Pre-Production Also Known As Setting Up For Success.
Production books aren’t as common as they should be. In the big leagues of photography production, they’re necessary. In filmmaking too, they’re indispensable. What is a production book you may ask? It’s a binder (usually) or some kind of master folder filled with documents, lists, call sheets, vital information, and everything you did during the pre-shoot process. The production book can be shared with your client, production crew, and even with third party coordinators like location contacts or managers to keep everyone on the same page. It’s purpose? To document all of your hard pre-lights work in a way that makes it both accessible and digestible for you and your team! Without further ado, let’s jump into how to make one, and what to put inside!
Production books are usually used on larger productions and are created by the producer and production assistants involved, then disseminated to the team. Smaller productions though, can benefit greatly from them. Vital information and need-to-know stuff can be outlined in the book, in order to avoid confusion, emergency information fumbling, or time wasting. As a photographer, you can make production books or shoot guides too. They can score major brownie points with clients by making the entire shoot process easier to follow and much easier to be a part of.
What Do They Look Like?
Production books come in ALL shapes and sizes and there isn’t really a single ‘right’ way to make one. It could be a manilla folder, a binder, a .pdf, or even a single notebook. Whatever works for you, your production, and your workflow is the best option for you. So do a TWYWALTR (take what you want and leave the rest) with this post and just use it to guide you in the right direction! What does a production book look like while on set with clients? It looks like the crew, producers, and creatives are all on the same page and are inviting the clients into the process. It adds finesse to your photographic process and to your client workflow. When a fire arises and needs to be put out, the book is usually the first go to resource. Whether its a crew members phone number or email, or just the craft services schedule that a hungry crew member may need to review. Time saved is time better spent on the creative process and making sure your clients are happy. A crew needs clear communication in order to safely and efficiently operate, and the production book is the backbone to proficient communication.
The purpose of the prod. book is to house all relevant shoot documents that may be necessary to reference during shoot day at a glance. Planning documents, shoot day notes, last minute changes, shot lists, and more are thrown into the production book not only for easy access to all but it also turns into a shoot record later. Where everything can be easily accessed post-shoot day. These types of records perform best when in an easily digestible and straight forward format. Think about your future self having an emergency on set, you want to be able to reference the book and find exactly what you need as quickly as possible. They are great for coordinating large crews going to various locations on a schedule, and should have every thing relevant referenced and documented from weather, to media desired, all the way to names and standards of clients and their brands. The production books purpose is two- three- even four-fold because it can really present itself as a valuable asset to those with access. As a producer, it’s your baby. As a photographer, it’s your day to day guide. And as a client its their insider look into what’s actually happening on the shoot, and where all of their time, effort, and money have gone. All to produce amazing pictures and get the best out of everyone on set.
The shoot producer(s) use the book as a safe haven for all information related to the job. During pre-production its their task to make the shoot happen, and document all of its moving parts, as well as planning how to put out potential fires and identify fail points. A producer’s production book will be much heftier than that of the crews, because the crew is on a different ‘need-to-know’ level. For crew members, a paired down version will suffice meaning that financials, private information, and all extraneous materials that the crew doesn’t necessarily have to know about can be removed. This is for safety’s sake in case of an emergency and also to protect the photographer, producer, and clients from prying eyes or wrongful dissemination. The main use of the book is definitely as a communication tool. It can be the entire project in one single place, or even take the place of a producer who’s had to be called off set during an emergency. The contents vary greatly, but keep reading to find out how to develop documents that you can place inside and what their individual purpose is.
From the inception of a shoot there is paperwork. This is a sometimes looming concept and can be both intimidating and cumbersome but its a necessary evil that can be turned into something amazing. Even if you are a crew of one, a production book can help you to stay organized, remember things that otherwise would have been forgotten, and keep your clients informed and feeling like they are getting their money’s worth from the shoot process. The development of such a book begins at the inception of every shoot. Printed emails, suggested material lists, shot lists, as well as bids, estimates, contracts, and scope documents make up a solid foundation for any production book. After all, the informational infrastructure of a shoot is built in real time. And your production book should reflect that so that there’s a recognizable timeline and series of events that dictates its direction. Mood boards, scope documents, crew info spreadsheets, and when lunch will be are all questions commonly answered by the book. It can be a small answer, to big questions, saving time and money.
A logical timeline of planning is inherent in a good production book. A solid foundation would include documents from the inception of a job, all the way to the day before, and day of, the shoot. From initial emails (if helpful) all the way to day-before weather reports, no document is too small to include if its helpful to anyone in any way
14 Documents to Get You Started
Helpful emails / notes / client remarks – These notes can be super helpful if there is a last minute client directed change to any other documents or anything that really needs to be stressed on shoot day
Scope of project – the scope document outlines what the client wants from the creatives and how far the creatives / crew can go to achieve those goals
Mood board – A mood board is a board of images that carry the underlying desired feeling of the photographic work being made, represented in gestalt by other inspirational images, color palettes, and demonstrative elements
Story board – A story board is a chronological document that shows the suggested progression of a multi-frame story either for a photo essay or a motion picture
Stylescape – A stylescape is a document that shows the vibe of the final product in its intended environment through mockups, illustrated representations, and digital wireframes
Talent board – A talent board is a document of images / information about models, wardrobe pieces, and relevant subjects and their crews / handlers so that the production crew can recognize them, and treat them accordingly
Style guides – a style guide is a simple one page document that outlines the style or direction of wardrobe / hair / makeup for the respective stylists or your client directly
Brand bible – A brand bible is a term used for a document that outlines a brands stylistic and aesthetic guidelines as well listing the brands foundational motto or scope of goals so that those things can inform the creatives and crews decisions
Shot list – A shot list is the photographer’s personal schedule of photographic events. The crew is present to assist the photographer in sticking to the shot list. Shot lists are important for all as the entire crew works towards allocating time, effort, and resources to have all things necessary ready for the photographer to create at the given interval
Weather report – Although weather is uncontrollable its important to make everyone aware of the current conditions and locational situation before hand. This will keep the crew and clients prepared for anything and everything, including emergencies
Call sheet/crew contact sheet – The call sheet is a spreadsheet that contains information pertaining to dress code, crew names, roles, and phone numbers, special PSAs, and what time each crew member should arrive on set
Location map – A map is necessary when curating a production book because lost crew members are wasted crew members
Tech scout sheet – A tech scout is a pre-shoot scope out of a location(s) in order to envision loose shots, available light, and to prepare info for crews like where power is located, where additional equipment will be needed, and any special notes that need to be disseminated to crews or clients
Crafty schedule / menu of available foods – You may think of this an afterthought, but a hungry crew is not a well working crew. We all need to stay hydrated and fed on a shoot in order to perform our best. So having a schedule and list of available food and allocated eating times is quite necessary
Want some extracurricular resources on production books, shoot documents, and production in general? Check out these awesome links!
StudioBinder is an awesome resource for everything production!
So is NoFilmSchool a website dedicated to educating about ALL things film related (most film stuff applies to photography production as well)
And last but not least, is FileStage who have an awesome blog with tons of free resources!
We’d love to see your pre-production books! Send them our way or just let us know how you use them!
Submit your photos / tips / stories about production books to us! at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time take care!