The difference between Development and Pre-Production

Acquiring the seed and a spot to plant it in, that is development.  Planting the seed, that is pre-production.  When it finally bears fruit, then you have a film. – Ptara

Once again, techies have been spreading misinformation on how a film is made. Just because you helped design a cool piece of software doesn’t mean you know everything, and one thing they especially seem to get wrong is the difference between development and pre-production.

The main problem is that most of them don’t seem to think that there is a difference, or they think that development is part of pre-production.  (Hint: I highly recommend Micheal Wohl\’s course on how to use Final Cut Pro X, although I take issue with some of his workflow advice, and also recommend his course on Apple Motion.  However, steer clear of his course on Production, it\’s very badly researched and poorly prepared.)

Production, in techie speak, means “principal photography”, and using simple “logic” everything that happens before that is pre, and everything after that is post.

However, the English language isn’t like that. A red cardinal is a bird, not a kind of officer in religion.  And, with film, it’s even more like that, words aren’t what they seem.

Principal photography is pretty much what you do when the cameras are on the set or on location. (although it doesn’t always include reshoots.)  That’s easy.

Post-production is what you do with the material that the cameras, sound people, and other recording artists captured on the set or on location. This can include lion roars captured at the zoo for special effects. However, some of these effects could be recorded before the cameras were built. Still, it\’s called post-production to simplify the way a film budget works.

The difference between pre-production and development is so simple that it is deceptive. I tried to explain it with analogies, but I’ll try one anyway.

Let’s say you have a sporting contest, a game between your team and another. The practice for that game is pre-production. The preparation of the stadium is pre-production. Most of what you do getting ready for the game as a team is pre-production, and not development. The game itself is principal photography.

(You might say the game is the cinema showing the movie, but that’s the video compilation of all your games that you watch afterward when you’re getting nostalgic.  The game is principal photography, it’s what your cast and crew prepare for.)

So, where does development come into it? that’s when you try and get a coach, and lobby the local council or parents to put in money so you can build a team in the first place. Development is when you don’t know that the game will happen.

Education, or training, is when you practice your skills not knowing whether any game will happen, or which game will happen when.

The key difference is commitment. If one person is fully committed to the project, putting in money, time and resources and determined to make it happen, you’re in development. If no one is fully committed, you just have an idea.

If you have enough resources (usually money) to begin practice because you know (and everyone else knows) that the project will happen, then you’re in pre-production.

“Usually” money is what makes a project a go. In the simplest production, everyone gets paid, all locations and materials are available for a price, and all the money is in place before shooting starts.

Sometimes, the money might not be in place, and an actor agrees to work for deferred payment, a location is available in exchange for a favor, or the producer just hopes to come up with the money for distribution later.

Just because the money is in place, that doesn’t mean that you’re ready to shoot. The actors still may have to learn their lines, the sets still need to be confirmed, contracts may still need to be signed, and you might not have even hired some people yet. This is pre-production, preparation done before principal photography but after the resources (money) are in place.

I don’t use words like “may” to sound unsure, it’s because there is no task that’s always pre-production and no task that’s always development. (Except, perhaps, raising the money, which is considered development.)

If you do the storyboard to decide what you need before you budget and raise the money, then your storyboard was part of development. If you only do the storyboard after the budget has been raised, and have only allocated some miscellaneous expenses for any unforeseen ideas that might be created in the storyboard phase, then the storyboard is part of pre-production.

The question to ask is “do you have the money or are you still looking for money?”

If you’re still looking for money, your film is in development. If you’re not looking for money to be committed to the project (or things of monetary value to be committed), then you’re not in development.

So, technically, a screenplay could be written in pre-production, or even during principal photography.