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Breaking Down the 3 Stages of Video Production

Jourdan Aldredge

Jul 11, 2022

Let’s do a thought-experiment here: When starting out on a film or video project, where do you actually begin? Do you open up a new project in your video editing software of choice? Do you turn on your digital video camera and yell “Action!”? Do you sit down with pen and paper and start writing a script? Or, do you start even further back than that? 

The answer to that first question might be different for every creator or video production company. However, it’s a good lesson in recognizing that the film and video production process is a multi-layered approach. 

There are many steps to go through, and more often than not, you’d be foolish to put one ahead of the other. But what are these different stages? 

While we’ll explore each more in-depth below, the three basic stages of the video production process are as follows:

  • Pre-Production
  • Production
  • Post-Production

But what do these terms mean for a modern video production company or creator? And how do we actually define these steps including writing, shooting, and editing? 

Let’s go over the proper stages of the film and video production process — from pre- to post- — as we define the individual steps within each. Starting with…


The pre-production process



Before any camera operator hits “record” or any video editor hits “export,” the real magic of filmmaking actually happens. We’re talking about the fascinating world of pre-production. And there’s a couple of ways to look at “pre-pro” in terms of what actually needs to get done.

One is from the lens of a creative short or feature film. The other view is from the lens of a simple commercial, corporate, or non-profit video production produced by a video production team. Both will share many similar tasks in pre-production, but just keep in mind that these might be a bit different in terms of video marketing strategy and screenwriting time.

That being said, let's look at some of the main stages of this pre-production phase for video projects of any type:

  • Market research and target audience analysis
  • Story building and outlining
  • Budgeting and proposals
  • Scripting and ideation
  • Storyboarding and shot-listing
  • Casting and crewing
  • Location scouting

Those are just some of the main steps to consider. Pre-production can also be thought of as a catch-all term for any and all video marketing and production needs which are simply required to be done before the video making process actually begins. 

And now, here are some helpful tips to consider for pre-pro.

Tips for pre-production

While we’ll go over some individual points below, the real crux to pre-production is obviously about planning and foresight. More often than not, the success of your project is decided in this pre-production stage. If you don’t put in the work here, there’s only so much you can do in production (or that you can save in post) to make up for lost time.

    • Keep your clients/investors involved: Whether you’re shooting a narrative feature or a commercial project, be sure to keep your investors and/or clients in the loop. And always get sign-offs before pulling the trigger on any spending.
    • Define your budget early: Only once you have your financing secure should you really take steps to build your script and crew based on what you know you can afford and achieve.
    • Make sure your story and script are tight: It will always be more cost-efficient to make revisions or changes in the scripting process rather than during production or even post-production.
    • Include your DP in the storyboarding/shot listing: Unless you’re working as a solo writer/director/DP, be sure to bring in your director of photography to help with the storyboarding, shot-listing, and building out your desired gear and crew.
    • Finalize your call sheets: Putting together a call sheet helps you discover any obstacles before you start production. You can also keep any collaborators, team members, and clients informed about the shoot.
    • Keep your post-production in mind: Similarly, unless you’re editing your project yourself, keep your editor’s sanity in mind throughout. The more notes and guidance you can leave, the easier and quicker your post-production process will also be.

To help with your transition into production, it’s also super helpful to have an organized and well-designed call sheet to keep everything on track. To help you out, we’ve got some customizable call sheet templates which you can check out here.

The video production process



Moving on from pre-production, we have the all-important stage of production. 

While there may be a little overlap with some production elements that start during pre-pro or continue  during post, production is its own animal for the most part. 

For a standard video production team, the main stages of production  all have to do with the creating, recording, or compositing of footage and video assets to get ready for assembly in the next stage.

Some of the main steps of this production stage include:

  • Set design and staging
  • Setting up lighting/sound/cameras and gear
  • Shooting your main scenes, sequences, and footage
  • Shooting 2nd unit footage or B-Roll
  • Recording additional voiceover or ADR

Again, there can often be much more to the production stage. But from a basic definition standpoint those are the key elements to any production process. The key is simply to make sure your video project is being done with your outline and target audience in mind.

Tips for production

Once you’ve done your work scripting and outlining your project’s needs in pre-production, here are some tips to help you as you dive into shooting:

  • Don’t forget to block and rehearse: While this might overlap with pre-pro a bit, it never hurts to go over more blocking and rehearsing even while on set. The more you practice, the tighter your production will be when you actually record.
  • Follow the script and shot list: Your first goal of production is to follow the script and shoot all the footage as outlined from your shot list. Only then should you consider adding in improvisations or extra footage…but don’t get too crazy.
  • Audio is just as important as video: While most of the focus of production is on recording quality video footage, audio is just as important yet often gets overlooked. 
  • For doc work, shoot 5x the amount of footage that you need: If you’re shooting documentary-style footage for your project, it’s actually better to overshoot than undershoot. So keep rolling!
  • Make notes as you shoot for the edit: Again, keep your editor in mind as you shoot. If you can stay organized and keep copious notes during production, your editing process will run that much smoother.

Production times can vary quite a bit from project to project and based on different types and expectations. 

However, one universal rule for any video project is to account for the unexpected. There will always be some sort of hiccup or problem to solve, so be sure to build in at least a little bit of extra time to keep yourself sane on set.

The post-production process



Finally, once all scripts have been written and schedules outlined, and you’ve recorded all your footage and audio on set, you can dive into the world of editing and the post-production phase. 

Keep in mind that this stage is by far the longest on most projects.  However, in many ways it's also the easiest phase, if not at least the most direct.

Here are the main steps which are often included in the post-production phase:

  • Reviewing and compiling all the footage and assets
  • Assembling a base edit of the story
  • Adding in SFX and soundtrack
  • Color correcting and grading
  • Adding in VFX, motion graphics, and lower thirds
  • Soliciting reviews and client feedback
  • Exporting final deliverables

As you can see, there’s a lot that still needs to happen in post-production. Similar to the other stages, a few of these steps like the sourcing SFX and selecting music can actually be done (and even signed off on from clients) early in the process. However it still usually falls to final approvals coming in this stage.

Speaking personally, I like to think of the post-production stage as three stages which I break down as:

  • The assembly edit (reviewing raw footage and assets and basic outlining)
  • The actual edit (doing the majority of the heavy editing work)
  • The review edit (getting client or producer feedback and making small changes)

The first step, the assembly edit, can often be done as a background task or by an assistant editor. 

The second step, the actual edit, is where the majority of the artistic work is done, as well as when hard decisions are made like which takes to use and what parts to trim or cut outright. 

And the third step, the review edit, is where you handle the usually slow (yet important) video process of getting final sign-offs. It’s a necessary step before you do your final and often long exports. 

(For example, a good video production company will probably want to check in with the clients to make sure that the production schedule is on-time and that the video is perfect for the target audience.)

Tips for post-production

Depending on your type of project, the post-production process can take anywhere from a few days to a few years. (Yes, there are many notable movies or projects which have taken years to edit — just ask Terrence Malick.) 

However, for most projects you should expect a post-production process of at least a few weeks or months before you can submit a final video to a client.

To speed things up and keep expectations under control, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Have a system and keep taking notes while reviewing footage: This is especially important when working with an assistant editor or team. Be sure to keep things organized and clear during the review and assembly stage of editing.
  • Edit with proxies to save time early on: To help speed things up, it can be super helpful to use proxies as a way to keep your file sizes small and render times short for optimal video playback in the edit.
  • Export smaller files for review (or use collaborative editing platforms): Similarly, when sharing drafts of a project for review, never export at the highest of settings. Instead, opt for smaller sizes for faster exports or use collaborative editing platforms like Frame.io.
  • Reach picture-lock before adding in VFX and music: In an ideal world, VFX and music cues should only be added once your edit has reached picture lock so that you can be sure the timing will remain the same.
  • Never send final deliverables without payment or a contract: Finally, it’s sad to admit but there are instances of clients not paying or producers effectively stealing work. Never send the final video or all the raw materials without proper assurances that payment contractually has or will be made.

Hopefully many of these tips are unnecessary for your project and post-production process. But in the real world there are plenty of instances of clients or project managers demanding changes out-of-order or trying to skimp on payment, so it’s still helpful to remember these tips. 

Your best bet as an editor — or a filmmaker completing a project from start to finish — is to clearly convey and establish a timeline for a project. That should include final payments and instructions for sharing (or publishing) the final deliverables. 

If you’ve set clear guidelines and hit your marks during all stages of production, you’ll never have anything to worry about besides doing your best work possible.

Further reading

Did you find these stages of production to be helpful? Would you like to learn more tips and tricks for working in film and video? Check out some of these other great articles from the Soundstripe blog below: