How to Plan a Video Shoot with the Ultimate Pre-Production Checklist

Planning a commercial video can be a lot of work. What happens if you get something wrong and your clients wants to reshoot? Take the stress of your next video production with this ultimate pre production checklist. In this video, Noah Scott from Single Grain shows you everything you'll need to cover to make sure that your next video production shoot goes according to plan, and that all the moving pieces line up perfectly so you can relax, have fun, and create a really awesome video your clients will love.

Don't set up your next film shoot without watching this guide first!

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Full Transcript of The Video

[sg_alert]UPDATED! This post was expanded and updated for 2017 to include fresh new information.[/sg_alert]

If you hadn’t already learned from personal experience, then you might have at least wondered: with all the studies and stats showing the effectiveness of video content marketing, why are there so many teams yet to produce ANY video content? The truth is, video production is not an easy task or an affordable one. Many teams set out to add video but struggle with costs and don’t always understand the process either.

The most important part of the video production workflow is what happens before the camera starts rolling. Pre-production, or the planning and logistics phase of a video project, is where most of the magic happens before it gets recorded. And while poor pre-production may not break your video, it will break your budget if you don’t do your due diligence.

Even if a video production team has on-staff creatives, they may not understand your vision or premise. Similar to when you go to a hairdressing salon with a picture to help explain what you want, pre-production is where you put that image together.

Fortunately, plenty of marketers and production managers have already gone through the steps and learned from their mistakes. That’s why we decided to put together a list of 20 video pre-production tips that will help save you a lot of time, money, and hassle.

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Once you have an idea for a great video project, you need to:

1. Define Your Audience

Whether you want better insights from Google AdWords or a more targeted video, defining your audience is the first step in the pre-production process.

This doesn’t just mean postulating that “Customer A may want to see X content."

Defining an audience is a complex process that includes building buyer personas. After all, your audience is more than just one customer. Narrowing down your video viewer to a specific buyer persona rather than a generic audience will help you create a much more targeted and effective video in the long run.


Learn More: The Complete Guide to Developing and Using Buyer Personas

Always writing with one specific person in minds allows you to tell a true and relatable story. Too often marketing campaigns are built wanting to include everyone but result in interesting no one. Craft your video message to your buyer persona: what they find entertaining or funny, and how the product or service relates to them.

Look to the likes of Dollar Shave Club or Dove for two entirely different yet effective video content productions.

2. Clarify Your Message

While the importance of knowing your audience and defining a target market has never been understated, clearly knowing your message is just as important. In other words, don’t try to cram everything into a single animated explainer video.

Your business is made up of many moving parts, and you need different videos for different purposes. Don’t try to explain what you do, sell your service, and bring up a case study all in the same video. A tailored video with a specific message and a specific goal will be much more effective in the long run.

Learn More: How to Craft a High Converting Explainer Video

3. Determine Your Budget

Once you’ve defined your audience and your message, you need to define your budget. Without a guiding budget at the beginning of pre-production, it’s impossible to manage expectations. You’re going to end up over-promising but under-delivering.

The pros of working with a good production company is that they value their work. It’s placed in their portfolio and used as an online marketing ad. Giving them a budget permits them to discover how to produce the highest quality with what they have available.

Knowing your budget ahead of time also frees you up to narrow down what you can and cannot do for any given project, and eliminates a lot of second-guessing.

Further reading:

How to Grow Your YouTube Subscribers Without Spending a Ton of Money


==> Click here if you're looking to have a world-class explainer video created for your business <==

4. Write and Revise a Script

While a lot of big ideas come from the C-suite, not all executives know how to write scripts. The script is a part of pre-production that is most commonly understated. Too often teams write the script and execute without critiquing, critiquing and critiquing some more.

Dollar Shave Club saw great success with just one video. And it wasn’t luck, either.

They spent months prepping, writing and re-writing the script before even moving forward with the next pre-production steps. The script was, in fact, what guided the video and the tag line. The concept was always there but until they had fleshed out that idea onto paper, they didn't discover all the fantastic features that helped the video go viral. 

Your script may have gone through several drafts by the time post-production rolls around, but having it will determine in large part the course of your production and post-production schedules. Taking the time to get professional input at this stage of pre-production is an extremely worthwhile investment.

5. Include Greetings and Sign-Offs

Traditional TV infomercials and calls-to-action have nearly been replaced by a smarter, subtler brand of business video, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a place for friendly reminders. Sometimes, too much subtlety can actually detract from conversions, as in the case of Wren Studio’s viral video of strangers kissing, which could have led to even greater sales.

In order to fully leverage average attention spans and get the most out of your completion rates, brief greetings and sign-offs should be included in the script.

6. Get to the Point within 8 Seconds 

Going off number five above, know that most viewers will click away from your video after the first eight seconds if their attention wavers. Why? Because the average attention span is just 8.5 seconds (which is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish, by the way).

Attention Spans

Fortunately for video producers and scriptwriters everywhere, this isn’t a bad thing. The first eight seconds of video are just enough to include a brief greeting that states who the speaker is, what brand he or she is representing, and what they’re going to talk about. Anyone who wouldn’t have been interested to begin with will drop off after the greeting, but interested viewers will stay engaged.

Many writers refer to the term “mid-res” which is abbreviated for "in medias res," which means "into the middle of things." Starting a story in the middle of things kicks the viewer into a whirlwind of excitement that will keep them on long enough to hear your why in the video.

The why is the reason that they will benefit from your product or service. It’s the problem that your company can resolve for them. Many times people don’t realize that there is a problem in their lives until a successful marketing campaign comes along and educates them. Whether that value comes in the form of higher ROI for B2B companies or in another form is no matter. 

Learn More: The Ultimate Guide to Video Marketing

7. Decide Your Ideal Video Length

While conversion and completion metrics shouldn’t be the end-all when it comes to determining the length of your video (hint: your message should make that determination), the final time will affect your overall completion rate. As you might expect, there’s a direct correlation between video length and viewer drop-off in the first few minutes that begins to taper off after quite quickly.

According to Wistia, you've got up to two minutes to hold your viewer's attention, "meaning that a 90-second video will hold a viewer's attention as much as a 30-second video. This is surprising and actionable information for video marketers. If you're making short videos, you don't need to stress about the difference of a few seconds. Just keep it under 2 minutes."

Wistia stats video length

8. Be Transparent and Authentic

The last step and guideline for effective scriptwriting is to be transparent and authentic. Nielsen reports that 83% of consumers trust their peers over companies and their advertisements. And while companies can never be peers, they can be experts in their field who offer something of value in a non-salesy way.

Video marketing is a very effective type of content marketing, and the ultimate goal of content marketing should be thought leadership. In other words, you want your viewers will see you as an expert and place trust in your brand.

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9. Storyboard

GoAnimate has a pretty good explainer post that covers the basics of storyboards and why video marketers should always make them before shooting the video. Fortunately, we don’t need to take GoAnimate’s word alone, because any producer would tell you the same thing.

Just as a script is indispensable, a storyboard is invaluable as an efficient way to visualize the shoot before it happens and to make adjustments as necessary based on insights gleaned from the storyboarding process.

Basically, the storyboard takes the script and verifies its possibility by taking the images in your head and putting them on paper. Where does the light come from? What does the location need to have for the production to work? Is there a location in mind? What tools will each shot require in order for them to look and feel the way the script intended?

Storyboard That

If you're not great at drawing, you can always use a service like StoryboardThat.

There are a variety of functions, lenses, tripods and sliders that may or may not be available for the shoot. The tools will also affect your budget, so knowing if you need that crane shot and the cost for the rental are crucial to pre-production.

10. Make a Shot List

wistia shot list

Just as a storyboard is the scene-by-scene breakdown of a video, a shot list is the shot-by-shot breakdown of each scene. Shot lists include more specifics, like camera placement and lighting direction. Figuring out a storyboard and then a shot list in advance with your producer and videographer will save you tons of time during production.

11. Create a Production Schedule

wistia production scheduleAlso called a shooting schedule, this is the document you need to have in order to make any kind of judgment call on whether your video project is going according to plan and to manage the time expectations of stakeholders. It’s important to always keep track of the following:

  • Location

  • Scene/shot

  • Equipment

  • People needed

  • Contact info

  • Date and time

A production schedule is a one-stop shop for all your production questions and concerns, and should be updated regularly.

The next few steps will all go over how to create a practical production schedule and other things to consider.

==> Click here if you're looking to have a world-class explainer video created for your business <==

12. Overestimate the Time You’ll Need

Generously. As a rule of thumb (and particularly when stakeholders are involved), it’s always best to under-promise but over-deliver. One of the best ways you can do that is by not giving yourself a razor-thin window of completion, especially if you aren’t very familiar with video production workflows. Underestimating production time is just as bad as overestimating resource capacity.

There are so many moving parts to video projects, even short ones, with live actors. If this is your first time working on a video, or if you still feel you aren’t very experienced, give yourself more time to work with. So many unforeseen scheduling, shooting and post-production conflicts could occur outside your control.

13. Studio or Location?

There are few decisions you can make with more resounding impact on the production schedule than whether you want to do your shoot at a studio or on location. While it may not seem like a huge deal at a glance, it certainly is for your budget.

Studios will already have everything in place for you to work with and all you’ll need to do is show up and bring your actors. Shooting on location, on the other hand, involves travel and equipment transportation costs.

Related Content: 4 Quick Tips on Ranking Your Video on Google

14. Visit all Locations Ahead of Time

Even if you do decide to shoot in a studio, you should still visit it beforehand. One of the best ways to arrive at an accurate production schedule is by determining which locations will be problematic and scheduling them into your day based on availability.

Outdoor shots, for example, need to be scheduled based on the type of lighting you require and should be flexible in case of inclement weather. If you're shooting in a real office, on the other hand, shots will need to be conducted after hours. Check out this article from Videomaker on location-scouting for other factors you'll need to consider.


Visiting locations ahead of time also gives you the chance to preview each “scene” and update your shot list with actual pictures. But if visiting ahead of time is not possible, then do your best to get in touch with someone who can provide those pictures for you.

15. Determine Your Equipment Needs

Knowing exactly what equipment you’ll need for each and every shot in your shot list should be something that you have set in stone long before the first camera starts rolling. But while understanding the basics of a script, storyboard, shot list and even production schedule are easy, knowing why a Canon 5D wide angle lens steady camera is the best choice for a specific 3-second shot is not so intuitive.

Ideally, equipment needs will be managed directly by a production manager. For smaller projects, the videographer should be the one making the call.

16. Inventory Equipment You Already Have

Once you’ve worked with your producer to list the equipment you’ll need for all your shots, take a moment to double check what you already have in-house (because your producer certainly won’t know).

Larger companies with multiple departments could literally have viable equipment anywhere and everywhere. Maybe there’s a certain type of microphone that HR uses to make their recruiting videos, or a high-tech camera lying somewhere in the product department. Checking could save you hundreds to thousands of dollars in rentals.

==> Click here if you're looking to have a world-class explainer video created for your business <==

17. Use Your Company’s Best Representative

Often, the narrator in large-scale business videos will be someone from the C-suite. But sometimes (and let’s face it), no one in the C-suite can act. That’s when hiring professional actors can come in handy.

But if you want to try and shave a bit more off your budget and identify a long-term talking head for your videos (especially if you want to start a company vlog), keep in mind that there could already be someone in HR, Sales or Marketing who’s just waiting to shine.

Each company has its fair share of interesting characters, and one of them might just fit the camera perfectly. Having someone within the company appearing in these videos gives them more ownership. Where an actor or paid hire might study the script and play well, nothing compares to someone who lives and breathes the message every single day.

Learn More: 12 Engaging Types of Video Content that Viewers Love to Watch

18. Have a Call Sheet

Regardless of whether you decide to go with professional actors, one of the last spreadsheets you’ll need to prepare is the call sheet. This all-important companion sheet to the production schedule includes the contact information of every member of the film production crew as well as the actors.

A good call sheet is will answer all the basic “who, what, where, when, and why” questions at a glance, and is practically invaluable when it comes to calming nerves and managing expectations.The call sheet will be used more often than you think: from a daily checklist to role call to the emergency contact list when you are missing a key player in the shoot.


Use a service like Still Motion for call sheet templates.

19. Line Up Your Talent

Once you have your script, storyboard, shot list, production schedule and call sheet lined up, it’s time to put your talent on set. As any actor will tell you, the importance of line-readings and rehearsals cannot be understated because it's a good idea to get your talent familiar with locations, dress, directions, etc., before they show up for the actual shoot.

It’s also wise to get your actors to come in ahead of time just so you know what you’re getting yourself into. Pre-production is the best time to recast if necessary.

20. Video Marketing Is Worth It

online-video-marketingThere’s no excuse not to brainstorm a video and take it into the pre-production phase as soon as possible. If you haven’t yet incorporated video marketing into your content marketing efforts, what are you waiting for?

The stats don’t lie:

  • 93% of marketers are using video in their campaigns

  • 84% are using video for website marketing

  • 60% are using video for email marketing

  • 70% are optimizing video for search engines

  • 70% will increase spend on video

  • 82% confirmed that video had a positive impact on their business

The sooner you start using video in your marketing, the sooner you can leverage its power to establish thought leadership and trust in order to attract, qualify and convert new customers to your brand as well.

More YouTube resources:

YouTube Advertising 101: How to Get Started

What We Learned by Spending $11K on YouTube Advertising 

How to Create Professional YouTube Ads for Under $100 

How to Generate More YouTube Search Traffic

How You Can Build 6-Figure Business in Under 90 Days with YouTube Ads

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(Image credits to Statistic BrainWistiaWistia, VimeoNeil Patel)

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