Preproduction: All the Things You Need to Do Before Every Video or Photo Job

Preproduction: All the Things You Need to Do Before Every Video or Photo Job

Whether you’re about to head out for a day of shooting some corporate videos, producing a multiday lifestyle photoshoot, or even traveling abroad for a project, as a filmmaker or photographer you’ll likely have to do a fair amount of prep, called preproduction. This article will summarize a number of things that you should think about and probably not forget to do before leaving for your next job.

When work and life get busy, it’s easy to overlook and forget gear, charging batteries, or maybe to backup your files before taking your laptop away from its cushy desk. I’ve put together a list (which would make for a good checklist if you’re into those sort of things) of tasks you might want to consider when prepping for your next job.

Get Your Documents in Order, Printed, and Saved Onto Your Phone

It’s great to be able to access your files and notes from a digital device like a smartphone or tablet, but you run the risk of losing access to everything if you don’t have a printed copy with you as well. Maybe your battery runs out, or you drop your phone, whatever the case, it will save your bacon to print off documents for your job. These could include:

  • Flight confirmations and boarding passes
  • Shotlist, scripts, treatments
  • Location addresses and permits
  • Crew and client phone numbers
  • Model releases

It also is a good idea to take a screenshot on your phone of these so that you can still see them even when there’s no network.

Figure Out Your Gear Situation

It's not very likely that you'll forget your camera body or lenses, but instead think about how will you pack and transport everything you're taking. Do you need to pack for flying, hiking in the outdoors, or just throw everything in a Pelican case? Pick the right tools for the job, then get everything out and make sure you have all items. Go over your shot list and see if any special items are needed that you may not be in your usual kit bags. Those pesky, commonly forgotten items include:

  • Tripod plates
  • Spare AA batteries
  • Lens cloth
  • Filters
  • Headphones
  • Power strip

Format Cards, Set Up Picture and Color Profiles, Prep Hard Drives, and Charge Batteries

You don’t want to be ready to press the shutter button only to find images from your last job still on your SD card. Did you download and back them up? If you had formatted cards at your office during prep, you’d be able to double check. It can save time to get your color profiles set up and saved ahead of time too.

Clean Gear

Dust and wipe off lenses as well as wipe screen backs. It’s good to do this not only so your gear is clean for the shoot, but it forces you to look over your equipment on a regular basis, and you might not have noticed a small crack or ding on a piece of gear from the last job.

Backup Your Data

This includes your phone, laptop, and tablet. Back them up before traveling for a job because these are easily stolen and breakable items.

Road Trip? Prepare Some Essentials

Make the most of your time in a vehicle. Keep batteries juiced up, and keep yourself fed and hydrated. Car USB chargers, snacks, some quality podcasts, and spare phone cables are all a mainstay in my vehicle when driving for more than three hours to a job. No one likes a hangry photographer; A box of trail bars and some waters are cheap and take the edge off of a long day.

Read Over Your Shot List, Concept, or Other Treatment Notes

Last thing: read over your notes. Sometimes there are weeks, even months that go by in between conference calls with the client and the day of the actual shoots. I find myself forgetting details when they aren’t fresh in my head, so I always take some time the day before a job to read over notes, look at reference visuals, and re-familiarize myself with the work I’ll be doing.

Without going into too much detail on dealing with flights or packing (which are complete articles unto themselves), what other things do you find helpful when doing your preproduction? Leave a comment below.

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Mike Wilkinson is an award-winning video director with his company Wilkinson Visual, currently based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Mike has been working in production for over 10 years as a shooter, editor, and producer. His passion lies in outdoor adventures, documentary filmmaking, photography, and locally-sourced food and beer.

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Hi Mike, thanks for the comprehensive check list, but there is couple of things that you could have added. I normally travel with 2 smartphones, once nicely charged and packed away. Both of them have identical sim card contact details. Smart phone app include diary, gmail, and what's app. .and my diary is sync to gmail. Do not need network to communicate with WiFi.

The other odd thing is, Airlines are very fussy about weight limits for carry on hand luggage, but they have never checked the weight of my camera bag. ????


The Call Sheet is probably the single most important pre-prod document you can generate. It lists shoot date; location; directions/sat-nav; meet time; dress code; client and contact numbers; crew and contact numbers; talent and contact numbers: agency; director; insurance policies; travel; vehicles; equipment: who's responsible for what - and shoot schedule. This is emailed to everybody on the Call Sheet.

Thanks - nice post. I've been doing sketches (a bit artistic, I am) and I find that to be a great way to loosely build concepts for clients. Don't do it for every client but when it's more complex, I'll often provide a visual sketch if not for the client, then for me. I can then reference those sketches on my phone on location.