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5 Phases of Film Production

People filming a scene on a green screen.

Interested in film production? If you’ve done any reading about film production, you’ll know there are different phases involved in the production of a film. While there’s more that goes into making big-budget studio films than smaller, independent ones, all filmmakers will deal with the five phases of film production. Each phase has a different purpose, with a goal to successfully traverse through each phase, ultimately to complete a successful distribution. There are five phases of film production and they include development, pre-production, production, post-production and distribution.

Phase #1: Development

Before a film can get started, it needs to go through the “development” phase. This phase includes the creation, writing, organizing and planning of a film project. The budget must be set, cast goes through auditions, the location is decided, and multiple scripts are written. Many times, writers and directors create storyboards to entice producers to finance the film.

When in development, a film has the prospect of being made, but nothing is certain. There’s no guarantee that a film’s development period won’t be prolonged, often resulting in the project’s cancellation or indefinite hiatus. A film studio will need to work out logistics. They’ll have to confirm a budget and procure rights to any media adapted to the film.

Phase #2: Pre-Production

Once a film has gotten out of development, it’s not quite time to start filming. Although that day is getting ever-closer, there first needs to be a pre-production phase. While cameras are not yet rolling, pre-production can be just as intense as the filming itself.

During the pre-production period, filmmakers need to know where they’re able to shoot, who will be in their film, how much their budget will end up being, and what changes might need to be made. They also need to have crew members lined up, sets and costumes created, and work with local cities for cooperation to film in different parts of town.

Pre-production can go by in a flash, and the more prepared a filmmaker is, the better their film can end up. There should also be backup plans in case things change, such as a city having an emergency that prevents the project from filming. Once the pre-production phase is complete, it is on to the filming phase of production.

Phase #3: Production

At long last, the film is ready roll. Production is the quickest, and sometimes the shortest portion of filmmaking. How long it takes to film depends on variables like the number of locations, the length of the film, and if any key members, such as leads, are off set for any portion of the filming.

As challenging as development and pre-production can be, production itself can be even more challenging. With high-profile films, reports of a bad production can sully a film’s reputation before anyone has even seen it. “Waterworld” saw its budget balloon to nearly twice its original $100 million estimate and behind-the-scenes upheaval, resulting in toxic buzz. However, the film did eventually make a profit. Even more fascinating is “Titanic,” which defied a rocky production to dominate at the Oscars and, at one point, take the crown as the highest-grossing film of all-time.

Even if a production goes smoothly, it can still be stressful. A strong production depends on strong communication. Directors must be clear about their visions. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and nowhere is the collaboration more important than during the production phase. After the first scene is filmed in production, post-production begins.

Phase #4: Post-Production

If someone saw a rough cut of a special effects-heavy blockbuster with no post-production additions, they wouldn’t be all that excited. The audience would be confused about why it looks so weird, without music or effects. Post-production is when the footage is edited, visual effects are added, music is composed, and titles are finalized.

For footage to become a film, it needs to go through a successful post-production phase. Editing is one of the most important parts of making a film, but it’s easy to overlook. Editors need to create a pace for the film. If a film is drags or the plot develops at too accelerated of a rate, the blame can be placed on bad editing.

Despite its name, post-production happens in conjunction with filming. Since the editors, effects artists, sound designers, and composers don’t need to be on-call for scenes, they can spend this time fulfilling their roles. They can also help to point out issues with filming that are preventing them from doing the best job possible.

Post-production can help a filmmaker’s efforts and sacrifices feel like they’re finally paying off. It is where raw footage can be refined and begin to resemble a real movie. By no means is it easy, but it can be encouraging.

Phase #5: Distribution

With so many different mediums, such as movie theaters, television, home video, and streaming, there are various distribution possibilities. What kind of distribution a film gets can depend on its quality and the pull of the filmmaker or studio.

An independent filmmaker’s first feature is unlikely to get the film into 3,000 theaters nationwide, since they’re far too unproven and not financially backed to make that happen. However, they can try to reach an audience and find a distributor by submitting their film for a film festival. Filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino have gone from obscurity to fame thanks to film festival success.

Getting a film made doesn’t guarantee its distribution however it is imperative for filmmakers, because distribution is required for a film to make a profit. The better distribution a film receives the more it can hope to make.

Any filmmaker needs to have reasonable expectations with distribution. They can and should love their film, but they should also know that it might not get released right away. If a studio isn’t pleased with the final cut of a film, they might demand reshoots or delay the film. Films that have a long period between post-production and release are known as “sitting on the shelf.” To keep this from occurring, there needs to be guidance and care with every part of the filmmaking process, leading up to successful distribution.

Final Thoughts

They call it “show business,” for a good reason. While creativity is always important, the people involved in film production need to have good business sense. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make even modestly budgeted feature films.

Reading about these five phases can help you prepare, but you should never take for granted how much effort you will need to put in. Every day can present new challenges, and filmmakers who’ve been at this for decades can tell you that every film project is different. As long as people are able to see these sacrifices and processes as worthwhile, filmmaking will continue to be a thriving artform.

Interested in learning more about the five phases of film production? IPR’s digital video and media production associate and bachelor’s degree programs can lead to a variety of entry points into the video and film production industry. We help you build a strong visual portfolio for your career search through time in our studios.

Using the latest industry-standard tools, our digital video production school immerses you in your video and film production artistry, both in theory and application, emphasizing corporate and commercial production, as well as short and feature narrative filmmaking. We equip you with a toolbox that includes all aspects of film and video production skills.

Contact us today to learn more about the digital video and media production associate and bachelor’s degree. Starting a rewarding career as a video or film producer is closer than you may think!