Pre-production is your best friend

photo shared by Ann Devereux (cc license)


Remember this: pre-production is your best friend. The more time you can spend planning and developing your short film the smoother it will go in production and post-production, both of which are time-pressured and costly. In fact, the lower your film’s budget, the more time you should spend in pre-production, ironing out all the little details. Plan, plan, plan and then be aware it will change on the day.

Decide what your film is about

Regardless of your film’s plot, genre, length or style, you need to know what, in essence, your film is about. Its spirit, not just what happens. Boil your idea down to a single statement that sums up what your film is about. Use this core sentence to guide you when making the multitude of decisions about your film that you’ll be faced with over the production and post-production process.

Assemble your team

Now’s the time to pull together people who want to work with you on your film. It helps to have a killer script, and a clear vision of the film. Now’s the time to pull in all those favours from contacts you’ve made and people you’ve worked with. The key people to assemble first are the director, producer (or co-producers) and DOP, followed by other heads of departments.

There are four main services in New Zealand for contacting and booking professional film crews:

  • Filmcrews is a complete diary service.
  • Crewlist is the largest crew directory and booking service in New Zealand (and does not charge producers for their services).
  • Crew Auckland is an extensive database of crew information/contacts within Auckland (and does not charge producers for their services).
  • Crew Wellington is an extensive database of crew information/contacts within Wellington (and does not charge producers for their services).
  • NZ Crews is an extensive database of crew information/contacts throughout NZ (and does not charge producers for their services).

For advice on dealing with crews, you can contact the NZ Film & Video Technicians Guild. You may also find The Data Book– a NZ screen production directory- useful. Additionally, Showtools offers several online services to producers for a small fee.


Casting is a vital process in filmmaking. Don’t underestimate how important it is to find people you think are 100% right for the roles. Don’t settle for second best: you cannot fix casting issues in post-production. Unless your friends are actors or demonstrate acting talent, avoid casting them in your film. Even one bad featured extra can let down a short film and destroy the viewer’s belief in the reality you are seeking to create.

If you have to use non-professional actors, cast people whose personalities are similar to those of your characters. A professional actor has the range to portray a diverse range of characters, but most amateurs can’t. So, if your lead is an anal-retentive tightwad, don’t cast a slovenly slacker to play him.

There are lots of casting agencies in New Zealand. Remember talent agencies are very busy, and they are unlikely to make any money from your short film. So make their job easier by always sending a polite email with a clear brief of who you are looking for, and as many details as you can.

Also, be sure to check out our handy guide prepared with StarNow: Casting your short film on a budget

TIP- Professional actors will often donate their time to your project if they like your script. This is more common than you think. Give it a shot!

Get everyone on the same page

Share your vision with the whole team. It’s important on time-pressured shoots that everyone, from the producer to the best boy, understands what it is that you’re trying to achieve. If the crew understand your vision, they are much more likely to be able to help you achieve the look and feel of the film. There won’t be any time to do this on set, so make sure you take time to do this pre-shoot.


shared by Neil Cummings (cc license)

photo shared by Neil Cummings (cc license)

Not everyone uses storyboards, but they are a useful tool in communicating the director’s vision to the rest of the team. Storyboards are a (usually) pictorial method that the director and DOP use to visualise the film, through shots, angles and frames. Once your script is settled, work with the DOP to make a storyboard. Here is an online storyboard tool you could use, or just read the blog for tips.

Location scouting

After you’ve locked down your script, comb through it and create a list of the settings for your film. You can then start looking for actual locations that will fit your story.

Where is your film set? Does that location even exist? You may have to construct it artificially or use different locations to stand in for different parts of your film setting. Luckily we live in New Zealand; our country offers a diverse landscape and varied cityscapes to choose from. Think creatively, and get out and explore public and private places that might suit your story.

TIP- When deciding on locations, make sure they’re appropriate for sound as well. You don’t want a location that’s too close to train tracks, a noisy water fountain or an airport.

Here are some other things to consider when scouting locations:

  • Is parking available for cast and crew, and equipment vehicles?
  • Does it have electricity available and cell phone coverage?
  • Are there toilet facilities, and somewhere to prepare and eat meals for cast and crew?
  • Is there electricity available for lights?
  • Is there somewhere to stay nearby for cast or crew from out of town?
  • Can you get permission to shoot there? Do you need a permit? Can you afford to film there? Will you have to hire traffic control?
  • Is the natural light level adequate (at the time of day I will be shooting)?

Many regions throughout New Zealand have established their own film offices. They can provide a personal, on-the-ground introduction to their regions, helping guide you through processes, introducing contacts and exploring possible resources. Many of these offices are run by the local councils, making access to permits very streamlined and uncomplicated. In cases where a region does not have its own office, Film New Zealand can help with information about locations and personnel.

As with casting agencies, the clearer your brief is, the more help people can be.


Location recce

By the time shooting rolls around, you should know your location intimately. Visit it in sun and rain, and at all times of the expected shoot. Take photos and make detailed notes of all potential hurdles to save stress during production. Where possible, take your DOP and soundie as well.

TIP- Get permission to shoot in your space. Although we hear lots of stories about guerilla tactics for shooting short films, we don’t advocate that path.


Shooting in New Zealand means we have the advantage of access to the latest gear – as long as it’s not all booked out for the latest Peter Jackson epic or the shoot weekend for 48Hours.

Know your gear, and make sure you work with your crew to ensure you hire/buy/borrow the right equipment for your project. If you aren’t familiar with camera, lighting and sound gear, talk to your crew and make sure they understand the scope of your project. Plan what you will need and for how long.

TIP- Whatever you choose to shoot on, make sure you’ve factored in memory cards, spare batteries and file output. And don’t forget to back-up all shooting footage as you go.

Good gear-rental companies will also be able to provide you with advice on the best equipment for the kind of shooting you are planning. Here are a few gear rental companies we know and trust:

We can’t emphasise this enough: take the time to plan the details of your film during pre-production and things will go much more smoothly during shooting. All that detail might make your head feel like exploding occasionally, but it’s all part of making sure the film you dream about is the one you end up making.