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Just skip to the fun part!

I originally wrote this article some time ago for the Creative England Female Founders magazine, and returned to it recently whilst working on an advertising project with a new client. Very often (and in this case) everyone wants to just get on set and start filming, “Yeeeah, it’s going to be awesome!!” - but nobody wants to actually work through the organisational and mundane pre-production beforehand, which will inevitably make or break your project. So for what’s it's worth, these are my thoughts on why it shouldn’t be skipped and is so bloomin’ important!


Hoorah!! If you have made it into pre-production you have successfully navigated the challenges of getting your project green-lit. Development is the hardest and most drawn out part of any film, advert, documentary, screen project! But you have done it - crack open a bottle of fizz.

But just one bottle mind, and drink quickly as now it’s all systems go - and when I said development was the hardest part, I lied. This is the hardest part.

I will talk about development in more depth in another blog, because, to be honest, I’m in the thick of it now on our first feature and my gosh, I have a lot still to learn! So I will circle back on that once I am further along and actually have some seeds of do’s, don’t, when to give up, when to soldier on, when to turn to wine and cigarettes etc, tips and experience for you.

As a producer of adverts, branded content, short films and let's hope one day SOON feature films, this is my own personal view on pre-production. Everyone is different, and I’d love to hear how others see it. Please bear with me on my anecdotal analogy, as I compare the entire production process of any screen project, to a charity shop brought jigsaw puzzle. Yes, a very intellectual concept, I know.

So, during development you choose the puzzle you want to make, plucked from a shelf of many different genre puzzles; Christmas, period scenes, based on existing IP etc etc. But you make the choice, based on your chosen audience and you take your puzzle to the counter and pay 50p (or in the case of film development your entire life savings). Pre-production is then all about the edge pieces. These are the hardest to sift out because the puzzle box is so full of pieces and it’s a little overwhelming*, let’s be honest. You often find lots all at once and really feel like you’re smashing it. But then progress slows down, the wind in your sails ebbs and the pieces seem to have just become invisible. Or alternatively, you’re waiting for a younger member to return, after running off with your edge piece to make their own ‘better’ puzzle, but who has now given up after becoming insanely bored by the prospect of hard work. It is at this stage, you may lose some of the less robust puzzle building members; giving up and heading for Hungry Hippos, which offers simple, straightforward and immediate gratification and resolution.

I couldn't help but hark back to this moment of pure gold.
Nursing Home Hungry Hippos - I couldn't help but hark back to this moment of pure gold.

Finally, you’ve persevered and have all the edge pieces bar one in place; that one last piece which is going to allow you to start filling in the middle is often under the sofa, too scared to commit to joining the puzzle, partying in another box with a puzzle that has at least one celebrity on it, or just hidden in the depths of that box making you really work to uncover it - but, hoorah - you have done it! Edges complete. Thank you for staying with me.

Pre-production becomes the process of slotting into place all the small pieces which eventually make up this beautiful and inspiring piece of work that you can show to everyone; proud, dignity intact and quietly thanking God that it worked out as you can finally prove to your Mother that you do, in fact, have a proper job.

We all know that, that beautiful end goal will not happen if you miss or skip the smaller pieces along the way, so the hard work is by no means over. As an independent producer who often works with budgets that are limited or not particularly generous, I absolutely love slotting these pieces together in the most resourceful, collaborative and budget friendly manner.

A was of post-it notes show the planning and timeline of a film project on a whiteboard.
Planning out narratives in our old-school post-it note way!

This is a great time to discuss the project with your team and begin to grow the creative team that will join you on the production journey, but also to utilise your wider circle of contacts and friends. Pre-Production will throw up many curve balls, be it locations, cast, crew, props *insert literally any aspect of making a film project here, that need to be ironed out, and this is really where the people around you come into their own. Regardless of budget, as some things simply cannot be bought, people generally love to help and if they know a friend of a friend with a place next to the beach with a pink chandelier and goudie gold curtains that you absolutely need, then great! Film and TV depict literally every different walk of life, so knowing people who can help you source the people, places and props to recreate that vision is so important.

a house by the beach with a pink painted lounge, a huge chandelier and lots of gold ornaments and trinkets, giving the impression of a really expensive but dated interior decor.
Thank you AI for this dreadful picture. You know it exists somewhere out there. Let me know where please!!

I talk to literally everyone and anyone. It crazes my friends and family, but this is how I build my network of the weird and wonderful. So when in pre-production, of course I know someone who can bring a horse to a shoot for a day, make 30 monster claws out fibre glass or has a second home with 15 bedrooms. Pre-production often doesn’t come together in any particular succinct order - of course somethings take priority - but generally it can be haphazard and completely organised, all at the same time.

It takes resilience and patience and no decision should be rushed here. Holding out for the best possible option of what you’re looking for is so worth it, where you can. Whether a decision from your preferred cast member or ultimate location is dragging, hold off as long as you can, before moving to an alternative. You have already put in so much attention to detail and consideration in development, to rush through now, just to get to production, will not benefit the project in the long run. Once you are on set and filming, to undo poor decision making in pre-production is not ideal. In fact it’s usually expensive and stressful. “Fix it in post” is not a good mantra!

I love this process the most, it’s a wonderful mix of creatively piecing things together, whilst also satisfying my joy of creating and colour coding spreadsheets. Do not judge me. The foundations of your project are made in this time, and to weather the storm of a competitive, and at times an unforgiving industry, don’t rush and aim for the best possible option for every element along the way. We all know which little pig built the best house.

Enjoy your puzzle building journey, because if it’s really as bloody brilliant as you’d hoped, you’ll be gluing it, framing it and popping it up for all to see.

Well, I mean you won’t do that, you’ll break it up, get out a new one and start the same gruelling, time consuming process all over again - without knowing if all the pieces are there in the first place because Bob “puzzle piece checker” at Oxfam chose to play Hungry Hippos instead.

Mike Berry puzzlemaster who checks puzzles for charity shop in Bath.
©️SWNS - Puzzlemaster Mike Barry who checks jigsaws and DOES NOT play Hungry Hippos. Unconfirmed.

* For clarification, I see this as a 1000+ piece puzzle, not 10 piece Peppa Pig ensemble.


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