An Essential Tool to Run an Efficient Film Shoot

So who shows up when with what where and why...? Just check your call sheet!

 

“Creating a call sheet forces you to plan the whole day and ensure nothing is forgotten.”

Lights Film School recently sat down with the folks at StudioBinder, an innovative new tool designed to streamline production by simplifying call sheets.

We’re big fans of effective shoot preparation and management here at Lights, so we were curious to learn more about their solution and how it might aid indie filmmakers gearing up to make their movies.

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Hello, StudioBinder team! Thanks for joining us for this interview. To preface, let’s explore what, precisely, a call sheet is. How does it work? What production details does it cover?

A call sheet compiles all the necessary information for the shoot day. A call sheet is essentially the agenda for the day.

It contains details about everyone’s call times, where to park, nearest hospitals, walkie channels, company moves, props, vendors, cast names on set, what scenes will be shot and in what order.

Without a call sheet, no one would know where and at what time they’re supposed to meet on set, or what is expected to be shot on that given day. It also provides all departments with the high level information that is needed to keep the day moving towards a successful completion. Otherwise, an unending stream of questions could bring the day to a halt.

Typically, who is in charge of creating the call sheet, and when is it distributed to the team? What if something changes during the day?

Depending on the scope of the production, the call sheet can be created and distributed by the 2nd AD, 1st AD or someone in the production unit, such as a Producer or Production Coordinator.

Call sheets are exported as PDFs and delivered 12-hours before the general call time for the shoot day.

If something on the call sheet needs to be updated, a new version can be created and sent to everyone. Just be cautious about sending too many revisions as it can cause confusion. Major changes like call times and location changes require getting confirmation from everyone on the crew so they don’t show up at the wrong place or time.

Changes on the day are typically handled by the AD on set, who maintains contact and updates all departments.

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StudioBinder’s contacts interface.

Why are some crew members or talent called earlier than others, and how is that determined when building the call sheet? What if a cast or crew member belongs to a union?

Call times are staggered by department, taking into account how long it takes for the department to unload and set up before you can begin shooting.

To determine the schedule for the day, you ask questions like, “If we are doing the jib shot first, how long will that take to set up? If the lead actress is in this shot, how long does she need for hair/makeup and wardrobe?” To state it simply, if you work your way backwards from the first shot of the day and consider every department, you’ll have the call times for your shoot.

Union members are not supposed to work on non-union projects and vice versa, but there is a lot of grey area here. Union members must have certain conditions met or the production must pay a penalty on their next paycheck. Typical charges include meal penalties when lunch (the main meal) is served after 6 hours on set, forced calls, overtime and minimal turn-arounds.

Although, all crew should be have the same consideration regardless of whether they are in union.

Well said. Most films are hardly ever shot in the order they were written, due to location and talent availability. This would mean the entire crew may have to change locations once or even several times in a day. How is travel and reset time allotted in a call sheet? What about lunch and dinner breaks?

In general, a standard size crew can move once a day. Company moves require time to unload/setup and breakdown/reload at the first location and then again at the second. As a result, second unit, B-roll crew, and pickup days are used to shoot anything that doesn’t require the full crew.

Regardless of actual time, “Breakfast” is served at the start of the day and followed 6 hours later with “Lunch.” Lunch breaks are generally 30 minutes from the moment the last person gets their food. Another meal is then served 6 hours later, known as a “second meal.”

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For years, Excel has been the “go-to” tool for building call sheets. How is StudioBinder changing the traditional call sheet workflow? What feedback have you received from production managers, ADs, and other crew members?

Most call sheets are behemoth-like documents with tiny fonts, jam-packed to the brim with notes that are not be relevant to every person on set. This is because you’re making a single document for the entire production.

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StudioBinder’s personalized call sheet.

With StudioBinder, we wanted to make the call sheet more personalized. StudioBinder is a free, web-based application that makes it easy to add your cast and crew to a production, and then tailor call times to the individual. We automatically distill this into an abridged digest email with only the details that matter to the recipient; their call time, location details, and a personal note. Recipients also have the option to open the full call sheet PDF if they desire, but we find the digests are really all cast and crew need 98% of the time.

We also track when recipients view and confirm their call sheet so the production unit no longer has to blindly follow up with everyone and ask, “Did you get the call sheet?” The view counts are displayed in the dashboard so you can see exactly who didn’t view their call sheet and follow up with only the people you need to. This shaves hours off a production, and alleviates a lot of stress and uncertainty:

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Call sheet confirmation in StudioBinder.

The feedback for StudioBinder has been really positive. We have thousands of productions already using the service. As time goes on, the tool is evolving beyond just call sheets towards production unit tools like a file library to store contracts, release forms, and creative materials, to a stripboard solution to help plan out the shoot schedule. We’re really excited to see the product evolve.

Awesome! I wonder if call sheets may be “overkill” for some of the very small indie productions. What do you think?

Call sheets are as important for the creators as they are for the recipients. Creating a call sheet forces you to plan the whole day and ensure nothing is forgotten. They also provide everyone on set with insight into what they’ll be shooting next.

Call sheets can be especially important for indie productions because they speak to the seriousness of the project. They set a tone of professionalism, and enhance how your project is perceived in the eyes of your cast and crew.

Thanks for breaking down the basics of call sheets with us, StudioBinder! All the best as you guys continue to grow and innovate film production workflows of every level.

To explore StudioBinder for yourself, head on over to their website. To expand beyond StudioBinder’s Free Plan, simply select your plan of choice and enter the coupon code “LIGHTS50” to receive 50% off one month, valid through February 29.

 Michael Koehler, with


Want to learn more about running a film set effectively?

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