Four Reasons to Pre-visualize Before Directing Video & Film

– Posted in: Directing Films and Videos

You can’t create a good shot-list, until you do great pre-biz, and here are four reasons to pre-visualize before directing video & film.

Clearly seeing and understanding the details of your final creation prior to actually creating, will increase your chances of making a great product.

Would you argue with that statement?

Probably not.

Everyone knows it’s best to prepare, but many directors either skip this step or give get a “once over” on their way to creating a quick shot-list. If you want to direct quality films and videos, this is a mistake.

In this post I’m going to layout why visualization is so important and I’ll share what some of the specific “pre-viz” benefits are.

Here’s a quick video that shows how using storyboards and an overhead shooting plan kept me from having a “crossing the line” catastrophe. I was shooting a TV commercial for Blue Rock Energy, at Buffalo Bills Stadium with Safety, Aaron Williams.

We had only four hours to shoot eight setups. The production quality needed to be – NATIONAL.  Take a look and tell me what you think.

Here are my four best reasons why you’ll want to develop a pre-visualization practice before directing any video & film – may they be short films, TV commercial or promotional video.

1. Tell Better Visual Stories

You need to show change. You’re working in a visual medium, so change should be visual.  The viewer might understand  that change is taking place through dialogue, but this is not enough.  You need to show it.

  • What changes do the characters go through and how will you show it?
  • What obstacles do they face and how will you show it?
  • Identify these changes and mark them as plot points.
  • Design shots that visually enhance these.

2. Create Strong Visual Evidence for the Story

Once you have your story marks in place, you need to create visual evidence. This is photo journalism and why a picture is worth more then a thousand words. The best images convey a story situation quickly and easily.

  • Has new information shifted the power dynamic in your scene?
  • How will you use this to align the viewer to the right people, and the right elements at the right time?

3. Create a Motivated Shooting Plan

Once you see the shot in your minds eye, you’ve simultaneously identified the camera placement location. You’ve also identified the lens you’ll need. Don’t worry, being able to identify the lens by millimeter size isn’t necessary unless you’re also the cinematographer. It’s enough to know if it feels more like a wide lens or a telephoto lens. Once you’ve identified each camera setup, you’re ready to create a shot-list and a shooting plan.

4. Develop Point of View & Style

All good stories have a point of view and a “way of telling.” It’s important to explore who’s point of view you’ll be telling the story from before you arrive onset. Your shot choices will be different based on which character you want the viewer to align with at any given time.

If you decide to tell it from a first person point of view, your collection of shots will be different from adopting a 3rd person, or observer point of view. An observer point of view will require more wide shots. These wide shots simultaneously capture the unfolding activities and how each person in the shot relates to the new information.

This differs from first person point of view, in that first person purposely singles out a character, and the viewer experiences the moment aligned with that person. The absence of how it effects the others could create tension or it just might not matter based on your story choices. The value of pre-visualization comes the first time you put it to use and reap the on-set rewards.

I’m not kidding, pre-viz is the key to this process

Once you get serious about filmmaking, you realize how important getting the shots you need and dropping the shots you don’t is to a successful production.

5. To Lead Your Production Team. 

The details must move out of your head and into a form that helps you communicate with your team.

On small productions you’ll be communicating with the entire team, and on bigger jobs you’ll be communicating to the department heads. The heads will relay “filtered” information to their team. This is delegation at it’s best.

If you wait until you’re onset to work through these important details you’ll slow this process down. You’re production team is tethered to you. They can’t move until you’ve figured out how you want to shoot the scene and clearly communicate it to them.

The crew can’t work until they know what the action is, what specific area of the location is “framed in”  and where in the script these things happen. This needs to be specific.

I can hear some of you saying it sounds to rigid – right? Working through these decisions in advance doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind.

It’s not about being rigid it’s about being intimate. 

If you have an “A” plan you can easily convey what part of the “A” plan will change. Each person will know how that change effects how they need to  adapt their “A”  plan. This empowers them to think for themselves. This takes you out of the micro-managing business and puts you in the directing-story and actor performance business.

Good pre-visualzation allows you to shoot and edit twice.

The first time you shoot with your minds eye, the second time you shoot with a camera.

Even basic storyboards help you explore shot juxtaposition and sequencing before the edit. This is a big deal!

I see a lot of people with “cool” shot ideas get into the edit room and find the “cool shot” doesn’t cut with the other shots. The sequence lacks visual rhythm or the compositions don’t cut well against each other.

When we shoot we’re working non-linear. That is, we’re shooting out of order. But, stories are usually told with events unfolding chronologically. There are exceptions like the Chris Nolan movie “Memento,” “Usual Suspects” and others. But, even these have a linear thread that keeps the active viewer engaged and connecting the event dots.

Committing to in depth pre-visualization has helped me make better movies. I hope this post will persuade you to up your pre-biz game.

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