How To Prepare for Your Commercial Photo or Video Shoot — 10 Things Clients Expect In Your Production Notebook

One golden rule to a great photoshoot is to start with great production. A smooth production puts everyone and everything in the right place for the shoot to succeed long before the shutter button gets pressed. That said, I have some of the best producers in the biz on staff. And here, Megan outlines one essential to every commercial production – the production notebook. Use this info to help make your next production run smooth like butta’… Take it away, Meg.
Hello peeps, Megan here, producer for Chase. We’re gearing up for a several big international jobs, so as I’m booking travel and working with a local producer on locations + permits, I’m also putting the Production Book together. This is critical information that all professional production houses put together and it’s something clients and agencies expect from you on any large-scale shoot. Think of it as a one-stop shop for all pertinent details. It can be distributed to all parties via email prior to the shoot, and a printed copy should accompany you to set. Not only does it help make you look super professional, it just might be the most practical thing you carry (aside from your camera, of course).

You don’t need special software; start with a Word or Pages doc. Just keep an eye on formatting. It should be clean, easy to read and align with your brand. Once it’s complete, save a template you can always use to generate this doc for your next shoot, then output a PDF for the production crew and send it out!

Here’s a basic list of things to include (as applicable):

1. cover sheet: a nicely laid out page that identifies the client, the production company and/or the photographer
_client + photographer logos
_name of job

2. contact info: detail the names, titles, phone numbers + email address of all associated parties

3. shot list / creative: detailed shot list and/or photo references
_wardrobe/prop specs
_art direction

4. travel itineraries: who’s going where and when?
_confirmation numbers

5. accommodations: where is everyone staying? 
_check in/out dates
_directions to/from airport
_meeting room location + details

6. location info: every shoot happens somewhere, whether it’s at your studio or the Mojave desert
_contact info (i.e. site rep)
_certificates of insurance for each
_permit info
_copy of permits
_contact info for city or governing agency (i.e. FilmLA)

7. talent: actors, models, friends, guy you scouted on the subway
_contact info
_agency info
_call times

8. vendors: a list of any and all 3rd party resources involved in the shoot
_visa/Carnet confirmations
_equipment rentals
_ground transpo

9. shooting schedule: what does each day look like?
_call times
_wrap times
_travel to/from locations
_HMU + wardrobe prep
_lunch + breaks
_shot breakdown

10. production calendar: all pertinent deadlines should be identified here
_pre-production hot items (i.e. location + talent selection due dates, permit approval process, etc.)
_shooting window
_post-production requirements (i.e. number of rounds to client, amount of time allotted for feedback, proofing, due date of final images, etc.)

There you have it! Start with these categories as a template, and add or subtract as needed. May seem kind of tedious as you’re doing it, but I promise you, it’s so worth it. Until next time! Stay tuned for some behind-the-scenes goodness from our shoots, trips, and travels! -Megan the Producer

34 Responses to How To Prepare for Your Commercial Photo or Video Shoot — 10 Things Clients Expect In Your Production Notebook

  1. erika December 20, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    good info Meg! i’m going to keep this check list in the back of the book as well :)

  2. Bluestill December 20, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Thank you for providing this information. It is amazing the things that we sometimes know we should have that just totally slip our busy minds. This list really injuvenated my thought process and I enjoyed veiwing it.

  3. Myles December 20, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    I take my hat off to producers who get it all together and make everything run smoothly. Quite a job. Some people have a nose for it.

  4. James December 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    Every time I’ve ever worked with a shot list for a commercial job, the ad agency developed it, not me. Does this only apply for work contracted directly between the photographer/their agent and company?

    • Megan December 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      Hi James,

      The creative can come from the client, ad agency or photographer/director, depending on the scope of the project. Regardless of who generates the shot list, it’s a good idea to include it as part of the production book so everyone’s on the same page on shoot day.

  5. adrián R. December 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    I love your tips about production. This post go to favorites. Thanks!

  6. Dan December 20, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Thanks for the info, Meg!

  7. Christy Harper December 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    Chase and Megan,
    Thanks! This is so awesome :)

  8. Michael Schulz December 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Good info as always. Thanks for sharing. One thing I learned on top of all this: when ever you can, hire a producer! Find someone who does this stuff in their sleep and you will actually get some (sleep that is :) ).


  9. Chad E Currie December 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    I started doing these before anyone ever told me about using them for photographers, I had seen them used for video productions though. I thought the whole idea was great and the few clients (I’m still a student and working on building my name) that I’ve had, LOVED them. It made them feel like the whole production was well organized and it helped keep me on track too. Another thing I like to do is to have a loose timeline for the whole shoot on my iPad with sound reminders. For big productions it helps keep the whole thing on track and made the clients feel like there wasn’t any time wasted, time wasted is money wasted.

    • Tim Roper December 20, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      That sound reminder’s a great idea. Sort of like having a virtual Assistant Director keeping you on schedule.

  10. Venus Hicks December 20, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Thank you for this information guys need it to start my business. I need a new. Digital camera first,&back drops.

  11. Greg Folkins December 20, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    This is great info. Thanks for sharing. Hope I can return the favor.

  12. Juan Rubalcava December 20, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    super useful! thanks for sharing!

  13. faisal December 21, 2012 at 5:53 am #

    Another one of those awesome list posts, thanks ;-)

  14. Rob December 21, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    Great overview, just a quick thought on a great list. Local emergency contact and location for hospitals etc. is good item to identify in case of emergency.

    • Megan December 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

      Doh! Nice catch, Rob. Address + phone number for local hospital is a definite add.

  15. Michel December 21, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Thanks Excellent info!

  16. Radoslaw Komuda January 13, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    Though I love all of your BTS videos and posts, this has to be one of my favorites! Great job, Megan. Not only a great handout for a proper photo session but also – for any other project.
    I am sooo impressed with this one that if you knew how impressed I am with it you’d say: “God, he sure is sooo impressed!”. :)

  17. Jesus Hidalgo January 21, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    This is a great starting point/guideline to follow. Thank you so much for putting the time to share and spread the knowledge with all of us, I greatly appreciate it!

  18. Joshua Gray January 22, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Thank you so much! Love the inside tips on production! Just put together my production notebook for a video shoot in Dallas. Its extremely helpful to see how you guys do work when travel is involved! appreciate it!

  19. Dean March 6, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    Depending on the type of client I’ll setup a shared Dropbox or use Evernote. The great thing about Evernote is that you can grab setup shots and handwritten notes with your iphone the find them later. I normally have someone who will organize the production but I’m very involved.
    Thanks for posting this it’s great info.

  20. Tyler April 15, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Chase- Love the post. I run a vacation rental company here in Aspen/Snowmass. If you guys need a place to stay let me know. Love what you’re doing and always more than happy to work with you in ways of accommodations if needed. Let me know

  21. Jack April 18, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    Hey Meg,

    Great list gonna save this will be very handy when i get into the big wide world. Could i get your second name so i can quote this in my university work.

    Regards, Jack

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  23. Video Production Providence RI December 29, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Very good tips! I do a lot of video production work in the Providence, Rhode Island area and one thing that my clients truly appreciate is my ability to bring very creative ideas to them with a full game plan and strategy on how everything will be completed. They also enjoy being kept in the loop every step of the way, so I would highly recommend a bit of “hand holding” throughout the production process.

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