By definition, pre-production is anything that happens before the day of a shoot. And if you do it right, your shoot day should go very smoothly. Pre-production meetings are the meetings where all of your planning is accomplished. They may not be as lengthy as the Papal conclave, but there is a lot of subject matter to cover. They are an imperative part of the entire project so that you can make sure you get everything you need or want out of the images.

The initial meeting would involve client, lead agency, 3rd party agencies or freelancers (we will call this group the creative team). This is where your creative team will discuss the goals for a project and any details that may have not been covered by the RFQ or estimate.

To get everyone in sync, here is a list of topics you should discuss in your “pre-pro” meeting.

Pre-production: Shot Purpose & Style

Determining and understanding the final usage and concept is an important first step. A flashy ad for a trade magazine will be entirely different from a product shot for a catalog. Style references are always tremendously helpful in this phase. Shallow depth of field, dramatic lighting, high key or high contrast, are all questions that can be answered by providing visual references. Feel free to use magazine pulls or images on a website that spark your vision. If heavily post processed, its best to make sure photographer, retoucher and client are all in agreement for style and concept from the start.

Pre-Production: Set Design

Let’s say you’re selling motor oil. In what environment will it live? Client and creative team must determine if we’re seeing the product on a white background, in a residential garage, an oil-change facility, or somewhere where it feels juxtaposed such as a restaurant. Now let’s say, you’ve agreed upon a residential garage. You’ll have to agree on the following:

Layout of the shot: At this point some type of visual can go a long way. A rough sketch will at least give your creative team a starting point of discussion. Then you can start to brain storm ideas such as, do we shoot full room, 2 or 3 walls, should it be a vignette, corner shot? Should we shoot from outside the garage door or inside from wall to wall. Where should the product be placed? Will it be on the wall with shelving, on end tables, or the floor? How close will we be? These answers will assure the set is constructed appropriately.

Style of materials for the set: Using the consumer demographic info, featured product design, and how or where the image is used, you need to determine a style. Is your garage a totally tricked out car-lover’s dream? Or is the homeowner concerned about saving money? Is there a mini-van or a sports car parked inside? All of this has to be taken into great thought, as it will direct you into the small prop details. Everything from draperies, talent wardrobe, to wall textures will help build a consistent style.

Color pallett: The colors you bring into the shot must be chosen carefully. If you have a red label on the can, you may want to steer clear of a red background if you want the product to stand out. You also don’t want to choose background colors that clash with the color of the product.

Style boards: These are handy for clients to know what styles the creative team is dreaming up. They have samples of surfaces, fabrics, styles, and colors. At the end of the day the creative team reports these styles to the lead agency and client.

Time available: Do we need something on a quick turnaround? This can determine what materials are made from scratch and what is “ready-made.”

Budget: Just as with your deadline, the budget may control how elaborate a set can be.

Pre-Production: Talent & Wardrobe

Also, you’ll need to come to an agreement on talent and wardrobe issues.

Demographic: What sex, ethnicity, age, and look does the talent need to be?

Wardrobe: What is the talent wearing? What sizes need to be available? You want the wardrobe to complete the shot, not be a distraction from it. A King size shirt on a petite model just wont cut it. What colors will look best in the shot? If they are homeowners, how are they dressed in comparison to the setting? Make sure you are not placing Donald Trump in midtown suburbia.

Occupation: If the talent needs to be a professional such as a doctor, is there a uniform? What hand props(such as glasses, nametags, or stethoscope) would you see with or on the talent?

Usage: How long will the image be used and for what medium? This will impact the rates for talent and stock images.

Pre-Production: Production Timeline

Setting a timeline for a production helps everyone to be accountable. You’ll need to determine a number of scheduled milestones.

Set construction: Build in time for snags or delays.

Product delivery: Make sure to have the client provide you the product in advance of the shoot if possible. If there are any mishaps in shipping there’s still time to get another shipment out. Also, many manufacturers provide “hero” labels for shoots. These may be designed without small text such as ounces or ingredients in order to look better on camera. In a perfect world, make sure to have plenty of extras in case disaster strikes.A list of all the names of products, their product numbers, and delivery and return details should be provided. This will help make sure all products needed for the shoot have arrived at the studio. It will also help name the files accurately, and will ensure the product is returned to the appropriate party.

Approvals and Revisions: From the set design, to talent, to proofs, to final delivery. It’s important to build in time for the client to approve anything sent to them and time for revisions if the client wants them. Some clients like to be more hands on. If this is the case you will likely have a more complex timeline to allow for approval time on each aspect of the project. Make sure you a lot the proper time needed per client needs.

Shoot Day: You’ll need a timeline as well for the day of the shoot, from crew call time, to talent arrival in makeup, to lunch, to wrap.

Pre-Production: Who’s Who List

Having a list of names of everyone involved from the client and agency end and what their specific involvement is will be helpful to everyone. It’s important to make sure the right people are communicating about each decision. As an example, a product technical questions would be asked to a Product Manager not a Marketing Associate. Being aware of who's involved so the right questions are asked of the right people is vital to project success.

Pre-Production: Shot List

Every shot must be listed and provided to everyone the day of the shoot. That way, anyone not directly included in a specific shot can be prepping for the next whenever possible. Prop stylists can be readying the next round of props. Talent can be in makeup/wardrobe. Assistants can be lighting another area in the studio.

The list of shots should also include talent, actions, angles, props needed, and start time so no one has to question what’s happening now or next.

Pre-Production: Final Delivery

The details of the final delivery of images should be determined as well. This includes file type, point person, and deadline. Getting all of this info in place at the start will keep all parties on schedule, on budget, and assure smooth sailing for your project.

Do you do pre-production meetings for your current projects? If so what are some tips you use for them? Let us know in the comments section below.