Pre-Production Begins on “Inspiration”

 By Ruth Witteried

Director Chris Alley at desk

Director Chris Alley on set

FiLMLaB has begun pre-production on Barbara Thomas’s winning short, INSPIRATION. Director Christopher Alley is working out the final script details with the writer and executive producers; scouting locations for the shoot, casting the roles and lining up a professional crew.

To give you a sense of scope, let’s take a look at shooting day on the set of last year’s winner, ALIS VOLAT PROPRIIS.


Eric, Emily & Randall

Production Designer Emily Wahl, Cinematographer Eric Macey and Randall Jahnson on set

First, there’s the location. How many and what kinds of locations are required? Are they interior or exterior? Can space be borrowed, rented or otherwise utilized for the necessary hours to set up and film? Haley Isleib, our 2012 winner, happened to know someone with an empty house available to us for a full week, an unbelievably lucky circumstance. This allowed the set designer to work undisturbed on creating just the right tone and atmosphere necessary for the film.


Books, globe, propsHow many actors are needed? Do you audition the roles in an all out casting call, or put the word out to a few select, known actors you can rely on? Will you need a script manager to track dialogue during the shoot and keep the actors and director on the same page? Who will do their make-up and wardrobe? Who will light them in a way that will support the character and the subtext the actor brings to the role?  Who will light the rooms to accentuate the mood the writer and director are trying to convey? Are there exterior light sources to be controlled?



Sound Mixer, Brian Mazzola

Are there exterior sounds to be controlled; barking dogs, sirens, a frat party that will not shut down? Last year, we had people across the street restoring a classic car, which everyone knows you cannot do without a bitchin’ back beat! But it was intruding on the interior set. Emissaries were sent with no result,  the men coming back empty handed until I went over with the lovely Brynn Baron to mount a major charm offensive. We asked about their car (my Dad had an old T-Bird!), their lovely garden (how do you keep those tropicals alive in this climate!) and, eventually, told them about our little project in the house across the street. That, coupled with some  donuts and soda from the cooler, gained their cooperation.

And you wondered what producers did all day!

Still more needs to be considered. Who can man the cameras, act as cinematographer and assistant director? Are special licenses required to shut down a street so you can get that amazing shot? What kind of props are needed to fill out the set? Is there time to do an original musical score, or at least start it in pre-production, or do you try to secure copyrights to existing music, knowing it can take weeks?

Who will feed your cast and crew? How many meals are required is based largely on how long the shoot is. Are there dietary restrictions to consider?

And lastly, who will keep those camp chairs from blowing away?

Ruth at work with crew

Ruth Witteried doing producer stuff with assistant camermen Roberto Gongora and Paulius Kontijevas

Pre-production is a myriad of details that need to be worked out collaboratively long before the actors show up. It’s similar to taking a family of sixteen camping. If all you do is pile everyone in the car and start driving, you are in for a miserable experience that no one will ever want to share with you. With proper planning and task assignment, however, it could be the highlight of your year. Those of us involved in FiLMLaB ‘s production are going to do everything we can to make this an amazing adventure for Barbara Thomas and a highlight of the 2013 Willamette Writers Conference. We hope you’ll join us in our journey this year and in years to come.


Ruth Witteried is Film Coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference and Executive Producer of last year’s winning short, “Alis Volat Propriis”. She teaches Introduction to Screenwriting at Clark College in Vancouver, WA. You can follow her on Facebook at SitYourAssDown, or on Twitter @sityourassdown1.


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