We’re all looking for a hero. This is especially true on a film set where all too often, chaos reigns, but not every superhero jumps around in spandex and underwear. Indeed, one hero carries a more unsuspecting symbol of hope. That hero is you—the 2nd AD! Your on-set weapon for combating chaos: the call sheet! but how can you get the most out of this secret weapon? Strap yourself in; we’re about to tell you how to take your set to the next level.
1. Have a Centralized Plan—the box top of your shoot
Have you ever tried to make a puzzle without looking at the box top first? It is a lot harder and takes much longer, because you don’t know where each piece fits in the big picture. The same thing goes on a film set. Every set has a thousand moving pieces coming and going every day: people, lights, cameras, scenes, locations, extras, costumes, props and so much more. It’s so easy for each department to end up with its own special plan. Beware! This can create a communication nightmare. Remember, the camera team has nothing to shoot if there aren’t any lights, or if the actors never make it to set. The most important thing you can do in the production office, is making a centralized plan that weaves together the work of each department. This plan IS the call sheet and it is the box top of your production.
Pro Tip: Have a centralized place for all production documents to live (such as Dropbox) and make sure the appropriate people have access to it. Use a cloud-based pre-production tool.
Bonus Pro Tip: At every location, place printed copies of the current day’s call sheets on a wall-mounted file dispenser that is labeled 'Call Sheets' so that people always know where to get an extra copy.
2. Cover Your Bases—even the small ones.
You might think that including things like the weather forecast, or the nearest hospital on your call sheet is optional, but it isn’t. You can’t change the weather or ensure 100% safety on your set. At some point, you will experience a torrential downpour, or freezing cold, or a sudden accident that you weren’t expecting—but those things don’t have to derail your shoot. The only weapon you have against these enemies is preparation and that preparation starts with awareness. Water damage, sunburn, dehydration, and hypothermia are all avoidable even if the things that cause them are not. Amid all the big mountains you’re trying to move, don’t overlook the little details. Use your call sheet to cover your bases.
Pro Tip: One production manager we know researched rates and availability of key gear at local rental houses ahead of time. That way, if a camera failed or a cable went out, he knew the best place to get it, how long it would take and how much it would cost. Now that’s preparation!
3. Map Out The Day— avoiding "Are we there yet??”
Everyone wants to know what progress looks like. Your crew will be lost without a clear roadmap of what they’re actually filming—make your call sheet this road map. Set your crew up for success by being specific, include the details from the script breakdown for each scene and list the scenes in shooting order. Make this section of your call sheet an informative checklist, so people know how far they’ve come and what’s coming up next. Things that get measured get done. If you make it possible for your crew to measure their success, they’ll stay focused and get more done.
Pro Tip: Depending on the type of shoot (for instance, on feature films), you may find it best not to include specific shooting times for each scene on the schedule. This is because listing exact times can make your plan too rigid and set your crew up for disappointment or confusion if things get off track. On the flip side, if you have specific time constraints (for example, a one-day commercial shoot), listing exact times can help everyone prepare ahead and finish on time. Regardless of whether you include times on the call sheet, make sure you always have a detailed time-based schedule that the ADs and key decision makers can use to stay on track. (We create a shot-by-shot schedule listing, both the setup and shooting time for each shot.)
4. Stay Ahead of the Game - ask, confirm, remind, repeat.
Let’s be real, a call sheet doesn’t work if you don’t make it in advance. Prioritize it—your hero work involves seeing the future. While the rest of the crew is shooting what you wrote yesterday, you need to be back at your computer. If at all possible, the next day’s schedule should always be published and available by wrap time. Otherwise, you will miss that precious window of communication that comes at the end of each day.
As you make the next day’s call sheet, make sure you stay in constant communication with the 1st AD and all department heads. An actress's wardrobe change might affect the shooting schedule, but the sound department won’t know about it if you’re not there to bridge the gap. Keep people talking, sharing, and proofreading as you work. It’s the best way to achieve an accurate call sheet.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to stay in touch with your actors. They’re often on their own schedule and might miss regular communication with the rest of the crew. Confirm a rough timeframe with them as early as possible and tell them when they can expect the call sheet. Once you’ve published the call sheet, individually call or text talent to confirm.
5. Staying on Time (and Budget)—The power of a safety net
The real power that comes from your call sheet goes far beyond just keeping everyone in a straight line; it’s about the freedom that comes when chaos has been resolved. This is the freedom to think a little more clearly, to work more creatively and ultimately use your resources more wisely. When the set is running behind schedule, creative compromises are made. Artistic dolly shots are thrown overboard and replaced with wide shots. The awesome prosthetic is ditched because there’s no time for the makeup team to put it on. Films that are on schedule have happier crews, more creative work and a lot better chance of staying on budget.
2nd ADs: You are the hero your set needs and the call sheet is your secret weapon. You’ve got the power to take your set to the next level. See you in the stratosphere!
About Leslie Naugle and Luke DeBoer
Leslie is a filmmaker, artist and entrepreneur; she's also a devout list maker, shops for relaxation and has a strong aversion to the color red. Leslie heads up business development, managing publicity and partners with Luke to keep the development of SetHero moving forward. As a filmmaker, Leslie has directed and produced her own films, worked as a 2nd AD, Production Coordinator and held various positions in the art department.
Luke co-wrote this blog and is a filmmaker, web developer, and entrepreneur; he loves coffee, family, sunshine, and creating new things. He is passionate about helping fellow creatives accomplish their goals through organization and communication. Luke is the co-founder and CEO of SetHero, a web-based tool that helps filmmakers create better call sheets.
Luke has directed & produced his own films and worked as a 1st, 2nd, and 2nd Assistant Director, in addition to serving as a post-production Visual Effects Coordinator. His experiences on-set and in the production office have fueled his passion for encouraging clear communication both on (and off) set.
Specialties: Film production, web design and development, management / coordination, entrepreneurship, assistant directing, photography.
Luke and Leslie are the co-founders of SetHero, a web app that empowers filmmakers to create and distribute beautiful, professional call sheets in just minutes. They are passionate about organization and building tools to help simplify onset life—freeing filmmakers to tell the stories that inspire them.
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