Video Production Process: Complete Step-by-Step Breakdown of All 4 Stages
When it comes to the video production process there is no such thing as one size fits all. Every creative project has specific needs and challenges that require customized solutions - so a good video production agency or producer must be able to adapt and scale the video production process as is needed, on a case-by-case basis.
In this post we are going to go over the 4 stages (or phases) of video production in comprehensive detail, so you can have a better understanding of the overall video production process, regardless of how "scaled" or "adapted" it may need to be.
Generally speaking, every video production is going to make its way through the following 4 key phases from start to finish:
Before we dive into each phase, below is a quick overview of the entire video production process we are going to be covering:
Phase 1: Development
*As a quick note: in this deep dive we’re going to go behind the scenes of the production process for a narrative commercial spot. Unlike a documentary style spot - which is built around interviews and documentary style footage - a scripted narrative spot uses an original storyline with actors and locations - so while the 4 production phases are the same at any scale, each phase of a scripted narrative is usually more complex.
The development phase is where we will work with you to gain a deep understanding of your goals and the specific reason for creating the video. The purpose of the development phase is to literally create and develop an original idea into a finished script.
*For commercial productions it is during this phase that we also establish a total budget for production - this is a give and take process between the logistic needs of the concept or story and the total planned investment.
Step 1.1 - Creative Brief
This phase usually begins with a creative brief that will clearly outline our clients intended purpose for the spot, as well as provide vital information such as a backstory explaining the need for a spot, information about the intended target audience, intended budget and timeline and more. Basically, the creative brief outlines the overall strategy that drives the project.
In some cases, our clients will provide us with a creative brief that they have already prepared - but in most situations we will send over a brief to be filled out, which will be followed by an initial kickoff meeting to discuss in more detail and ensure we have a solid understanding of the project's purpose, goals, requirements, messaging, demographics, budget, timeline, and other key information relevant to producing the spot.
Step 1.2 - Conceptualize
Once the creative brief is complete, our creative team will brainstorm to come up with one or more concepts for the spot. This is where magic starts to happen. In many ways, this is the single most important step in the entire production process - and it’s also the one that will most differentiate one production company from another.
There are many skilled teams and crews producing commercials nowadays, all of whom are able to produce a high standard of visual quality. But as I’m sure you’ve seen - even the best quality in the world cannot save a weak idea. They may look and sound great, but they have little to no real impact and their campaigns are often ineffective.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” - Albert Einstein
At Intrigue Studios, we’ve built a team that combines the most creative writing and directing minds with the most logistically skilled producers. The goal of this phase is to come up with a perfect idea that is impactful, memorable and, most importantly, effective.
Step 1.3 - Treatment & Pitch
Once we have a potential concept, we will put together a creative pitch. This pitch will be accompanied by a Visual Treatment (sometimes known as a Deck). Treatments are often the most concise and organized way to relay the creative vision of the concept - as they are much more visual than just text on a page.
We will often set up a pitch meeting to clearly communicate the vision of the concept and take the client through the treatment. From here the concept is either approved for further development, or it can be reworked as needed until it is perfected.
Step 1.4 - Written Agreement
Now comes the most boring part of the production process - the written agreement. The total approved budget, approved concept and production process are clearly outlined in a written agreement that clearly outlines both the terms and timeline of production from start to finish.
Any clarifications or adjustments to this agreement are handled at this stage - to ensure that all involved parties involved are being treated fairly before any development or production continues.
The total budget is often adjusted as part of this process - as sometimes the desired production value of the approved idea or concept requires more resources in order to produce. Whatever the case - this is the point of development where an agreement is proposed, refined and ultimately confirmed.
The agreement is now signed, production finance has been approved and the client has committed to it’s financing - the project is now green-lit.
Step 1.5 - Scripting
Once the project has been officially green-lit, the approved concept is further developed into a written script. While the treatment is used to convey the overall vision and concept, the script is much more specific. It contains written descriptions of everything that we will “see” in the spot, as well as the exact dialogue and voiceover.
Here is where we can refine both the video and audio messaging very specifically and purposefully. It is much easier and dramatically less costly to add or subtract a word of dialogue, a visual description or even an entire scene, here... than it would be after the spot is already shot.
To wrap up the development we will have an approved script - and we are ready to move straight into pre-production.
Phase 2: Pre-Production
Pre-production is where we create the almighty plan. This is the phase that literally makes or breaks the entire production. Developing a shooting schedule, hiring crew, casting, locations, rehearsals, permits, insurance… all of this needs to be figured out before anything is actually shot.
At Intrigue Studios - our production management team will be specifically dedicated to your project. From pre-production all the way through the final edits, our full service production team will take the lead to ensure that production progresses as efficiently as cost effectively as possible.
Step 2.1 - Production Management
At its heart our production management team will usually consist of the Producer and Line Producer.
The Producer will be responsible for overseeing all of the logistics throughout the entire project - and be your main point of contact from start to finish. It’s their job to create a good working environment and they constantly communicate with everyone to make everything run smoothly.
The Line Producer will take care allocating and managing the budget to make sure the spot is done safely, creatively, on budget and on time.
On smaller projects, one person may act as both producer and line producer.
Step 2.2 - Budget Allocation & 'Above the Line' Crew
The production management team will immediately begin working the budget for allocation to each production department. A script breakdown and rough shooting schedule will be generated in order to verify that the total budget is capable of producing the spot at the desired production value. If necessary, adjustments can be made to the script or budget at this point.
Once the budget has been verified and any script adjustments approved - the script will be officially locked. This is the point where it is agreed that no further changes will be made to the script.
This is also the point where the above-the-line crew will be confirmed and brought into the project. The above-the-line crew means all of the film crew that will be needed in early pre-production. These will include any additional producers necessary, the director, director of photography, and production designer.
Step 2.3 - Pre-visualization
One of the director’s first jobs at this point is pre-visualization; in which they must communicate their vision and overall aesthetic look of the spot to the rest of the crew. This is done through shot list and storyboards.
The director will discuss their ideas with the Director of Photography also referred to as a (DoP) or just (DP), and together they will write a shot list for each scene. The producer will then look over the shot list and check that everything is financially doable. For example, some shots may require specialist equipment like a Steadicam or Car Mounted Crane. Is there room in the budget for this equipment to be hired?
The Director and DP will work together to create visual storyboards; graphic panels depicting individual shots in each scene.
At the same time during this stage, the production designer will be working with the director and DP to create a visual color palette and art deck to ensure that all key creatives are on the same page. The producer will continue to keep a close eye on the pre-production film budget.
Keep in mind that pre-visualisation doesn’t completely end with the storyboards being approved - it continues to happen throughout the rest of pre-production. Shot lists and storyboards may change over time depending on the actor’s performance and specific shooting locations, logistics and budget.
Step 2.4 - Below The Line Crew
Now that pre-visualization is complete - the line producer will begin assigning the below-the-line crew for the project. This is the rest of the production crew that will be needed to produce the spot. Heads of Department (HOD) will be brought in first, these include hair and make-up, costume, sound, lighting, and grip. Depending on the scale of the spot - each HOD will recommend the additional crew they need in their department - and the line producer will monitor all closely to ensure things stay on budget.
At this point - all departments are beginning to independently prep and plan for pre-production. So now it’s time to secure the CAST for the spot.
Step 2.5 - Casting
This is the point where the script starts to come to life. Our casting director will begin the casting process to find the lead actors that will portray the roles in the script. Depending on the scale of the spot - additional background extras might be needed as well.
Our production office will take care of all the non-disclosure agreements and talent release forms, as well as dealing with agents and negotiating rates. Ultimately, the director and producer will select the final cast - but of course our client is always included in this decision making process.
Once the cast is determined, the plan for hair, makeup and costumes will begin. The costume designer or wardrobe supervisor will put together a visual deck - and work directly with the cast for any fittings necessary, while hair and makeup can begin designing looks and possibly also doing hair and makeup tests - depending on the budget.
Step 2.6 - Location Scouting
Now that casting is in progress it’s time to source locations. Depending on the script, this might be as simple as a single sound stage where a set will be built - or this could be several real locations.
Our locations manager will be in charge of finding and securing these locations for filming - making sure not only that they look right, but that they are also safe and accessible for the crew.
Our production office will take care of obtaining permits as well as negotiating a location agreement with each location owner.
Before locations are confirmed - an initial location scout will take place in which key crew members (such as the producer, director and DoP) will confirm that the location will work for filming both creatively and logistically.
When filming days are approaching, a final tech scout will also take place at each location in which all heads of departments will be onsite to work out the logistics and accessibility of each location.
During this tech scout our script supervisor will take note of potential continuity issues, the gaffer will check and confirm power sources to plan lighting setups, locations manager will plan where crew parking and base camp should be, while the director, DP and first ad will begin work out a shooting schedule for the day based on the logistics of the location.
Step 2.7 - Confirming Equipment
The equipment that is necessary to meet the needs of the script and storyboard will be determined by the heads of department. Each department will put together equipment lists based on the initial location scout and tech scout - and will submit those lists to production for approval.
The producer is responsible to make sure that each department will have the equipment it needs. The line producer will work closely with the producer to ensure that the production stays on budget, so any adjustments that are necessary to the camera, lighting, grip and electric equipment lists can be made accordingly.
Now is the time that vans / trucks for transporting equipment as well as drivers are assigned.
Step 2.8 - Finalizing Pre-Production
Now that we are in the final stages of pre-production, it’s time to finalize things. The director may want to have table reads or rehearsals with lead cast before filming begins, the producer will make sure that any permits or additional production insurance is taken care of, the budget will be refined with adjustments for any spending changes that have been made, and any additional transportation, set security and catering personnel will be brought on board.
Finally, the First Assistant Director or (1st AD) will create and finalize the shooting schedule for the first day of shooting - a process that will be repeated for each individual shooting day to make sure there is a clear schedule for the entire crew to follow while on set.
At Intrigue Studios we take pre-production very seriously. All the work that was done up until this point will ensure that the shoot goes smoothly, and that there won’t be any surprises during production.
While the finishing touches of pre-production are being taken care of - each department is now prepping for the first shoot day, and the start of production.
Phase 3: Production
Production is the creative execution of the script. Equipment is prepped, sets are built and pre-rigged, actors are on set, the lights are in place, and the cameras are ready to roll. For our clients this is easily the most exciting part of the process - and it's where the magic of production really starts to happen.
Step 3.1 - Equipment Prep
So now it’s time for the big day - the start of principal photography. In the days before shooting begins the departments will be prepping their teams and equipment.
During these final prep days - drivers will be making equipment pickups for camera department and grip and electric - while art department will finish building and pre-dressing sets, and tents for base camp will be set up on any real locations.
Finally, we find ourselves on the morning of principal photography. All of the work done during pre-production culminates into the excitement of the first day of shooting.
Step 3.2 - Principal Photography
This is what it's all about. Principal photography is the creative execution of the script. Actors are on set, the lights are in place, and the cameras are ready to roll.
For our clients this is easily the most exciting part of the process. The energy of a well planned production shoot is indescribable: and to be on set as executive producer and watch the director, cast and crew work together seamlessly to bring the script to life is something amazing.
Whether it’s a single day shoot or multiple days - this is where the magic really starts to happen and everything comes together.
Phase 4: Post Production
Now that everything has been shot - it’s time for post production. This is the final phase of production, in which all of the footage is pieced together into one final, cohesive story.
Step 4.1 - Editing
Post production begins with editing of the raw footage. The post production team creates a first assembly or rough cut, in which the winning shots and takes are selected and put together. This rough cut then proceeds through a few stages of revision - in which the timing of edit is tightened and fine tuned.
Step 4.2 - VFX & Motion Graphics
Once there is an approved cut of the edit - the visual effects department will begin working on any visual effects or motion graphics that are necessary. The complexity of this stage is dependent on the script. In some cases it’s as simple as the addition of some basic onscreen text or the addition of a logo - and in other cases it might be complex green screen removals or other special effects.
Step 4.3 - Color
Once the motion graphics and visual effects are complete - the edit will go through a final coloring process. Any color corrections will be applied - as well as a final color grade to affect the visual tone and “feel” of the final video.
Step 4.4 - Sound Design
The last stage of post production is sound design. Immersive sound effects are added - as well as any necessary music or undergirding tones. In cases where musical timing plays a key role in the timing of the overall spot - the music may have already been composed and added as part of the rough cut phase, and here it will just be fine tuned and mixed to perfection. As part of the sound design - any dialogue replacement, final voiceovers, or language translations will also take place.
Step 4.5 - File Prep & Delivery
Now that the final edit has been approved and complete - it’s time to generate the final digital files for distribution. Depending on the plan for distribution, different TV broadcast stations, web developers, or other distribution sources may have different criteria for how they want the final edited file: Variations to resolution, frame size and aspect ratio, color bars, countdown leaders, or alternate file types and compression.
Upon request, our post-production team can generate multiple variations of the final edited file. And we will quality control any variations by testing the video on multiple devices to ensure no issues when viewed on different devices at varying levels of contrast.
Overall Production Timing
The overall complexity in each of these four production phases can be scaled dramatically on a per project basis - so the overall timing necessary for production really depends on the scope of the project.
But as a general guideline, development usually requires 2-3 weeks, pre-production requires 3-5 weeks, production requires 1-3 shooting days, and post production requires 2-3 weeks.
And so, the average total production time from initial development to final distribution is about 2-3 months.
I hope that you’ve found this behind the scenes look at our video production process insightful and helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or think there is anything we should add to this breakdown to make it clearer.
All that’s left is for you to contact us so we can learn about your brand, the results that you’re after, and how we can create a video designed to deliver those results.