the same time, each one of those stages is really just a launchpad for so many other things.
Even at its simplest, video production can be as complicated as an expensive watch — dozens or hundreds of small moving pieces that need to work together to stay on time (and on budget).
So let’s spend some time exploring each one of those stages in a little more detail.
First, we’ll cover the traditional assumptions filmmakers and creators have about each one. Then we’ll talk through some of the niche or overlooked steps that you can benefit from the next time you’re planning out a video project.
The goal here is simple: To make you a better filmmaker. And if you’ve already got a few years of video experience, then hopefully you’ll still come away with a few new techniques to try.
Every video — whether it’s a major MCU blockbuster or a new employee training video for your local supermarket — starts with pre-production.
This stage of the creative process covers pretty much everything needed to build a foundation for the entire project. That includes location scouting, hiring talent, writing a script, scheduling a shoot, and even financing the whole thing.
As a result, pre-production will vary a lot from one video project to the next. That MCU movie will spend years in pre-production, but the supermarket could throw a video together in a week (or less).
The same is true for video content you work on too. A video you work on for a client will have different requirements (not to mention different complications) than a video you create for your YouTube channel. And a wedding video looks very different from shooting a commercial to launch a new video project or working in nonprofit or church video production.
But for all of those differences, many parts of the pre-production stage will be things you need to at least consider for any project you work on…even if it’s just an “Okay, I don’t need to focus on [insert process] for this video” sort of consideration.
We’ll have to generalize a bit, but here are the most common steps of pre-production.
A video treatment can look like some combination of a pitch, a synopsis, and a mood board. They’re pretty common for film pitches and client work (ex. trying to create a brand video), but even if you never need one, they’re definitely part of the pre-production phase.
It’s also important not to think of a “treatment” in a traditional film school sense. In Hollywood, a treatment is a literally pitch — a pre-script summary that a filmmaker uses to attract producers (and financial backing) for a project. It can also help establish a good relationship between creator and client.
In most filmmaking circles, that’s just not the case. Corporate videos, nonprofit PSAs, and even music videos rarely have a script for everyone involved to read. Instead, these treatments become more like mood boards: Show ideas for coloring, camera movement, or any visual elements that make the project distinct.
There’s obviously value in knowing your budget before you get too deep into a project. (Pun not intended.) In fact, a clearly defined budget can make or break a project, from a marketing promo for an apartment complex to Dune or Star Wars.
Estimating how much you can spend can decide what locations or gear you can afford. It can also determine the number of people involved on a project and how long they can work on it before the money runs out.
Pro tip: This specific topic is one instance where having a producer can help juggle a lot of the more complex pieces of video production.
It’s debatable at what point you’d work on a script, but it’s safe to assume you’ll get to work on it as soon as possible. Laying out the pieces of the project and determining what sort of talent you need to complete it helps shape what comes next.
Most scripts aren’t set in stone during this stage of production, but building that foundation for the project will help inform other parts of pre-production.
And if you're interested in some screenwriting advice, we've got you covered:
Once you’ve got your script together, you’re going to need to find the locations for all of the scenes you’ve written. This may involve traveling alone or with a team, which means it should be incorporated into that nifty budget you just put together.
Also, if you need to build sets or buy props, you can start planning for that while scouting locations. Preparing for set production this early in this project gives you more than enough time to get all of the pieces in place before principal photography begins.
Pro tip: Location scouting provides a great opportunity to build out a shot list so you get the most out of your time on set. (And yes, you'll also want to think about b-roll footage while you're there.)
With a working script and pictures of different locations and sets, you’ve got a pretty clear picture of what you have to work with. Storyboarding is the process of unleashing your creativity to fill in the gaps and imagine how the video will look as a finished product.
Storyboards cover a lot of information, from specific shots and angles to camera movements to picking the right focal length. And because storyboards can be turned into hard copies, you can share this visualization with your team or your clients to make sure everyone is on the same page (and what you want for the project is what you end up shooting on the day).
You have a finished script and a list of locations. And with storyboards done, you’ll be able to determine what camera equipment, lighting equipment, and audio equipment you need for the production.
The needs of your production will vary based on budget and scope, or even the type of video you're making. If you're a content creator, maybe all you need is some iPhone videography accessories; if you're shooting an event, you may need to work with an in-house tech team to find out what you need.
Just be realistic in what you need and how you allocate your budget. Because an added bonus of planning ahead for this is that you have opportunities to purchase or even rent specialized gear that you may not already have access to.
Obviously you can’t shoot a video without a subject. It might be an interviewee for corporate videos, actors for short films, or even second shooters to cover events. But you want to get those details lined up before shooting starts.
The bigger the team, the more time you’ll need to get all of your ducks in a row. And in this case, those “ducks” usually involves sourcing people to work with you. However, people with busy lives and potential schedule conflicts — pre-production gives you an opportunity to make sure your team is ready to go.
Again, this is by no means a full and comprehensive list of pre-production things you’ll do across the entire spectrum of video projects. But they are the sort of things you’ll fall back on time and time again.
These 7 steps are easily the most common stages of pre-production. Just knowing what they are (and how they affect each other) will help you get the most out of your projects in the future.
Now that we’ve covered the steps of pre-production — or at least the most popular ones — let’s go over some tips and tools to help you build out your own process. After all, the more work you do at the start of the project, the more organized and manageable things should be later on.
Pre-production isn’t all that different from managing any other project, whether it’s giving yourself a schedule to finish a term paper on time or overseeing a million-dollar project at work.
And so a lot of the most helpful tools are more about managing your time, streamlining documents, and organizing communication. But hey, if it makes life easier, it’s definitely something worth sharing from one filmmaker to another.
A few of these tools are:
No, this isn’t an all-encompassing list. But these templates and tutorials will give you a great starting point for organizing a more efficient pre-production stage on your next project.
With pre-production out of the way, we step into the big and complicated stage of production. This is when everything comes together, where all the different teams/people and pieces you’ve laid out come together in a full picture.
Whether that picture is a “beautiful tapestry” or an “absolute mess” can really come down to the amount of work you did in pre-production. Sure, part of that depends on production value (lighting, shot direction, costumes, props, etc.), but most of it really comes down to planning and what you do to get the most out of your budget, equipment, and talent.
A fun fact is that the actual production phase technically begins with one final stage of pre-production. You’ve got to get the equipment and crew to the set of the video shoot. But we won’t dwell on that right now.
Instead, here are the most common steps of the production phase.
Transporting everything and everyone to the shoot can be such a complicated process that there are dedicated roles (on film crews and in ad agencies) to handle the last-minute details and changes.
“Final planning” can be a confusing term, because this step is far from the last thing you’ll do. But you’ll always want at least a little time to make sure that everyone and everything is ready to go before you show up on set.
Once on set/location, the next few steps are all about equipment setup. This is the start of principal photography, even if the steps have a bit of pre-production vibes.
With your storyboards handy, you already have an idea of what camera angles you want for each scene. That should make setting up your gear on location much easier.
And because so many pieces are involved (gear, weather, etc.) it’s important to make sure the lighting on set matches the treatment. This is why a lot of larger productions rely on a gaffer or lighting team.
This can obviously be difficult based on all of the factors outside of your control. Having an approved treatment means you have a template to help you maintain the consistency of your lighting's color temperature, whether the shoot takes 3 hours or 3 days.
Basically everything in the lighting section, but repeated. There’s nothing worse than discovering bad audio (or worse, no audio) during editing. That makes testing the on-set audio — mics, background noise, etc. — a key step.
While you are placing your cameras and lights, you should also be checking ambient audio and running mic checks. (If this isn’t second nature already, it will be soon.)
Finally, here’s the step everyone looks forward to during the long hours of pre-production. Principal photography is the fun and exciting part, getting a crew together and collecting everything needed to edit together a masterpiece.
We’ve covered this several times already, but the more time and effort you put into planning for the shoot and preparing everyone involved, the smoother this step should go. There’s just no overstating the benefits from a good pre-production process.
Good b-roll can be one clear difference between an amateur filmmaker and a veteran one. Dedicating time during principal photography to get this sort of “filler content” or “connective tissue” helps with continuity editing in post.
Pro tip: While it's not video you'll shoot yourself, you can also think of archival footage as b-roll — it's something you'll need to license or locate, and most documentaries or historical videos need this sort of footage.
You could have a dedicated second unit that focuses on finding good b-roll footage. Or if you’re a one-person crew, you could look for opportunities during location scouting or once you get to the set and start preparing for the shoot. Maybe you head back a few days later and capture some aerial footage/drone footage.
The important thing is to capture something.
This is less a step and more a mindset. Things can always go wrong, and while it helps to check the batteries in equipment or the audio levels from the mics, experienced filmmakers know it never hurts to get backups of everything.
Bringing extra batteries and giving each actor a lapel mic are common ways to do this. But this step could also include having other talent (or just friends and family) on standby in case someone has car problems or has to drop out at the last minute.
If you’ve worked on different kinds of projects, you may have your own list of these steps — a few things you’ve never had to use, and also things you do for every single shoot without fail.
…but yes, principal photography will take up 95% of this phase in most projects.
However, preparation is the most important trick to a successful shoot. Things can (and will) almost always go wrong, largely due to all of the moving pieces involved in video production. So our goal with highlighting these additional steps is to cover all the ways that filmmakers can minimize the risk of wasting time, money, or effort during the production process.
And of course with enough planning and preparation, it should also make post-production a whole lot easier too.
Our list of advice and gear for pre-production was mostly downloadable templates and tools to help you keep track of a thousand different items. Once we get to production, however, things really start to pick up.
Sure, there are some documents that will help — things like a call sheet are absolutely crucial for successfully organizing a shoot both before and during filming. But for the most part, the stuff you’re thinking about during production is going to be about equipment or techniques.
Which microphones should you use for a certain kind of project? How do you light (or even decorate) a boring and badly lit interior space? What are examples of useful b-roll to capture in case you run out of ideas but have extra time to shoot?
All of these are good questions that lead to easier post-production and better videos.
But what do you say we stop our roll here and spell out a few suggestions for gear to bring, tricks to try, and techniques to learn?
Let’s use a cooking analogy here. The pre-production process is mise en place, the term for when a chef gets all the ingredients measured, chopped, and prepared. Principal photography is the actual cooking process, combining ingredients and creating dishes.
Post-production is the plating and serving piece of our illustration. You’ve got your footage (main dish) and your audio (side dish). And hopefully you have storyboards that details the rest of your recipe (animation, VFX, music choices, color grading, etc.)
The editing phase is all about polish. Sure, it’s hard work, but there is a technical kind of creativity involved. Layering audio, color correction, and crosscutting can all be complicated tasks with a lot of sub-tasks. But each element you include adds depth and complexity (or “flavor,” to keep the cooking imagery going) to the project.
If that sounds like a lot, it kind of is. But investing a huge amount of effort into this stage is completely normal.
On average, half of all filmmakers spend a minimum 50% of their time editing projects. Planning and the production phase are just as important, but the finer details — the pieces that make a video really shine — usually don’t come together until the editing phase.
With that being said, here are the most popular steps of post-production:
Rough cuts are an essential part of the video editing process, even if they aren’t glamorous. But you’ll need to go through all the footage (principal and b-roll) and audio you captured to take stock of what you’ve got and how the final cut will take shape.
In addition to seeing a clearer picture of the project, you’ll also be able to determine if you need reshoots, ADR dialogue, voiceover, etc. It may even help you estimate how much editing you’re going to need to plan for.
Many filmmakers wear a half-dozen different hats during post-production, and one of the hats that doesn’t fit well is audio engineer. Because no matter how many videos you’ve edited, the art of mixing audio levels takes a different mindset than color correction or VFX work.
This particular step encomasses Foley sounds, background audio, sound effects, and also music. Sound quality carries a lot of weight in how viewers will engage with your video, which means the music you choose and the final sound mix deserves some serious attention in post.
Since audio work isn't necessary a skillset for every creator, here are a few helpful articles to give you tips and tricks on that part of post-production:
We’ll keep this one broad for two reasons. First, not every project uses green screens or needs VFX; second, the videos that do rely on VFX are often larger projects with multiple editors or animators involved. But if you do need VFX, remember that it’s a pretty time-consuming process, so plan accordingly.
Whether you are doing the VFX yourself, outsourcing to an agency, or skipping this step entirely, post-production is the phase when this stuff enters the production workflow.
Even if all of your lighting was perfect on set and the color temperatures match, cameras and lenses are different. It’s also worth remembering that the human eye makes mistakes, and what you see on set might not match what you see when you sit down to edit.
There will always be some variance in the footage from different takes, whether a cloud drifted across the sky or your early-afternoon shoot continued after sunset. Color correction is the step when you review and adjust the hue, saturation, and brightness across all your footage.
Color correcting is a technical process, but color grading is more of an artistic one. This is where you get to add flair, creating a sense of style for the project. Set a unique tone for consistency across your video content or make each project visually distinct.
If coloring isn’t your greatest skill, you can still take advantage of color grading by using LUTs. In the same way your camera uses color profiles to make certain adjustments, LUTs are premade tables that let you recreate a specific visual tone without having to manually adjust the RGB values of the hue, saturation, and brightness in each clip of your project.
At this point, you’re mainly focused on final touches. Things like lower thirds or a credit scroll don’t take a ton of time during post-production, but they are important steps to handle before you export the final fire and start the “client approvals” part of the video production process (if necessary).
If you don’t have to get deliverables to a client, then your final staging may just include exporting the video for you to upload or share on a video hosting platform. Resolution, framerate, and file format all play a role here, depending on which platform or hosting service you plan to use.
Pro tip: If your video will be on a streaming service, TV ad, or some other broadcast system, you'll also want to submit cue sheets for licensed music.
It’s time to bring back the cooking analogy from earlier in this guide. Because the truth is that it’s probably the most accurate when we come to this stage of the process.
If you’ve spent much time cooking or baking, you know that presentation can have as much of an impact as the actual flavors or textures of the food. (The idiom about how people “eat with their eyes” is true, after all.)
The same is usually said of video production — having expensive gear and a big crew helps you plan and shoot, but tying it all together into a masterpiece can only happen in the editing stage of the process.
An audience won’t care which camera you used or how big your budget was. People want to experience the video, whether it’s a weekly vlog or a historical documentary or a scripted indie film. And the skills, templates, and tutorials you need at this stage reflect that.
Post-production is a time for “polish” or “dressing,” taking the uncut diamond and making it so clear and dazzling that it belongs in Queen Elizabeth’s crown. That process takes a lot of time and effort for jewelers, and it’s going to be a demanding process for you as a filmmaker too.
But it’s not all obstacles and hard work. Here’s a list of tools, tips, and resources that should help you streamline your editing process while still improving the quality of your videos:
No deep dive on the video production process would be complete without a little talk about monetizing your work. That’s because most people interested in video production fit into one of two categories:
In both cases, knowing how to market your work (and eventually grow a production company) is a valuable trade secret. These are the end goals in most cases, and giving you the skills and information you need to accomplish one or both of them is the entire purpose of this guide.
We can also split up this process — marketing your video work — into a few steps:
If you are a content creator, you are fighting for the attention of your target audience on YouTube. And if you have a video production business, you are competing against other filmmakers or agencies for clients.
To succeed at getting clients for video production or standing out from other creators, you need to know what you’re up against. And that means getting to know the competition, seeing what they do well (and what you can do better), and possibly finding a niche or sub-audience that is a better match for the kind of content you make.
Most people cringe at the thought of networking, of going to events and trying to connect with strangers. But the reality is that turning this hobby into a source of income means going outside your comfort zone, building contacts, and getting your name (or business) out there.
Advertising your services isn’t the only way to “market” the services you offer. Going to a big event or convention is a great way to meet people in video-adjacent fields, introduce yourself, and win a few referrals…assuming you make a good impression, of course.
Of course, while networking and research are helpful, you’ll still want to take marketing into your own hands. And easily the most effective way for creators to spread awareness of their channel/content is to build a following on social media, connect with other people, and find ways to get recognized.
A nice benefit is that once you build some buzz around your video projects — either by attracting social media subscribers or by creating happy clients — you will organically attract more referrals and recommendations. Social media is basically a generator for this kind of word-of-mouth marketing, and it can be a great way for advertising video production services.
We’ve already handed out a ton of helpful articles, templates, and resources to help you expand and improve your video production habits. Whether you want to beef up pre-production, simplify production, or organize your post-production process, you’ll find additional tips and tools on the Soundstripe blog.
But for now, here are a few more topics that might interest you: