Expert Advice: Production Books

Apr 3, 2013
Expert Advice

In an earlier post, Production: Kwikset Shoot with Clark Vandergrift, I touched on the importance of a production book for a large scale shoot. Typically reserved for advertising productions, or production-intensive editorial shoots, these books provide an essential, consolidated resource for all the pertinent production and contact information. Over the years, I’ve honed my production books into a concise template that’s quickly customizable from one shoot to the next.

Every photographer, producer and studio manager has a slightly different approach to production books. Overwhelmingly common is the standard Microsoft Word document, most often containing pertinent contact information for crew, client and vendors, call times, call location(s), and directions to/between locations. Some agencies or clients will want to see more. Depending on the production, it may also be necessary to include shot lists, comps, layouts, talent, props, wardrobe, location images, weather forecasts, detailed shoot schedules and production calendars.

I default to a Wonderful Machine branded production template that is a bit heavier on the design and generally includes more info than is necessary. It’s my routine, and it ensures that every client I work with gets exactly what they need, or more. This is my default, though occasionally, I will put together a much more streamlined and simple book. Depending on your technical skill set, Keynote, Powerpoint or InDesign are all great tools for generating production books.

Here’s what I typically include in my production books:

Cover Page: The cover page should include the major players involved in the production: Client, Agency, Photographer. I also include the “name” of the project along with shoot dates. I usually source logos from the web (rather than bugging the agency for them) and am always sure to double check that I’m using the most current logo available for each party. Lastly, photographer Pete Barrett taught me a trick a few years back to help differentiate between draft and final production books: Red dots labeled “working, date” indicate a working version, Green dots labeled “final” indicate the final version. Genius.

Contact Info: The contact info page includes relevant contact information for everyone who will be present on the shoot, and sometimes, a few additional clients who are important to the process, but can’t make the shoot. Frequently, the agency will not supply the contact info for the client(s), but merely names and titles (this keeps the riffraff from harassing the clients and ensures that any correspondence with the client is funneled through the appropriate agency representative). Unless I have plenty of room, I won’t include office numbers or addresses. Name, role, cell and email is all that you would tend to need while on a shoot.

Calendar: Rarely, I will have the luxury of including a production calendar which details award dates, wardrobe, location, prop, talent spec due dates, casting, scouting, shopping windows, approval deadlines, pre-pro meetings, walk-through, shoot dates, image delivery deadlines and various artwork/insertion deadlines. The easiest way to pull a calendar together is to use your computer’s built-in calendar software (or a free site, such as Google Calendar) to create a new calendar, input all of the important events and export that calendar month as a PDF. I use iCal; it’s extremely easy to use and export.

Schedules and Locations: I usually incorporate the locations and shoot day schedules on the same page. At a glance, the crew, talent, agency and clients can see where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there and for how long. When shooting outside or in a location with risky weather that may delay travel times, it’s a good idea to include the forecast. This should be among the last updates you make to the book before sending it out.

Shot List, Styling, Locations, Talent, Comps: In the Kwikset case, we had a very well-defined and limited shot list. We knew which talent we would be shooting, at which location and with which props and products. This allowed me to compile reference guides featuring all of the involved elements for each shot. However, it’s not often the case that shoots are so well defined. Normally, this section consists of broad strokes: comps and/or mood boards on one page, a shot list on the next and summaries of the chosen talent, locations, props and wardrobe to finish out the book.

A word of caution: When incorporating maps, imagery or other reference materials, keep in mind that some of those material may be copyrighted. This can become an issue if you’re getting materials printed at locations like Kinkos, who request releases/permissions to make copies of copyrighted materials—including Google Maps images. (If you’ve run into this specific issue before, you can get permission to reproduce Google Maps here).

With all of the elements in place, I will then optimize the document to ensure it’s small enough to send via email and fire it off to the photographer for review. After the photographer approves, I’ll submit the production book to my agency contact. There will usually be a handful of revisions or last minute additions before I mark the document as “Final.” Once it’s got the green dot, I’ll pass the updated production book along to my crew and my counterpart at the agency to share to their team and the client.

Click here to download the Kwikset production book for review.