There is a lot to work through on a TV show or film. The concept has to be strong, your characters all solid and in place, the rules of the world locked and the format of the show nailed. These are fundamentals. You do not proceed into production until you have these things all fixed and agreed.

But with production looming and deadlines fast approaching, sometimes you just have to get moving. So out of these fundamentals, which ones can you afford to work out as you go along if things get tight? Which one can you let slip and work out in the episodes themselves?

The answer across the board here is: None of them! Work out what your show is!

Seriously, these things are absolutely essential to the health of your show. Yes, there are details that will get fleshed out as the series builds, some elements might change as you realise that there are strengths you hadn’t previously identified. But you have to know exactly what your show is when you go into production. You must have the format locked, the characters all worked out and fleshed out, the relationships clear, the world shaped and consistent.

Without those, you’re basically playing out your development process on screen. That is not a good idea.

Some things you can’t afford to figure out later. Decide on the fundamentals before you start.

To writers:

The script is everything. It is what sets down the entire story. If it’s not great on the page, it won’t be great in the final work. You have to make sure everything works, is as strong as can be and that the storytelling is clear and impactful. It all comes down to the script so never let a script go that isn’t 100% ready yet.

Remember: the script is everything.

To storyboarders:

The script isn’t everything. It’s merely the start of the process. The visual storytelling is where a story is really told. The storyboard is everything. Nobody can make a good show from a bad board. So you have to make sure everything works, is as strong as can be and that the storytelling is clear and impactful. It all comes down to the storyboard so never let a board go that isn’t 100% ready yet.

Remember: the storyboard is everything.

To animators:

The storyboard isn’t everything. It’s a working, evolving document of the storytelling intention. The scenes are where the story is really told. The animation is everything. Your shots are what will make it up on screen. So you have to make sure everything works, is as strong as can be and that the storytelling is clear and impactful. It all comes down to the animation so never let a scene go that isn’t 100% ready yet.

Remember: the animation is everything.

Feel free to insert your own role in any of these stages. Everything you do has to be the best it can be.

Evaluating your own work and fixing it is REALLY hard. You’ll see things in the work of others that you will have a very hard time seeing in your own work. Your brain will be desperate to convince you that the problems in your work aren’t problems at all. You’ll often come away having no idea whether what you’ve done is good or not.

Why? A whole bunch of reasons but it is all tied into the fact that you are too close to your work. You immerse yourself in it, you give it your all and then you find it harder to see the larger view. And most of all, your brain goes into resistance mode. You might not even be that type of person but your brain will still try to protect you and the work you have done and that can make you blind to things that need fixing.

So what do you do? The first thing is to try to bring in someone else to edit and give notes. But if you can’t do that, if you really have to edit on your own, try to get some distance and then split the process into very separate tasks:

Step 1 – make notes. Do NOT attempt to fix anything. Do not even consider fixing anything. You NEVER have to fix any of this stuff. The only goal is to make notes – what doesn’t work, what needs clarification, tightening, amending. Simple quick notes. The trick here is that if you completely disassociate this from the act of having to fix these things, you’ll be more honest. Your brain will not go into resistance mode quite so much and so it’s like evaluating the work of someone else.

The moment you try to fix something in this stage, your brain will go into lockdown and try to protect you from the hard work of rewrites or re-editing. Don’t do it – you’re only making notes and, when that stage is done, you’re going to let it sit so you don’t have to worry about actually fixing anything. Just make those notes.

Step 2 – Let it settle. Give it some time.

Step 3 – Evaluate the notes and make plans to address them. Again, do NOT go in and do the fixes here. This is a PLANNING stage. Effectively it’s like giving someone suggestions: how about you do it this way instead? Like the first stage, if you get stuck into the work directly your brain will resist and try to save you work by convincing you some things are okay or trying to give you easy yet half-baked solves. You’re just jotting down some plans. You don’t need to consider ever carrying them out.

Step 4 – You’ve got your plans now. You know exactly what you’re doing, right? Hey, the hard work is over. All you have to do now is stick to the plans and do what your past self told you to do. It will take a bit of time but it’s just in the doing now. So work your way through your fixes, follow your plans and implement them as best you can.

Step 5 – Enjoy your good work. You did it.

I find it is still always helpful to get an outside view but being able to have some sense of your own work is a crucial skill. So split it up into tasks and it gives you the best chance of doing a great edit without your brain ruining things by trying to protect you.

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