Typical Shooting DayThe first day of shooting is perhaps the greatest challenge for the production department.  It’s full of practical and logistical problems and barriers that need to be overcome so that the picture can start well.  If you’ve prepared well by choosing a good crew and anticipating the demands on you, once a routine is established that will all pay off.  It’s really important to remember that this is the most costly phase of the filmmaking process; poor management and coordination on the part of the production team can prove disastrous to the (probably already tight) budget.

The Practical Stuff – Call Sheets and other Paperwork

Paperwork is an integral part of production and plays an important role in managing the smooth running of the set on a daily basis.  With so many different people and pieces of equipment required at different times, often in different places, you need organisational structures in place to deal with this effectively.

One such structure is called the Call Sheet.  This is a piece of paper distributed to all members of cast and crew informing them of the following day’s schedule, where and when they will be required, the scenes to be filmed and specific tasks that each department should complete that day.  The time that everyone should arrive on set is called the “unit call time”, but sometimes, to maximise efficiency, certain crew can be given “pre-calls” which ask them to arrive earlier.

Usually the Call Sheet is provided by the Assistant Director, but as Production Manager or Coordinator, you need to examine it closely.  There will also be a Location Map attached, detailing instructions for driving to specific set locations.  Creating this may fall to you, so make any directions very clear and be proactive in the information you include; key street names, landmarks, and the hospital closest to the location.

Another paperwork-related aspect to shooting, for which production has the responsibility, is the provision of “sides”.  The term simply refers to a reduced-size copy of the script for any scenes due to be shot the following day.  If you supply this along with the Call Sheet, you create a useful package as a result of which, theoretically, all cast and crew members should be well prepared for the next day’s shoot.

The Format of the Day

Great Production Managers and Coordinators

The shooting day is split into a cycle of 4 distinct periods which rotate throughout the day.  The first of these is blocking.  As Production Manager, you will be on set at this point, overseeing progress and dealing with any of the hundreds of potential unforeseen problems that occur.

In the Blocking phase, a scene is discussed by the Director and the cast members who are performing.  All relevant departments can prepare for shooting and make sure their equipment is located correctly, especially in the case of cameras as it’s likely there will be several of these on set.  At the end of the Blocking phase, the Director and cast members will leave to complete their preparation and the teams on set will move onto the Lighting phase.

The Lighting phase involves preparing the set for whatever scene is to be filmed.  This is done with people called stand-ins who replace the actual actors until they reappear for the Rehearsal stage of the shooting day.

Rehearsal is the main opportunity for all units in the technical team to confirm their equipment and settings before the actual shooting begins.  Sound checks will be performed while the actors practise their lines and any necessary adjustments will be made before the cameras begin rolling.

The final stage in the cycle is Shooting.  During the shooting phase, Assistant Directors are in charge of keeping the set quiet (called “locking up”).  Once “Action” is called, the crew does nothing.  It’s all in the preparation.  At “Cut”, if the Director requires another take, this will happen after any necessary resets, or if they are happy, the whole cycle of phases begins again with blocking for the next scene on the schedule.

Each day for the whole crew is split into time periods of Early Morning, Morning, Lunchtime, Afternoon and Wrap.  These periods don’t have exact start and end times, but are relative to each other.

Early Morning and Morning for the Production Office

The very first people to arrive on set are the Craft Service People.  They will have a pre-call, as mentioned earlier, of 30 minutes before other units so that they can make sure everyone is welcomed onto set with the ubiquitous cup of coffee.  Next, there will be a meeting held by the Assistant Directors, usually attended by all cast and crew including the production team.  Its main focus is safety issues for the day, but it can be a useful time and opportunity if you need to find or talk to somebody (as you inevitably will).

Once the shooting cycle is under way, the Production Office will be going about the business of keeping the background running smoothly so that work on set can proceed as efficiently as possible.  This will require hiring any necessary last minute staff to fill unexpected gaps in departments’ crews.  It’s unlikely that the Production Coordinator will have the time to interview these people, so the Assistants will take this responsibility.

Throughout the day, several “runs” will take place to keep communication going between the set and Production Office.  Set will send the Daily Production Report (called the DPR) to which the Production Coordinator will need to add any relevant information for that day (for example, names of last minute crew).  The list of extras who are expected for that filming day is also included in the material sent from the Production Office to the set.

Everything’s up and running, and the morning continues…

The demands upon the production coordinator of a film are significant.  It is a role with great accountability if things go wrong.  The role includes authorising any immediate spending.  Scary.  Bear in mind that this stage of the process, the actual committing of the idea to film, is the most expensive and logistically challenging.  Extra shooting days,  or funding for lots of overtime claims will make costs spiral.

Any major concerns you have regarding issues such as these should be discussed with the Producer.  It’s worth mentioning that detailed records of conversations should be kept throughout the process.  That way, should a “situation” escalate into a “catastrophe”, your standpoint at the time will be clear and any blame mitigated against.

Great Production Managers and Coordinators will be able to identify potential problems on set before they become crises.  Anticipation will be key in preventing problems going too far.

Part II – Morning to Wrap