December 2, 2015 at 9:49AM

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Pre-Viz Your Entire Film First?

Has anyone pre-vized their entire film first, shot by shot. Not just a scene, but the entire film?

I'm thinking of doing this (using iClone or ShotPro). I have access to talent that can do the voices and even amazing composers. This way, I can test the film out on the audience, make it better, build my fan base and get support before I've shot one frame. And the best thing is it'll cost next to nothing to do this.

It also helps me become a better screenwriter because I'm able to truly see what to cut and keep in the film.

Has anyone done something this before? Any tips?

10 Comments

There's a long history of storyboarding a film before shooting a frame. The storyboard is, effectively, the pre-viz of the film. Generally speaking, a storyboard is developed from the story (obviously).

It seems to me that the questions behind the question you are asking are (1) is it better/feasible to replace graphic art (which requires an artist to actually draw something) with a photograph that can function as a stand-in for the actual movie shot? and (2) is it better/feasible to simplify the task of writing by defining the film first in terms of its visual language and rhythm and then writing the script to match that language and rhythm (rather than working the other way around)?

Of course anything is possible, and its always the exception that proves the rule, but I would say that there's strong, strong evidence that the best movies come first from the best stories, then from the best scripts, then from the best acting, then from the best costume and sets and lighting and sound, then from the best camera work. To try to work backwards from "I got this in my camera, isn't it great!" to the script is really just an elaborate way to postpone the inevitable, which is to get the script right. The script is the key to defining how the actors act, how the sets should be constructed and lit, and how the camera should focus the viewer's attention as the story unfolds.

December 2, 2015 at 11:02AM

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Yeah, already have a great script. My question is, has anyone used pre-viz to work out problems that can only been seen by previsualizing it first? To tweak the story, to build a fan base and industry support, to cut costs by not using scenes/shots that will slow down production, etc.

December 2, 2015 at 2:06PM

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Jeff Rivera
Filmmaker | Storyteller
851

Well, here's an example of how the pros do it...they pre-viz using storyboards and fix the script when they see that the story doesn't/cann't work. This is a scene from Pixar's Toy Story that so didn't work, they changed the whole script.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOxJpGI8SWc

I think that answers the question about tweaking the story. If the PreViz art is good enough to attract fans, that's great. But how good does it have to be to raise money? And how much better does the movie have to be to be worth the money you tried to raise? It seems that for raising money, the industry tendency is to produce a sample of the intended whole (called a trailer) not a mockup of the whole in an entirely separate medium (a full-length PreViz). It's relatively easy for people to believe that if you can produce a good 5 minutes you can produce a good 50 or 125 minutes. I think it's a huge hurdle to get people to believe that the PreViz proves anything about your ability to make even 5 minutes of watchable footage (because stills and motion are such different animals).

December 2, 2015 at 2:57PM

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Thanks for your feedback, Michael.

December 2, 2015 at 3:58PM

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Jeff Rivera
Filmmaker | Storyteller
851

I worked on a children's tv series that did this. No story boarding. The experience was a good one but I suspect live action with actors you might be painting yourself into a corner.

December 4, 2015 at 3:08AM

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Mark Evans
director SthPacAnimators
93

I'd love to know more about your experience, Mark.

December 4, 2015 at 4:37AM

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Jeff Rivera
Filmmaker | Storyteller
851

Sorry to take so long getting back - I was out and about when I texted that in.
Basically we prevised the entire season of 22 eps. There was no storyboard artist only a couple of concept artists. The great thing was because it was animated the assets and rigs were able to be passed through to animation and and so on; our cameras were final cameras. So in this case there was a real benefit.
I also did previs for narnia and several other projects and the great thing about doing previs for live action is that your able to work out the onset logistics - that's why action sequences get done. Here you can put it to the stunt guys and cinematographers what they can get away with and how to pull it off. We can also cut a rough edit and identify what action is indispensable and what isn't working. It can really make for a tight sequence.
My point about painting yourself into a corner however is when your filming the drama a lot of the edit gets influenced by the performance of your actors. You would cut Anthony Hopkins differently than you would cut Clint Eastwood even if they had the same lines. Some directors even allow for a certain amount of ad-lib and create from there.
I believe that a script draws on the imagination from an actor where as a previs may start to influence, unless your previs artists are your actors I'm not sure you'd want to go there.
My experience of directors and project is that no two are the same - even if you brought together the same crew there is just a certain atmosphere that changes and gives a different result. I know that Kubrick was supposed to be obsessive about detail and Baz Luhrmann I can honestly say thinks about every frame. There is nothing wrong with that but I also think that to get the best out of people you want them to feel as they are invested in the project and that means they have a certain influence on the outcome. If you previs the hell out of everything and say 'do it like this', you might get something stale.
I had an interesting job on Narnia - Dawn Treader. The director Micheal Apted wanted to previs a part where Reepicheep dressed down Eustace. He felt it was important for character development and needed to sell it to producers as they were looking for cuts, and so a previs was done. So yes previs is useful for more than onset work too.
I think at the end of the day you need to explore and find a method that works for you and the people around you. The best thing to do is focus on the story and don't get locked into the means.
good luck with it all - love to see the previs when its done and how you felt it help the outcome

December 4, 2015 at 9:40PM

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Mark Evans
director SthPacAnimators
93

Thanks, Mark. That makes sense. I think if I allow my actors some leeway when they perform they won't feel too locked in but the pre-viz might be great for the other things I want to accomplish before I start shooting. I really appreciate you telling me your experience with it. :)

December 5, 2015 at 1:11PM

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Jeff Rivera
Filmmaker | Storyteller
851

Storyboarding is the single best visual planning tool a director could possible use. Especially, if you a new director with very little training and very little experience. However, it is better to hire a professional and preferably a board man who does 3D storyboards. It is not practical, nor financially feasible, to board the entire picture. It is best to do but a few sequences, or a total of two or three hundred shots.

www.filmspeakedu.com

December 4, 2015 at 8:01PM

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Gare Cline
Pre-visualization Artist
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Thanks, Gare!

December 5, 2015 at 1:11PM

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Jeff Rivera
Filmmaker | Storyteller
851

I'm totally with you on the pre-viz concept Jeff. It really gives you room to experiment with the clay before it hardens in production. I honestly think it would have rocked Hitchcock's socks off the ability to completely pre-visualize his scenes to such a degree as is possible in programs like Iclone. He seemed to consider the production aspect of making a movie more of a necessary evil and the creation of the story (including extensive storyboards) the fundamental element.

While I definitely agree with Mark on allowing actors freedom, I also find this interesting: Kuleshov devised an experiment to demonstrate that film editing can be far more powerful than an actor's performances. He put together a short movie in which an actor looked off screen at a bowl of soup and then at a little girl's coffin. The audience "raved about the acting," according to one observer, who was praised for his powerful expressions of hunger and of sorrow respectively. The upshot? Kuleshov used the exact same footage of the main character, only replacing the middle piece of film, the object of his gaze. He was directing, not the actor, but the audience's reaction.

Pre-vis enables you to think much more actively about the flow of your film, and I think brings you to the table far more prepared to bring your vision to life. You would only "paint yourself in a corner" if you became inflexible to the spontaneity of the moment while on set.

January 14, 2016 at 7:48PM

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Stephan Kielas
Film Student
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