How to Automate 7 Mind-Numbingly Tedious Pre-Production Tasks w/ ProductionNEXT
Filmmaking isn’t all about being creative. There’s a huge logistical challenge in creating a film that involves a lot of tedious replication of work, attention to many details, and just very basic data entry. Luckily, as technology is advancing, so is our ability to manage projects and the filmmaking process. Here’s how some tools — old and new — automate seven tasks that are critical to the success of your film but, nevertheless, can still be mind-numbingly tedious.
Turning a script into a project
Planning a film always starts with breakdown — this can be a painful process, but it’s essential to the ultimate success of the film. It used to be that this process was a long, manual one — the film’s producer, director, or UPM would have to use a printed copy of the script and a ruler to figure out how many page eighths each scene had, to come up with an estimate of how long each scene would take to shoot. After doing that, they would have to use either paper sheets or some sort of very unhelpful software to produce a breakdown sheet. This often took hours, often longer than it took to create the shooting schedule. And, of course, if (or, when) the schedule changed, all these charts had to be redone.
Today, there is a good collection of software tools that will let you import a script (typically a Final Draft document or a PDF) into the tool and automatically generate a basic schedule and a stripboard with the speaking roles, location, time of day, and page eighths broken out, saving you from all those painful steps. Some of the software packages include Scenechronize, Celtx, and ProductionNext.
Building the initial project breakdown
But the process of breaking down a script isn’t just figuring out the information above. The film’s senior planning team must go through the script to find things like important props, set dressings, stunts, animals, hair and makeup notes, and more. With a traditional paper script, they would need to underline each of those elements, put them into a breakdown sheet, and then add them to some sort of software-based tool to create day-out-of-days reports that cover the entire project.
There are now a few software packages and platforms, including Celtx, StudioBinder, and Scenechronize, that enable you to line the script within the program to help you break down the script and automatically generate breakdown sheets, strips, and pages. ProductionNext, a new cloud-based project management platform, does this as well and goes even farther by acting as a hub for communication for your team, so the senior production team can get their questions answered by the people who need to answer them.
Making sure that all documents are up to date
As you move through preproduction, things change. In the past, filmmakers have had to manually process every single change of schedule, crew, and locations through a wide series of documents. If the schedule changed, they had to update the budget; if a location changed, they had to manually update the schedule, budget, call sheets, and more. If they got rained out, they’d have to change the schedule which, in turn, affected the budget. Even tools that were made by the same developer often didn’t talk to each other as they should, which created a lot of duplicate work to update the systems.
Luckily, one new software platform — ProductionNext — has been developed to help make sure every change gets automatically tracked and rippled through the entire project to keep everything in sync. The schedule talks to the budget, the call sheets, and even helps alert department heads when something important changes. There are others that integrate to a level, including Celtx and StudioBinder, but their level of integration is much less complete, which means more work for you.
Making sure your team is on the same page
Making a great film relies on both collaboration and communication. Currently, most of the communication happens via text, email, and phone. It’s easy to not keep someone informed and up to date since there’s so much going on.
New platforms are emerging to help streamline team communication. Slack is at the forefront of team communication — it acts as one central hub where all your chat can live — and it’s free. But that’s not the only piece of communication that’s needed to make a film happen.
You also need to make sure everyone has the latest documents and knows what needs to be done by when.
Since ProductionNext is on the cloud, all of the documents created in it are automatically kept up to date. It also lets you store others directly in your cloud storage area. It has a task management system to keep your team on track, and it integrates quite nicely with Google Drive and Slack so you can have your entire production in one central hub.
Turning storyboards into animatics
Animatics can be great to help visualize the finished film, but they’re complicated and generally quite expensive to make. ProductionNext has a tool that lets you put your storyboards together into a simple animatic so you and your colleagues and even investors — can better visualize your film.
Preparing and sending call sheets
Call sheets can be the bane of many a filmmaker’s existence. They’re tedious to create, requiring you to check the weather and the sun-up / sun-down times, find the nearest hospital, and make sure you copy the on set contact properly so that everyone who needs to find them can. What’s worse, is that most of the time when you’re getting ready to send them out it’s after a long day on set.
Some apps like Shotlister do similar things, but they don’t integrate with a system of record for your entire production. Since a lot can change on set, a lot might need to be changed in the call sheet last minute. If you’ve been tracking those changes as you go, say using a system like ProductionNext, it’s easy to send an up-to-date call sheet in as little as three clicks, letting you spend more time sleeping so you’re ready for the next day.
Keeping your investor or client up to date
We all know production is a hectic time. It’s often all a filmmaker can handle to get the film done, much less inform everyone of progress as you go. But if you’ve got an angel investor, distributor, or other stakeholders that gave you money, you’ve got to keep them informed. These people REALLY want to know how your project is going, and they have good reason to want to know. But keeping them informed with the right level of detail — not too much, not too little — is a real challenge.
So far as this author knows, there’s only one platform that helps you do that — ProductionNext. ProductionNext lets you offer a dashboard to your investors, letting them know about things like which scenes have been shot, how the budget looks, and the status of upcoming important tasks. The important thing is that you don’t have to do anything to create this — the dashboard is automatically built for your contacts as you build and execute your project plan. You can stay focused on your project, and they get to know exactly what they need to know, without requiring any additional effort from you.
So there you have it: Seven ways to automate mind-numbingly tedious filmmaking tasks. As we mentioned, a lot of software can let you do individual tasks, but to the best of our knowledge, ProductionNext is the only platform that lets you do all of them. I must admit to some bias here since I co-founded the company. However, I still believe ProductionNext can do things for you and your projects that nobody else can do.
To be clear: We all know that producing a film is a really complicated thing to do, and anything that is meant to help you through this process — whether it’s stacks of paper, a bunch of Google Docs, or a dedicated software tool — will take some time to figure out. You can’t plan a movie by swiping left or swiping right. But what we’ve found is that people who spend an hour with ProductionNext very quickly get on their way to being more productive than they ever could have thought, often saving more than an hour a week by cutting out repetitive tasks. And that means more time for doing what’s really important — being creative and making their films.
During ProductionNext’s beta program, you can get started building your projects with a free trial of the tools. Normally, you’d get a 14 day free trial if you wanted to get started using the tools, but, since you’re hearing about this through Indie Film Hustle, you can use the link below and more than double the length of your free trial: You’ll get a full 30 days, and you’ll also support Alex Ferrari and the Indie Film Hustle site. After the free trial, the site is $99.95 for an entire year of unlimited projects. ProductionNext won’t even take your card until you’re ready to subscribe. Or, if you just want to join someone else’s project, you can do that for free throughout the life of the beta program.
There’s way more information at the link below, and we hope to see you on the site.
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