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How shows get made

We’ve all watched movies and television shows before, but how do they get made? It starts with an idea and progresses through many stages until you are watching that movie, short film or television show wherever and whenever you watch.  The making of a motion picture is a complex collaboration on multiple levels.  From the spark of an idea through to the release of a film or television show, many different people and organizations come together to find a place of creative cooperation.

Both live action and animated productions follow a very similar phased process of creation, with different timelines.

Five phases of a film or TV show

A simplified version of the stages of the production process and basic business models (how the money gets made) are detailed below.

1. Development

The first phase of the process is called development. This involves the screenwriter and producer. The idea may be adapted from a previous work (a novel, a stage play, a comic book) or based on an original screenplay. In the case of unscripted formats such as documentaries, the idea and those people who appear on camera (experts, subjects) are considered during the development phase. In the development of animated shows, development will involve the early stages of character design (drawings which develop the appearance, poses and gestures of characters) and scriptwriting.

In addition to developing and writing the screen story, the development phase includes raising money to pay for the production stage of the feature or television show, one of the producer’s primary responsibilities. Money can be raised from the marketplace, primarily broadcasters, streaming platforms and film distributors. Money can also be raised through public support in the form of grants and tax credits. The money-raising process can take some time – years even – therefore, most producers work on several projects concurrently in order to ensure a pipeline of film and television projects.

2. Pre-Production

Once the money has been raised to produce the feature or television show, the team moves into a pre-production (also known as prep) phase which covers casting performers (except where star performers are secured through the development phase).   Depending on the size and complexity of the project, locations and the technical and creative preparation begins. The pre-production period phase can be several weeks or months long.  

For animated shows, pre-production involves design of characters, props and backgrounds and the voice record of the actors performing the voice of the animated characters.  These elements come together to create storyboards and the animatic. 

3. Production

Following pre-production, the production period begins. A production period can be a single day of production for a short film, or many months for a high budget drama series. Production is where the teams of skilled workers from craft, technical, logistics and management transform those screenwriters’ words into a fully realized screen story, as acted by performers.

The production phase of the project is when the greatest number of people are working on a project in a highly concentrated time period. The hours are long and the pressure to get each scene filmed makes for some challenging days at work.

For animated shows, production passes through four key phases: layout, paint, posing and animation.  Layout is the process of establishing each scene and assembling the characters, props and settings for each scene.  The paint phase involves filling in all the backgrounds per the design specifications.  Posing is the phase where individual drawings are put together in sequence.  Finally, the animation phase is where all of the drawings are sequenced to create the illusion of movement.

4. Post Production

During live action production, the post production process begins, with the director and editor working to build the story together. Post production also includes the process of layering in music, sound, colour, visual effects and subtitles for watching the show in other languages.

For animated shows, the post production process begins with editing,  followed by compositing, two dimensional effects, colour correction, post sound and final export.

5. Distribution

Once the film or television show completes its post production process, the project is ready for release to audiences through the sales and distribution process. To create interest, sometimes a film will premiere at a film festival to develop excitement for audiences and awareness of the film. Marketing managers may create buzz through publicity tours which create media exposure and cultivate fandom through social media and other platforms where fans hang out.

Most often, those partners who financially supported the project way back in the development phase will have some exclusive rights to show the film or television show during a fixed time period, known as a “first window”. Following that first window, sales and distribution agents will sell the project to TV channels, streaming services and other platforms where film and television projects are watched.

In the case of animated shows, whose production process enables translation into mulitple languages,  many are sold (and even pre-sold) into the global marketplace.

Did you know?

Depending on the script and the filmmakers’ vision, a production can range from ultra low budget to a very large budget.  How that film and television production is made and which audience it is intended for will determine how the project is financed, which is a major component of the business side of filmmaking. 

Learn more about Production

Learn about Live Action Productions
Shows that depict real people and places

Learn about Animated Productions
Shows created with drawings

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