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Cinematography: The Three Phases of Movie Making

With the winter weather setting in and cold and flu season in full force, movies are becoming a mainstay of entertainment during these cold, dark months. However, many people don't know how movies are made. Today's entry will attempt to dispel a bit of the mystery behind movie making by discussing the three phases of it -- especially the second phase, principal photography.


If you have ever lived in a major metropolitan area that is frequently used as an "on location" place for shooting movies or television shows, then you might be familiar with a phase of filming called "principal photography." For those of us who do not live near such a destination, today's entry will be a bit of "behind the scenes" for movie-making. Movies are produced in three distinct phases.


The first phase is called "pre-production" and is where the roles are cast, the screenplay is finalized, the shots are planned, and the money is promised. Pre-production occurs after a movie idea has been given the "green light" by the studio. This is also the phase that many movies never come out of.

Principal Photography
The next phase is the topic of today's entry: principal photography. This is the phase that involves actively shooting the scenes in the script. Actors are taken to the set or on location and video cameras, camera crews, sound crews, and a plethora of other studio hands are there to see that the project moves on smoothly. If you should ever happen to find yourself in a major city like New York, Montreal, Toronto, or Seattle and happen to see a street where a lane or sidewalk is taken up with movie cameras, microphones, and other filming equipment, chances are you're seeing principal photography in action. Principal photography is the most expensive and the most intense part of movie-making. Why is it called principal photography? The term principal photography refers to the fact that this is the part of the process where filming or photography is of the most importance. There may have been some preliminary shoots during pre-production to test new camera set-ups, lighting techniques, or perspective tricks but those will generally not be shown in the film. The scenes shot during principal photography are the scenes that will make up the movie. Therefore, principal photography will often not begin until the director and the cinematographer both know how to achieve any special effects they want to achieve during this phase or if those effects must be edited in during post-production.

Once principal photography is finished or "wrapped," the film goes into post-production where the edits are made, scenes are cut if needed, and there may be an occasional need to re-shoot a scene. Post-production can often take longer than principal photography since this phase is where music and soundtracks are added and the film itself is processed and color correction can be applied. -- da Bird
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