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Notes on Pre-production and Planning for a Web Series

For me, pre-production starts with planning and planning starts with a spreadsheet.

Some people use MovieMagic software for managing pre-production but that is expensive (~$750) and it’s designed to work with a script. You upload a script and then break down the schedule and budget based on the actors, locations, equipment, and crew that you need for each scene.

I didn’t have a traditional script and $750 is too damn expensive anyway. Maybe there’s a better, cheaper, version of the same thing out there somewhere. Spreadsheets were good enough for what I needed this time around.

I basically use a two-pronged organization structure for all big projects that I work on. It consists of two things:

  • A master spreadsheet where all the important information and tasks are stored.
  • A to-do list that contains day-to-day tasks that need to be completed.

For the spreadsheet, I use Excel but you can also use OpenOffice Sheets, which is a free open-source version of Excel.

For the to-do list, I use Remember the Milk, which is probably the most life-changing app that I’ve ever used. It’s free for the web app and $25/year to use it on your phone. Not everyone needs a to-do list (children, monks, drug addicts, etc.), but I do, and this one is essential to keeping on top of what I want to do.

In Remember the Milk (RTM), I had a task that repeated every Monday and reminded me to update the web series spreadsheet and assign any tasks for the week to RTM so that they would get done.

This two-pronged approach is effective because it allows me to keep everything organized in one place (the project spreadsheet) but only the relevant tasks are in front of me during the week in RTM. That keeps things manageable and has a psychological benefit – I don’t feel overwhelmed when I look at my to-do list because it only has a few items that are actionable that week, i.e. I’m not worried about color correction when I’m still in the process of casting.

The spreadsheet becomes a repository for all the tasks necessary to complete the project (and there are a LOT of tasks that have to be completed from start to finish, even for a relatively small project!) and keeps my brain uncluttered.

If, for example, I think of a great location idea or meet a freelance sound editor while I’m in the middle of writing the script, I just drop a note somewhere in the spreadsheet so I don’t have to worry about remembering it.

None of this is sexy at all but it does help me get things done and keeps my mind clear. I love spreadsheets for organizing many aspects of my life. Learn to love spreadsheets!

Or, if you’re lucky enough to have the money to hire a producer (or have a volunteer to co-produce with you), then you might not have to worry about all this stuff. I prefer to do most of the producing the first time around. That way, I can learn what I prefer to delegate and what I don’t mind or even enjoy doing.

Here’s a link to the spreadsheet I used in Google Docs: Sample Production Checklist Template.

I started with something like that, although it grew a lot to fit Words Fail Me’s specific needs. Each item in the checklist has multiple sub-tasks but those are too specific to write out in the template. You’ll probably want to customize it for yourself, depending on your needs.

Make a copy and put it in your own drive or download it to your hard drive as an excel file. If it helps you, great. The point of all of that is not to overwhelm you, it’s to lay everything out so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

YMMV.

Another note: the spreadsheet is generally in sequential order. For instance, the item for “send script to actors and crew” comes before casting. Obviously the casting has to be done before you can send the script to the actors, but I like to group things by category and jot down little reminder in bold to remember to come back to them later.

Scheduling is the part that gives me fits, because there are so many moving pieces that you have to juggle. A spreadsheet helps with that, so you’re not trying to use your email inbox as your project management center.