The pre-production book (also known as the production book) is a fundamental tool for organizing virtually any shoot. Pre-pro books can be large, intimidating documents that often require years of experience and insight to understand how to build them from scratch.
...Unless you have a blueprint.
In this post, we’ll give you a free commercial pre-production book template and break down all your burning questions about pre-pro books: what is a production book, why do you need one, and how to write a production book for yourself.
But before we dive into the details, scroll down to check out our free pre-pro book template.
First thing’s first, take a second to download our free commercial pre-production book template.
This template will let you hit the ground running when it’s time to showcase your vision to the agency and client. But regardless of a template, you should know what’s inside. Below, we’ll show you how to build your own pre-production book example from scratch.
Let’s start with the production book basics:
On any given project, the production book is a group of essential film pre-production documents collected and organized into a single directory designed to act as an all-in-one resource. You can think of it as a production nerve center that contains every ounce of knowledge a producer needs to guide their crew from day one to wrap.
In other words, the pre-pro book’s a fat stack that holds all the facts, Jack.
Ridiculous rhymery aside, the production book really is a crucial resource, but not in the way you might expect. When it comes to pre-production book examples, their form is quite literally their function.
Let me explain.
If you check out any pre-pro book, you should notice right away that its construction is distinctly unlike that of most other production documents. Budget templates, creative treatment templates, call sheet templates, and templates for most other film pre-production documents are almost entirely focused on content.
But pre-pro book templates?
Pre-pro book templates should be focused on framing content.
That’s the key characteristic of a pre-production book. It’s not so much a document in and of itself as it is a framework for other documents. Pre-pro books offer an organization for your materials that, in turn, allows your production to proceed efficiently, proficiently, and without significant error.
If it helps, think of your pre-pro book like a bucket.
What’s most important about any bucket is actually the thing inside it, right? All the bucket really does is help you move the thing that you want to move.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t good and bad buckets.
Bad buckets leak. Bad buckets can have broken handles or be too big or too small or just, you know, pour funny.
The list goes on.
In any case, the point is that even though the contents of the bucket are far more important than the bucket itself, it won’t matter if you don’t have the right bucket for the job.
And the same goes for pre-pro books.
We’ll break down the shape and contents of a pre-production book in just a moment, but before we get there, let’s take a moment to step back and look at the big picture.
Fundamentally, any pre-production book example should be an organizational tool.
But there are plenty of organizational tools on an average production, right? What sets the pre-pro book apart from all the others?
Well, mostly the way it’s used.
Created in pre-production, its goal is to provide a smooth production process.
But to better illustrate, let’s break the pre-pro book’s purpose into four categories of function:
Yes, pre-pros are created in pre-production for your shoot days, but pre-pro books can be a useful guide through the pre-production process.
As a production team begins to put any project together, pre-production books can be used to accumulate and sort materials, acting as a kind of unofficial checklist for everything you need to get your production ready for principal photography.
You’ll populate your pre-production book with forms, documents, and other pre-production breakdown sheets over time. The overall effect should be one of gaining an increasingly detailed vision of your entire production within the pre-pro book’s digestible framework. This, in turn, should allow your team to troubleshoot a project’s logistical and financial weaknesses more easily.
You can also utilize your pre-pro book to streamline pre-production meetings (also known as PPMs, for those of you more acronymically inclined).
Poorly managed pre-production meetings notoriously tend to follow what I’ll politely call “the scenic route.” Making intentional use of your pre-production book to set a prioritized agenda, however, can put your next PPM on a direct path toward ideal efficiency.
A well-built pre-pro book is, perhaps more than anything, a tool for the smooth management of a production. Let’s illustrate how it works with an existential question:
Remember the last time you lost your keys?
Imagine you’re about to walk out of your house. As you go, you run through the mental checklist of everything you need to brave the outside world: sunglasses, wallet, shoes, pants- all good to go. As you open the front door, however, the light of that harsh, hot daylight exterior slaps you with sudden clarity. You realize you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient:
And that’s when the panic strikes.
You scramble back inside and tear your house apart from top to bottom, creating a mess that will take you months of interspersed cleaning and procrastinating to undo, only to realize that your keys were in your silly little hands the entire time and that you’re now twenty minutes late to wherever you were going.
The point of this traumatizing tale is that losing track of the little things can cost you mass quantities of time, stress, and- in the world of film production- money. And that’s exactly why pre-pro books are designed to help production teams keep track of everything they need with ease.
You probably won’t want to keep your keys in a pre-production book, but there are dozens of other documents that can come in handy in a pinch during a shoot.
For instance, Wardrobe is here with clothes that look nothing like what was talked about, changing the entire aesthetic, upsetting many, many people. Well, if it was in the pre-pro book, they, and you, would’ve had it for reference.
Or, maybe you had to replace a cast member because unfortunately they contracted the next variant of Covid. You can tell the new guy exactly where to be based on your talent schedule. Even more likely, your original star is messaging you wanting payment for all those days you promised them. But you know they’re pushing it a bit— they were only on the schedule for two days, not three as they claim. And how do you know this? Ah, because it’s in your handy-dandy pre-pro book!
Additionally, while there may never be an urgent need for the production department to pull out a creative treatment template or specific pre-production breakdown sheet, you might be legally required to produce items like a Los Angeles film permit or proof of your production insurance at a moment’s notice. These should be close by even if they don’t make it into your pre-pro. Many times, even if they’re just living on someone’s computer, they’re ready to be added to the overall wrap book that a PM, coordinator, or producer has already started working on mid-shoot. Other times, depending on the people, they might just add it to the pre-pro.
Pre-production books can be a critical communication tool when it comes to clients, agencies, and production companies. They allow production teams to pass along large swaths of information in a clean, well-organized way that enables outside entities to stay involved with a project while maintaining a professional distance.
This is particularly true when it comes to filmmaking within the commercial process.
In commercial production, pre-pro books come in many forms, but their basic function is considered a professional standard. Commercials require waves of client or agency approvals, meetings, and reviews, which makes clear communication a top priority for producers in the field.
In other words, if a particular spot has been nominated at the AICP Awards or made Wrapbook’s list of the best commercials of the year, you can bet that some kind of pre-production book played a role in its creation.
Finally, pre-production books can make your wrap process much, much easier.
A project’s production book is a prequel to its eventual wrap book. Their contents are so similar that you could more or less reverse engineer one from the other.
And this presents a major advantage to the savvy producer.
A well-kept pre-production book can be treated as a living document that will evolve over the course of a production’s life cycle. The production team can update paperwork, receipts, and other critical documents while a project is shooting.
In essence, a disciplined producer can use the creation of their pre-production book as a way to begin the wrap process long before cameras even begin to roll.
Now, with all that in mind, let’s dive into how you can start building your own.
The first step in how to make a production book for yourself is to simply decide what’s going to go inside. Pre-pro books are highly customizable, and their contents vary from project to project in accordance with each production’s individual set of needs.
Having said that, there are many standard sections and documents that you’d find within any average pre-production book.
Here’s a brief list of some items you may want to include for pre-production:
Now what’s below may be in a producer’s overall production book when they go to wrap, but may not be shared in this format early on. Key example, while transparency is best practice, you’ll likely find various parties opting out of sharing the budget in this setting. Not to mention, in the case of budgets specifically, you’re dealing with agency or client information, and most production companies are the ones responsible for creating this document. Again, the key purpose of this document is to navigate production and use it on set.
As a second example, storing every single cast and crew member’s NDA here, would bog down the book and its purpose on set. Every situation is different and some producers may opt for more documentation to be included here.
At the very least, these items will be securely stored in a wrap book once complete.
Again, it’s important to remember that pre-pro books are entirely customizable and the above is absolutely not an exhaustive list. You could include any number of creative treatment templates or pre-production breakdown sheets that are relevant to you and your specific production.
As a rule, if your production might need the document, it’s worth including in the pre-production book.
Once you’ve decided on the contents of your pre-production book, the next step is to customize the template to meet your needs.
Again, the pre-pro book is a fluid document that can be modified according to circumstance, but here are a few concepts you should consider when designing your own:
The structure of your pre-production book is arguably its most important feature.
In general, you’ll want to structure a pre-pro book the same way you’d organize a textbook: by grouping related topics within “chapters” that can be quickly referenced according to the table of contents.
But beyond that basic principle, it’s always important to consider ease of use. There will be documents that you’re more likely to need quick access to than others, and you’d be wise to place such documents in a prominent position.
It’s also important to be aware that many production companies have house styles of their production or wrap book. If you’re working for a production company on a freelance basis, always ask about formatting guidance early in the process.
After structure, a production book’s appearance is the next priority.
Pre-pro books are visual directories. As such, the visual impact of cover pages, section pages, and other organizational items are pivotal to the document’s clarity and, thus, its ease of use. In that way, it’s important to find a clean, clear visual identity for your pre-production book from even the most practical perspective.
Additionally, pre-production books (or their descendants, wrap books) will most likely be passed along to third parties in the form of clients, agencies, and production companies. A pre-pro book’s appearance can therefore impact your reputation as a professional.
In short, for so many reasons, no one likes a sloppy pre-pro book. Take the time to make yours look tidy.
Chances are high that you won’t be able to predict every single item that you’ll eventually need to include in your pre-production book. For that reason, it’s important that you design your pre-pro book to be able to expand to include new items without disrupting its overall organizational flow.
This is particularly important when negotiating the transition from digital to a physical pre-production book.
Today, pre-production books generally begin as structures within team file-sharing services like Dropbox. Because of the pre-pro book’s usage as a tool, however, a partial or entire physical copy will often still be required to manage critical documents on set.
If your pre-production book is not designed with flexibility in mind, the addition of unforeseen documents can quickly transform the pre-pro book into a chaotic, unwieldy method of organization.
As you collect documents throughout pre-production, your production book will organically take shape. If you’ve crafted a strong framework for the document beforehand, your pre-pro book will evolve into a powerful tool with little or no extra effort required.
Again, always remember that your pre-production book can be whatever you need it to be. Take the time to reflect on how the document might best serve your specific circumstances. Don’t forget to download our template to get yourself started.
If you’re interested in learning more about best practices in commercial production, check out our guide to acing the creative call or our deep dive into the relationship between transparency and creative in the commercial world.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.