Productions culminate in a shoot — a shoot results in the assets. Assets are delivered and badabing-badaboom a job well done. Professional photography in a nutshell, albeit oversimplified by a thousand degrees. Along the way are people, tools, and a ton of work. Amongst the must-have tools is the Production Book, a consolidated document of all production elements. If your shoot were a play, your PB would be its script. If a meal, the PB would be its recipe. If an IKEA dresser, the PB its instructions (but better).
What is a Production Book?
A Production Book, a Pre-Production Deck, a Shoot Deck — to borrow from the bard, “what’s in a name?” A Production Book by any other name would smell just as essential to a successful shoot. Called by many names, this document is a vital tool to manage pre-production leading up to a shoot; and, from there, help bring it home on the day of.
Why do you need a Production Book?
You wouldn’t go into battle without a game plan, would you? The Production Book is your game plan and serves a purpose at every stage of production. It starts as a workbook as you list out all that may be needed; this in and of itself is an exercise to determine what exactly is required. Think of this as your pre-production outline. Often in building out my PB’s skeleton, I’ll realize elements I may have missed (i.e., wait, if there’s talent, have we thought of wardrobe/grooming?). From there, and as production progresses, you start populating the PB (i.e., Locations determined? Great, put it in). It can also serve as an accessible communication and shared working tool. I often create mine in Google Slides or iCloud’s Keynote, allowing for collaboration, my team can view/comment in real-time. Stylists can reference casting progress, perhaps even comment, etc. This route can also save you from sending out versions upon versions. This book serves as the meeting script during your final pre-pro call when each item is reviewed together and confirmed. And finally, on set, it becomes the play-by-play for your team as well as the client. Your stylist uses it to confirm each approved look, the corresponding talent/location, and order in the schedule. Your client will also be able to refer back to creative references and follow along.
Who is a Production Book for and who makes it?
It is often the responsibility of the producer (or photographer serving as their own producer, as is the case when you get started) as they bring the production’s elements together. A complete book equals a complete pre-production. While the producer manages the book, the content comes from various team members, i.e., the wardrobe stylist’s mood board and pulls or mock-ups from the art director. The PB is a culmination of other docs/all the work done. As mentioned, all will find it helpful on shoot day, so make sure to have enough hard copies on hand.
The Production Book’s Breakdown:
It is worth noting no two PB’s are the same, just as no two productions are the same. Every producer, photographer, or agency producer will have their own approach to the PB – likely honed through experience and adjusted to suit their needs and preferences. Each PB will also differ based on the particular shoot, tailored to the elements in play. Your starting point is a Production Book template, which I encourage all photogs and producers to build. The template can list all that could be pertinent. In each instance, you will be adding/removing, and molding the PB to serve the specific shoot. For example, I didn’t have a template page on the sun’s tracking across the Scarborough Bluffs until I needed a page on the sun’s tracking. With that said, I’ve broken down a few pages or sections often included and in order.
Section 1: Teams
This is the who’s who on your production. Think of this as the informal call sheet — without contact details but a glance at the players. After all, every book starts with the author page. This includes Client + Agency + Production (Bonus tip, if you can source and include the client or agency’s logos, it’ll be a nice professional touch. Just make sure you have the correct logo!).
Section 2: Creative
These few pages at the start serve as the creative recap with all pertinent references which may be needed on set. This is often lifted from agency/your creative deck but perhaps simplified or condensed.
Section 3: Overview Schedule
The bigger picture, apart from the shoot day schedule, includes post and delivery dates. This page is most helpful for commercial productions where/when multiple teams are juggling many pieces. i.e., your shoot is but one of a more extensive campaign, so you’re highlighting where this fits in.
Section 4: Shot List
I often list this ahead of production elements. That way, we know what we’re after as we look over those elements. Consider your naming of the shots, which you can then list alongside production elements. For example, you can list “Shot One x Jeep Cherokee” alongside the model and location on their respective pages. Bonus tip: If each shot is very unique, I like to create a page per shot cheat sheet with its elements all gathered together.
Section 5: Production Elements (to name a few, a page each, or more depending on their numbers)
- Wardrobe + HMU
Section 6: Shoot Day Schedule(s)
It may seem overwhelming; after all, it’s all the planning work in one place. Just remember it comes together piece by piece during pre-production and with all participating. If done right, it’s not ‘extra work’ as much as managing the elements as they land, and all together serving as the playbook for a smooth and successful shoot.
About the Author
Setareh is a professional photographer and a Producer at the production agency Wonderful Machine. You can see more of her work on her website and Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.