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Pre Production Meetings: What Every Brand Manager Should Know

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OK, your storyboard is finally approved (with a few footprints on it, left by various Advertising Managers, Marketing Managers, and Division Presidents) and you’re ready to produce it, EXCEPT for the pre production meeting.

This is an inordinately critical stage of your incipient commercial’s life.  Unrecognized possibilities for disaster loom on every side, and people start talking a new language: “production gobbledygook”.  And you have to midwife your baby through the last stages of its pre-natal existence.

Take heart.  What’s more to the point, take this article to your next pre production meeting.  It may help.

Why Have a Pre Production Meeting at All?

Two excellent reasons:  To save money and prevent mistakes.  The pre-pro meeting is the time when the people who have planned the commercial get together with the people who are going to execute it.  It’s terribly important that the ideas and hopes and “watch-its” get transferred understandably and unerringly.

When to Have a Pre-Pro Meeting:

Not less than a week after you’ve got the board approved (really approved, no hold-outs for the Legal Department) and at least two days before you want to start shooting.  The temptation is strong to hurry things, but don’t forget that pre-production is a planning stage; hurrying a bid from a production house means more pad as the production house rep, deprived of time to get thorough answers and check out alternatives, simply covers his risk with a few creative entries.  Hurrying an agency’s casting department means they have to settle for whatever actor’s available, rather than taking time to think, carefully, about who would be best for the role and then tracking them down.  Hurrying the production schedule means you might have to settle for bids from three directors, but all of those available might be second choice.

Time spent constructively in pre-production comes back to you in speedier editorial and quicker finishing.  So, despite the temptations to ram your commercial into production quickly, don’t.  You will be shortcutting yourself and your job.

Who to Have at a Pre-Pro Meeting:

You, certainly.  The Brand point of view must be represented, for questions will surely arise.  Your Production Representative, if you have one, should be there for he’s your interpreter: he’s the person who can see puzzled frowns developing, and realize that the director doesn’t understand your need for a certain product handling, or you don’t understand his need for a return wall on the set.  (If you don’t have a Production Representative – AHA! – call us.  We’ll do that for you.)

Beyond that, the Agency Producer should sit in, or whoever at the agency fulfills that function.  If you have a Copy/Art creative team on your business, OK, but the function of Agency Producer must be represented by someone who knows production thoroughly.  If you go, your opposite number Account Executive certainly will; but remember, the fewer people involved, the better.  Insist that either the director be there or someone who can commit him.  Since the purpose of the pre-pro meeting is to reach agreements, you don’t need to talk to the director’s functionary, who later has to rescind commitments because the director, on subsequent consultation, doesn’t agree.

Props, set decoration, wardrobe, and other specialists will attend as needed.

What to Cover at a Pre Production Meeting:

To bring order out of the chaos; to provide an agendum to which everyone can subscribe; and, most importantly, to make sure all subjects are covered – the following is a workable but not onerous outline:

  1. Overall Objective:  Before you do anything else, ask yourself “What is the single net impression I want the viewer to take away from this commercial?”  What single, unified message do I want to get across to my target audience?  Get this answered in one short, simple, direct sentence – and you are well on your way to a good commercial.
  2. Visual Objectives: For each scene and sequence, ask yourself “What do I expect the viewer to get out of this?” In reality, you don’t need to know where the camera is placed or how the scene will be shot (the director’s job); you want to know what selling message your viewers are going to get as a result of each individual scene you are putting before them.
  3. Casting Objectives: When you think these through, don’t describe people (i.e., tall, short, old, young); instead, describe characters.  This gives the casting director something to sink his/her teeth into – and gives you a tangible goal against which to measure the actor’s performance.
  4. Props, Set, Wardrobe, and Product: Here, again, learn to talk and think objectives; leave the actual execution of these objectives to the experts.  A small tip, however: challenge every square foot of your set.  Chances are someone may be over-building to cover a filmic eventuality that will probably never happen.
  5. Director’s Point of View: By this time in the pre-production meeting the director has heard quite a lot about what you want to see as the result of his work.  Make him now play that back to you in his terms.  Ask him to tell you precisely how he intends to fulfill your objectives and get the results which will bring off the commercial you are looking for.
  6. Discussion of Demonstration: Obviously a demo is where you show off your product in its most advantageous light, either versus a previous incarnation of that product or versus its best available competition.  This merits considerable discussion; and your Properties Master should be deeply involved in the talk; he is often a gushing fountain of helpful information and ideas.
  7. Final Script Reading: You’d be surprised how many times the omission of this simple step leads to a comment in the screening room like “Oh, didn’t you hear?  Charlie wanted us to change that.”  Make sure that the script that comes out of the pre-pro meeting is the same one the Script Clerk will be using on the set.
  8. Production Schedule: By now all of the production requisites and requirements have been discussed and decided – and you’re ready to determine finally when and where and how long each scene will take in actual production.  It’s your money: make sure your agency producer tells you precisely, hour-by-hour, how and on what it will be spent.
  9. Summary and Next Steps: If there is any unfinished business arising out of the pre-production meeting (and there should be as little as possible) this is the time to put it on a piece of paper and make sure someone has taken each item and question off the check list before you actually start rolling cameras.
  10. Changes: If any changes do come up, be sure they’re covered in the original bid. If an overage is submitted, you’ll want to confirm it’s your responsibility (and accurate) before approving.

What to Get Out of a Pre Production Meeting:

Clearly, the steps above are going to lead to a number of decisions.  Equally clearly, these decisions should be written down so that they can be screened, agreed to, and reviewed by anyone involved in the production.  This means a pre-production call report – and it’s an important document.  Don’t let your agency get by without writing it.  You will need it in the screening room as a check against your commercial objectives.

Does All This Sound a Little Complex?

Certainly, that’s why MRA was formed.  We can help guide you at this most important meeting – as we can through the entire production process – so that you get better commercials at lower costs.  If you need any help – give us a call, contact us online or give us a call; we’d like to help you!

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