Making a movie is challenging. There are many elements that must come together. Sometimes you work with good people, and the whole process comes easy. And other times, there is so much to do that you feel overwhelmed.
The following film production checklist will provide you with a general overview of the independent filmmaking process. It is not a definite resource but rather a collection of information, updated with my own experience producing feature films.
Your Film Production Checklist
While the steps are different for every film, this checklist may give you some ideas on making the process easier. To further help, I have included recommendations for practical filmmaking training, products, and services. If you click on those links and buy something, we may get paid.
Prepping Your Film Project
01. Before you get started, make sure you read and study everything you can about the filmmaking process. An excellent place to start is the Filmmaking Stuff website.
02. A screenplay is the blueprint to your movie. Write or acquire a screenplay you want to produce. Make it something exciting.
03. Complete an initial script breakdown. If you can afford it, find a line producer who can create an initial schedule and budget. Once you know your budget, you’ll discover how much money you’ll need to raise.
04. Based on your budget, write a preliminary business plan that details how you’ll produce and distribute the film. You can find the film business plan template I use at MoviePlanPro.com
05. Talk with an attorney and other producers to figure out your best film funding strategy. Will you leverage crowdfunding, tax incentives, or co-productions to fund your movie? Maybe a little bit of everything?
06. Adhering to laws and regulations, create a game plan for raising the money to make your film. You will need to be persistent and enthusiastic.
07. The best place to find film investors is through your network. Who do you know who knows an HNI (high net worth individual?) Can you get a meeting? And remember, every “no” gets you closer to “yes.”
08. Most prospective film investors will want to know how you intend to spend their money. And they will want to understand the potential ROI. Filmmaking is a risky business, full of unknowns, and you should ALWAYS disclose this.
09. Research film distributors. Identify film distribution companies that work with your genre. Make a list of the top twenty. Contact the person in charge of acquisitions and find out what they need.
10. After following these steps, were you able to get the money? If not, you will need to improve the project. Do you need to rework the screenplay or attach name actors? Is it possible that the “investors” you pitched are phonies?
11. Get favors and freebies. Seriously, write out a list of everything you can get for free or at a discount. This list will include props, wardrobe, locations, transportation, and craft services!
12. Assuming you DID get the money, pick a date for production. (And if you DID NOT get the money, go back and repeat step one.)
13. Hire an entertainment attorney to help you create contracts and releases. If you’re short on cash, do a web search for “lawyers for the arts” in your area. These folks will usually help with minor legal stuff.
14. Before you have the money, you may have to ask for discounted (or free) help. You should expect many “nos!” before finding the people who are willing to help you. Just remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
15. When it comes time to source your crew, make sure you reach out to people with production experience. Remember this quote: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a pro, try hiring an amateur.”
16. Where possible, modify your screenplay to free up money for the cast and crew. For example, do you need the pro football stadium for the “first date” scene? Could you use a high school football field?
17. Get to the point where you have a “locked script” without the need for further changes. Once your script is locked, your line producer will create a final breakdown and schedule.
18. With your schedule and breakdown, you will create your final budget. Once complete, your budget, your schedule, and your screenplay will all be interconnected.
19. Get your crew. Work with a seasoned Physical Producer AKA Line Producer AKA Unit Production Manager to help you get organized. These pros will look at your schedule and tweak it.
20. If you’re going to direct and produce, these pros will also help you hire the right crew. They will know a good payroll company. And many will understand how to leverage tax credits.
21. Money is tight. So if you cannot hire a location scout, you may have to scout locations yourself. You will knock on doors, introduce yourself, and talk about your project. The goal here is to appear reasonable and sane.
22. Whatever can go wrong with a location probably will. So you will need to have a 2nd and a 3rd location added to the mix. This way, you will always have a fall-back plan.
23. Assuming you’re directing your film, you will want to find a director of photography who shares your sensibilities and has equal enthusiasm for your project.
24. Work with your DP to find an aesthetic for your movie. Finding the right look and tone for your film is essential, so don’t rush it.
25. Marketing: Create a website specific to your movie. Make sure you have a way to get site visitors to “opt-in” to your email list. This list will become an audience you can verify and leverage later.
26. As you get into production, you can cut some footage into an initial trailer. Then you can add a movie trailer to your website.
27. If your budget permits, hire talented “name” actors for your film. If your budget is limited, cast people with large social media followings who are eager to promote your movie.
28. Once you have hired the actors for your film, you will want to find a location for a table read. Read through the script. Listen for rough areas, and tweak the script. (Remember that anything you change in the screenplay also changes the budget and the schedule.)
29. DO NOT skimp on food. You will want someone in charge of Craft Services. They should be good at getting deals on food and catering. If you can not find anyone to do this for you, you will have to do it yourself.
30. Make sure you have adequate food. If you are doing a union shoot, there are guidelines and rules you must follow. If you are doing a non-union indie, then some advice is: GET QUALITY!
31. Do you have all of your permits, releases, and agreements? Do you have production insurance? Because there are so many different types of insurances, you will want to talk with some experienced insurance professionals to make sure you are covered.
32. Meet with your camera department and find out how much storage space you’ll need. Create a plan for uploading your footage.
33. Try to take as many naps as you can. Making a film is fun, but it is also stressful. So sleep. Eat. And take time to exercise.
34. Once you have all the above stuff checked off the list, you will want to meet with your department heads and ensure everyone has what they need. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions.
35. People who care about their work will look to you for guidance and leadership. Work hard to listen more than you talk. And always be patient.
36. This goes without saying, but don’t be a jerk. Seriously, never forget you are making a movie. Enjoy the experience.
37. Did I mention you need plenty of sleep? I am serious here. Making a movie is going to demand a TON of energy. Take time to recharge.
38. Commence production! Defer to your 1st AD and Line Producer to keep your days on time and under budget. Keep your cool, and always remember to have fun!
39. During production, try to get the local news to make mention of your film. Leverage this coverage to get people to your website and get them to opt-in to your email list.
40. After the WRAP, have a wrap party. Please DO NOT sleep with your cast and crew, get overly drunk, or make a fool of yourself! You are a professional. So act like one.
41. After you recover from your hangover (I just warned you), you will probably start editing the movie. I suggest sharing the edit suite with another set of eyes. Be friendly to your editor. Those professionals can offer valuable feedback. Listen to it!
42. Your first cut will be rough. Screen it with a group of people who have never seen the movie. Get feedback.
43. Take the feedback and refine your edit. After that, take a week off. During this time, do not look at the movie or mess around with it. This way, when you come back to the suite, refine and refine again.
44. Have another small screening with people who have not seen the movie. Take notes. Take those notes back to your edit suite.
45. Add some sound FX to your movie. Clean up actor dialogue and rough areas. Sound is more important than visual. (Did you hear what I just said?)
46. Screen the movie again. This time, have the screening with a new, smaller group of people. Take notes. Go back and refine.
47. When you have a cut you’re happy with, you can begin planning plan your next strategy. Find out how to sell your movie.
48. Attend film markets! There is always another market around the corner. The main ones are Berlin, Cannes, and AFM.
49. What are your goals for distribution? For some film producers, the goal is simple. They want to get the film seen. Other film producers have a specific financial goal for the film. Knowing your goals will help you evaluate each offer.
50. Present your film to as many acquisitions executives that you can find, and ASK AROUND about the sales agent or distributor before you take the deal.
51. Assuming you sign a deal with a reputable sales agent/distributor, you will create a plan for the film’s release.
52. Become a media machine. Have a blog on your website, and make sure it details the release of your film and where people can find it.
53. Play around with your keywords and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). If those terms are new to you, find someone in your network who understands the importance of the web.
54. Working in collaboration with your distributor, create video updates. Publish videos to YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other popular social networks. And don’t forget your email list!
55. Post your updates on Facebook and Twitter. If someone comments or shares your content, take the time to respond personally. Some of these people will become your biggest promoters.
56. Have adequate social share buttons on your website so people can quickly tell their friends about your movie. And once again, make it a goal to get new email subscribers.
57. Work with your distributor to further define your target audience and strategize ways to reach them. Your strategy may include adding more paid advertising or finding ways to promote your film for free.
58. Update your website to include links to every place people can find your film. If your film is screening in theaters or at live events, you will also want to update your site to reflect this.
59. At this stage of your film’s release, the purpose of your website is to get people to watch your movie trailer and click to wherever your movie is available. That said, you still want to get more email subscribers!
60. Do NOT rely solely on the distributor or sales agent to market your film long-term. These companies get your film into popular platforms. Once your film goes live, it is your responsibility to promote your movie.
61. Continue to mention the film at all events or public forums which you are attending. Anyone who expresses interest in your movie could potentially become a fan of your work for life. So treat everyone well.
62. If your film features “name actors” or people with large social media followings, get these people to promote your movie.
63. Stay in contact with your distributor or sales agent through the release of your film. Always ask them what YOU can do to make the experience a win-win. Assuming the experience is good, you can start talking about the possibility of working together on your next film.
64. As the months go on, start exploring options for your next project. Always maintain a long-term perspective. Given the resources you have right now, what is the movie you will make next year?
65. If you want to “level up” your filmmaking career, you need to do two things every day. You need to learn new stuff and meet new people.
If you like this film production checklist, please feel free to share it with every filmmaker you know. They will thank you for it.