How to write a good film brief
A still from 'A bit of fun' directed by Adam Brichto
25 May 2016
Adam Brichto

The very earliest stage of film production, the writing of the client brief, is where inexperienced film commissioners so often go wrong. And although this may not appear at first to be a crucial stage of the process, it usually leads to a lot of time being wasted and a worse film at the end of it.

The main problem we find that clients encounter when communicating a brief is they unconsciously assume the filmmaker understands their organisation and motives. As a result, they don’t spend enough time explaining the bare basics of the project.

They may even compound matters by explaining that their decision will be based on the “creative responses” of their potential suppliers. But as this quote from TS Eliot makes clear, it’s almost impossible for a “creative” to come up with strong ideas without knowing the boundaries they need to work within.


When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”

How to get it right…

The good news is that there is a framework to getting it right, and it simply involves covering the following key points.

Most important things to kick off with are the following (you’ll be surprised how often clients miss one or two of these out):

CONTENT – What is the film about?

AUDIENCE – Who do you want to watch it?

PURPOSE – What’s the point? What do you want the film to achieve?

In some instances, these might be the only three questions you need to answer in order to kick off a conversation that will allow for an informal back and forth of ideas with the filmmaker. However, if you have a clearer idea of what you are looking for, then you may also want to provide the following:

REFERENCES – Are there one or two examples of existing films to draw inspiration from?

VOICE – Have you thought about how you’d like the message to be communicated? Voiceover? Presenter? Talking Heads?

KEY MESSAGES – What are all the basic points you need to get across? And what is the take-home message?

IMAGERY – How would you like to illustrate the messages? Animation? People in action? Places? Photos?

One thing to mention though is that the more information a filmmaker receives, the better. But even though you may be pretty sure you know exactly what you want, it’s worth being flexible and accepting that your ideas might be a good starting point but shouldn’t be thought of as absolute. There’s a chance that something bigger, and more exciting, may come out of the process.