Planning is everything in Film

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

One of the things my students have heard from me over the years is the idea of being a time traveler. Not in the sense of creative writing or anything like that. But the idea that wouldn't it be nice to go back in time to fix a mistake? Or to right a wrong?

I use it in the idea of planning out your shot. The creator must plan out EVERYTHING that the scene is calling for. If it moves in the scene, the creator can animate it to see their vision before even doing a single shot. Any performance, we must do.

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It is not enough that the creator must produce a believable performance. An actor studies the scenes, knows his character in and out and then, after getting some excellent direction, reacts to what happens in the scene. An animator must do that also. Well, except the reacting part.

When an actor performs, they think in the moment and express the lines. They do not have to think what goes into an embarrassed look. They simply perform it. A director must know every little nuance of what each muscle in the face does to create that look. What do the shoulders do? Do the knees buckle? Where do the arms go?

Every. Little. Stinking. Thing.

That is why planning is super important. If the director does not go through each idea thoroughly, knowing what their character does at each moment before filming, they are going to fail. They want to start drawing or moving pixels on the computer as soon as possible! But then, they get a few days into the work and they are lost. Wait, now what does the character do?

They did not plan out enough…

Don't you wish you could go back in time and do better planning??

That is the idea of being a time traveler. If you think you have done enough planning, imagine that you have started working on your project and then became too impatient and want to DO the work. Act like you did not do enough planning, go back in time, and then DO it.

I plan a TON for each project I work on. Character bibles, look books, research, what-ifs…you name it.

One series project was particularly intense. I knew what each season was going to be. What each arc of the shows and characters were. There was a TON of research I did for the tech and possibilities. My main character's bible was nearly 30 pages - He was born at 8 lbs. 4 ounces - I kid you not!

After a ton of research and planning, I went to work to write the pilot script. I FLEW on the first day. I wrote 12 pages non-stop. The dialog was flowing because the characters were talking - I was not writing it. I was on fire.

But then…the story shifted ever so slightly. A character was accused of murder and he needed to talk to an attorney. An attorney that I DID NOT DO ANY RESEARCH ON.

My writing SCREECHED to a halt. I could not go any further. Not a single word was typed after that until I did my research on who that character was.

Boy, do I wish I could have gone back in time to make sure that did not happen.

It was months before I wrote on that series again. I had SO much momentum but the lack of planning stopped it cold.

Until the real time traveling is invented, it is always best to plan out as much as you can. It pays off eventually.

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