In this Industry Newbie installment, we are finally arriving at the Production stage of a project. For many people this is the most exciting part of the journey because you finally get to see your project getting made! Whether it took you weeks or months to get here, this is the moment when you get to lift the story off the page and bring it to life. How do you make the days run as smoothly as possible so you get to focus on the story? Here are a few tips.
The more complete, accurate, and specific your shooting schedule is, the better your day will run. Confirm with your director and DP at least a few days before the shoot that they have broken down the schedule into all the scenes and shots they need, put them in the most efficient order, and assigned enough time to each for the full lighting setup. It is always better to overestimate how long each shot will take to set up so that if anything goes awry – which it almost certainly will – you have extra time buffered in and you do not run behind schedule at the first glitch. And, the more specific your schedule is, the better your AD or script supervisor can follow that schedule to keep the day moving forward.
One of the traps of first-time (and many non-first-time) productions is spending a lot of time on the first shots of the day to get them perfect and then running out of time at the end of the day to get the final shots in. Realize that there is no such thing as perfection, and keep to your schedule! If you are not able to get all your shots in, you not only have to confirm the location availability for another day but, even if it is available, you have to re-set everything on the new day: crew availability, lights, hair and makeup, more SAG-AFTRA paperwork, more craft services, and the list goes on. So, keep to your schedule! It will make the whole day run more smoothly, help to ensure your cast and crew are still happy at the end of the day, and help you stay on budget.
Communication & Call Sheets
The earlier you can communicate to your team about when and where to be on the shoot days, the better. You often will not have all the details for a call sheet until the day before, but if you know the approximate start time and the location, I highly recommend sending that out to your cast and crew as early as you can. It shows that you respect their time and commitment, and allows them to feel more relaxed, by giving them the freedom to plan their travel ahead of time, especially if the commute is long for them or during rush hour traffic.
When it comes to call sheets, there are a wide variety of templates available online. Pull up a few options and see which fits your project best. Fill out as many details as are appropriate for your project, and send it out as early as you can.
Always provide craft services for the shoot day. In addition to providing the big meals that happen during the shoot, be sure to have healthy and fun snacks, beverages, and coffee for your cast and crew available all day. This is probably not news, but people who are hungry are generally more stressed and less cooperative and collaborative than people who are well fed. Show your team that you respect their dedication by providing this basic service.
If you are working under a SAG-AFTRA contract, prepare ahead of time all the paperwork that the actors need to sign and have it ready for them on the day of the shoot. It may not be front-of-mind while you are trying to get the shoot schedule ready, finding wardrobe and props, finalizing last minute crew changes, renting equipment, picking up craft services, and getting all the other pre-production tasks done. But I assure you that having the paperwork available and ready to sign on the shoot day is much easier than having to follow up with all the actors afterwards to get the paperwork from them. Note also that SAG-AFTRA has specific deadlines after the production date by which you need to submit the paperwork, so tracking down actors who may be on other projects or travelling after your shoot day can be extremely stressful. Save yourself that cat herding headache, and complete the project information on the forms and print everything out ahead of time.
Be Available, Have Fun, and Let the Cast & Crew Work Their Magic!
If you’ve done all your preparation, the shoot days themselves should be relatively smooth for you as the producer. You certainly should remain available for questions and to address any day-of issues that arise (which they will), but otherwise let your amazing cast and crew shine in the jobs you hired them for, have fun, and enjoy the fruits of your hard work!