The production process: The Basics
The production process is a term that describes the series of steps that begin with initiating a project and concludes with archiving the final elements for safekeeping. The use of the word “production” is sometimes meant to include both the production of elements (shooting or recording video/audio) and “post-production” which is the creative work carried out to assemble all the production elements together into a coherent whole.
The number of steps in between project initiation and final completion varies greatly according to the scale of the production and the type of work being done. In this introductory course, the production model presented below is a basic representation of production, in general. You may find a wide variety of other production models, but they will all follow the same fundamental pattern as described below.
Project initiation occurs internally within a client’s business operation as a response to an emerging need. The establishment of a sponsor and a production supervisor precipitates the need to hire a media production professional. Once the client’s specifications for the project and its budget have been established, you will be called upon to provide your creative services.
While you will not be directly involved in the internal operations of your client’s business, it is important for you to understand the structure of your client’s operation so that you have a clear understanding of who is involved in the project, hierarchically. You will also need to know the names of the people who are involved directly and indirectly to the project, such as the names of the people that are involved in approving an estimate and from whom you will receive payment.
Request for services / Request for proposal (RFP)
A client will contact you with a description of the project and request a proposal. In order to have a clear sense of the needs and specifications for the project, you will need to convene a discussion with the key stakeholders and decision makers so that the details can be explored, definitively. Once you have established what type of job it entails, you will produce an estimate and submitted it to your client.
Your expertise in this phase centers around your ability to translate your client’s interests and needs into a clear concept of the final product. You will need to understand both the production and post-production process so that you can imagine what the project requires, and then write a proposal that accurately reflects the needs of the production.
Estimate / bid
Producing an estimate requires deconstructing the proposed project into its components, such as the amount of time required to produce the final product, the material and human resources you will need, the cost of consumables, and any other fees or expenditures required to complete the work. There are many other factors in an estimate to consider, but these are the basics. Your estimate, of course, includes an amount representing your fee for the amount of work that is being done and the degree of complexity required to complete it.
Your expertise in this phase requires deconstructing a project into the specific tasks, skills, and resources needed to produce the product and how much time is required to complete the project. You will need to understand how much things cost both in material and human resources. You will also need to be able to explain to your client why things appear the way they do so that they can agree with the figures that you have presented. In short, you need to be able to “sell” the estimate.
The pre-production meeting occurs between you, your client, and anyone else who would be directly involved in the production and post-production of the project. The pre-production meeting touches upon many topics, big and small, including discussions about the types of materials and techniques needed to produce the desired outcome. The most important outcome of the pre-production meeting is a schedule that describes each step of the production and post-production process so that there is enough time for everyone to do the work they are responsible to complete.
The pre-production meeting is a critically important conference because it determines how the work will be carried out, what resources will be needed, and in what order. Your skills in a pre-production meeting will center on being able to imagine how a process will take place as a narrative of events and respond to them in a hypothetical context. You will need to be able to converse with specialists using the terminologies they use so that you can interrogate how they plan to carry out their work.
Script / storyboard development
Some productions will have a script already written in advance of production. Others may require writing the script in response to research or information gathering as needed in the project. A script is simply a text-based description of what will occur in the visual media. A storyboard provides a combination of both script information with visual references to action, framing, composition, or transition. Some productions include storyboarding in advance, but not all.
If you are the writer or storyboard developer, you will need skills in writing for media production. Writing for on-camera or voiceover narration is a specialized skill that is different from writing an essay or a work of fiction. Creating a storyboard requires the ability to imagine how the finished product will appear before it even exists. You will need to be able to describe to other people what your storyboard imagery means as a representation of continuous action, and the ability to explain why the spoken dialogue or narration is constructed the way you have proposed.
Producing and gathering resources
Some material in a production may be produced through recording video and audio. In which case, a production schedule is established for the video and audio recording to be completed. Some productions simply work with existing material. In which case, time is needed to gather resources, such as stock images, stock video, or stock music. Some productions may require purchasing and installing software or hardware to accommodate the needs of a particular production.
Shooting and recording video/audio media is a specialist skill that is learned through guidance, practice, and experience. If you only work in post-production, it is still very important for you to understand the production process so that you can have a conversation with the production crew in advance about critically important coverage (shot angles, blank spaces for backgrounds, ambient background sound, etc.). You may want them to acquire the recorded material in a way that anticipates your needs as the editor. If you are working on a project using existing materials, such as stock media, you will need to know where the best material can be found, how it can be licensed for use in your project, and how you can prepare the media to look and sound its best when you put it all together in your project.
Post-production: the first draft
Once all of the material elements have been produced and a script has been finalized, post-production begins. Post-production is the process of assembling all of the elements together within an authoring system and then exporting it into a single self-contained video file for review.
The first draft in the post-production process–sometimes referred to as a “rough cut”–is a significant milestone in the project since it is the first manifestation of something that had only existed previously in the abstract. The creative process that goes into assembling the first draft is where many critical decisions are made. It requires the expertise to take something “on paper” and make it a “real thing” according to the strategic intent of the media itself.
Clients always have a level of anxiety about seeing the first draft since it can foster a sense of relief that the project will work as intended. Or the client may become very concerned that their project is not coming out as planned.
Producing the first draft of a video draws from the essence of your creative skill. But there is more to professionalism than simply being able to create a video that looks good. You will need to guide their understanding of what you have produced, and why you made the decisions that you made. If you are fortunate, you will have the opportunity to present the first draft to your clients in-person–always negotiate for this scenario.
Following the delivery of a first draft, a continuing revision process will begin that involves conversation, negotiation, experimentation, and compromise in order to produce a final version that satisfies all of the stakeholders. There are no conventions or rules about how many revisions are expected or allowed before a final version is approved.
There are, however, time constraints that determine how many rounds of revision can occur before a final decision needs to be made so that the final master can be delivered on-time. The media producer needs to keep the client informed about the remaining time in the production schedule in order to meet the deadline. There needs to be a clear understanding that the revision process cannot go on indefinitely.
The author of visual media must be able to accept feedback from peers and clients with an understanding that some recommendations are feasible, worthwhile, and “on strategy” while other recommendations may be unfeasible, beyond the scope of the project plan, “off strategy,” unethical, or irrelevant.
Each point of feedback must be responded to in a way that is respectful of the client’s interests, but also mindful of the scope of the project and the interests of the viewer. More importantly, the author must take into consideration that other people might have really good ideas to contribute to a project that requires your being open minded about them, even if you do not agree with them.
Completing the final master
Some video work is edited in low resolution or with placeholder content for the sake of expediency. Once the client has given final approval for a particular draft, completing the final master will require additional refinement for it to appear in its best resolution and rendered according to delivery specifications. Completing the final Master may include:
- High-resolution re-rendering.
- Refining the audio mix to perfection.
- Cleaning up the timeline in the editing system to remove any placeholders or junk.
- Setting up an output rendering configuration so that the final master can appear in the best quality possible.
Completing the final master is more about perfection then it is about creativity. If your client gives you delivery specifications, you will need to understand what they mean and how they affect the completion of your master. For example, you may be required to deliver a video file in a given file format using a certain high-definition dimension, and a specific bitrate for streaming media. Some delivery formats require adherence to specific standards for audio sample rate or the overall loudness level of the program itself.
Delivering the final product
The specifications for a particular project may require delivering the final product in a particular format or combination of formats. The final object itself may need to be uploaded or physically delivered to a certain location.
Delivering the final product may be as simple as uploading a file to a cloud storage repository or it may involve coordinating with an intermediary that serves as a distribution center for your client’s final master. When you are first negotiating with your client about the project, you should be able to ask the right kinds of questions about how the final master will be delivered. You should not be trying to figure this out at the last minute while you are close to a delivery deadline.
Archiving The Project
Once a project has been completed, it is critically important to clean up the project content so that only the necessary objects are being archived for future reference. The game plan here is that the person who retrieves the project from the archive at some point in the future should be able to easily understand how you organized your work. The labeling conventions should be self-evident to anyone.
The use of the label “final” should only be used for objects that are, in fact, final. Never label something “final” if it is not actually final. There should never be multiple versions of something called “final” such as “Final Master V1” and “Final Master V2”. There should be no confusion as to which file is the final master.
Archiving a project is an extension of your approach to organizing your project from the outset. You should always operate under the assumption that you will not be available to explain what is inside your archive. Your organizing scheme and labeling must accommodate the possibility that someone who has no background about the project will have to make sense of it.