Film Production Just as in any big business, scheduling in the film industry is extremely important.  This means not only creating the schedules, but also reading, interpreting, and following the various scheduling devices, boards, and memos.  The Director and their Assistants (AD’s) create the schedules, usually with the help of software and devices.

The Production Manager (PM) and Coordinator are in charge of making sure the scheduling is feasible and copies are distributed to those who need them, so they must be knowledgeable and updated in current and common scheduling practices in the film industry.  This article will outline the several types of schedules and how they are developed and used, and other points pertaining to scheduling.

Preproduction Schedule

This is a daily schedule that will be continually revised by the AD’s to make sure that all the preproduction events occur without a hitch.  This list shows the times, locations, and people required for events such as meetings, wardrobe fittings, and location surveys, and is usually drafted in the form of a memo.  The PM is involved in the scheduling of all these meetings, and any issues involved.  The Coordinator makes sure everyone has typed copies of this schedule.

Production Schedule

This schedule is put together by the Coordinator with information from the PM.  Taking information from the PM, the Producer and the AD’s the Coordinator can create a one page week to week breakdown of the schedule.  Make note each week if the production is in prep, shooting, on a break, holiday, or wrapping.

Also, make sure to note which days of the week are set for shooting.  Make sure to include the post events also, like the dates of rough and fine cuts, deliveries and audits.  Revisions of this schedule are transferred to colored paper, just like script revisions.  If you are the Coordinator for a film, remember that your work on the schedules will be used continually even after the film wraps.  The Accounting and Publicity office and even the Legal Department will be using the schedule as a reference so you must be accurate.  Below is a segment from a mock schedule. . .

Mon. 10/2 – Fri 10/11. . . . . Prep. Week

Thur 10/31. . . . . . . . . . . . Holiday (off)

Sun 10/13 – Thur 10/17. . . .Shoot Segment 1

Mon 11/4 – Fri 11/8. . . . .Wrap

Mon 10/21 – Fri 10/25. . . . .Hiatus

Mon 10/28 – Wed 10/30. . .Shoot Segment 2

The Production Board

Sometimes called the Strip Board, or just The Board, this is created and used by the AD’s to make the shooting schedule.  In the present, the board is done on computer, and the software matches the look of the old-style board.  The old-style physical board was a big black display with multi-colored number-coded stripes.  At the top is a white header-strip that provides a translation legend for all the coded numbers.  The computer software is a modern version that mimics the old-style board and allows faster interaction, variable looks, and printing features.  All AD’s and Coordinators must be familiar with the Production Board, but since the AD’s create the board, as Coordinator you do not necessarily have to understand all the details.  The board, however, shows the latest version of the schedule so make sure to familiarize yourself with the codes and language.

Each colored stripe (strip) on the Production Board refers to a scene in the film script or screenplay, and the length of the scene does not change this.  Each AD will have their own special way of denoting things, but regardless, the strip will contain information on the scene, its number, the time of day, location, and if it is an interior or exterior scene.  The strip will also contain a short description of the action of the scene and a description of what characters (actors) will be required, denoted by a coded number.

The white header-strip at the beginning of the Production Board acts as a scene summary.  The information on this strip contains the film’s title, the current script’s version number, all the names of key crewmembers, and the legend that explains the code numbers assigned to the characters.  The character numbers here are used across all paperwork, the cast lists, call sheets, etc.  The colors of each of the stripes that follow are coded in this way. . .

White  (Bright, white like the sun) – Exterior – Day

Yellow  (Color of house-hold lighting) – Interior – Day

Blue  (The blue of night in films) – Exterior – Night

Green  (Yellow of Interior & Blue of Night)  – Interior – Night

Black & Red stripes border the days, red is for weekends.  Black strips with white lettering, list the date and total pages to be shot.

One of the hardest things to get used to and what may seem like a strange choice to begin with is that the page-counts for the scenes are listed in eighths of pages.  The simplest of explanation for this is that eighths are easiest to divide.  For instance, a page can be divided in half, then in half again to make quarters, and again to make eighths.  This allows for readable segments that can be manipulated.  Page counts are listed as eighths (eg:  4/8 instead of ½, 6/8 instead of ¾).  Each count signifies a section of the script page.  Labeling in this manner allows you to add and subtract with the common denominator of x/8.  One of the most important things that computer software does is remove errors in daily page counts.  If manual counts are done, the addition always needs to be double-checked.

Reading the Schedule

The Production Schedule is often distinctly the design of the AD and each may be a little different from the next.  The Production Manager, however, must make sure that certain things are included.  A good PM will take special interest in these and can help the AD produce a better, more efficient schedule.  The first two items for the PM to be concerned with are Performer and Location Availability.

The availability of the actors is usually the first and foremost deciding factor in the scheduling of the scenes to be shot.  Deciding which scenes can be filmed, and when, often depends on which actors can be made available for the shoot.  For instance, if the principal performer is only available for a certain period of time, then logically that will be the period for shooting their scenes.  Special consideration should be made for child performers and animals because they tend to tire out and become hard to handle.  Sometimes the schedule will need to be adjusted to allow the principal actor to wrap on another shoot.  For certain actors, schedules can become very tight and allowances must be made.  It is always recommended that AD’s and sometimes even PM’s from separate shoots keep in touch with each other when they are to be exchanging actors or crew.  This is one of the many stresses that good AD’s and PM’s learn to handle.

The availability of certain shooting locations is always a big factor in scheduling.  This is for obvious reasons.  If a rented location for an interior shoot is only available on certain days, then that is when the shoot would be scheduled.  In addition, a limiting factor may be the need to shoot all the scenes required for one location at one time, so that return to the location is not necessary.  Moving an entire shooting unit and equipment is time consuming and costly.  One of the marks of a good schedule is that all this is taken into account.

There are some less thought-of, but no less limiting, factors such as traffic or location worker schedules.  An example of this might be a Library or public building that is needed for a location shoot.  If normal business hours limit the access of foot or car traffic, or the regular hours of business for the Library limit access to sections because of staff, it could affect your shooting.  Traffic can also be a factor in the obvious case of shooting an exterior street scene.  If there were a time, like a weekend, when traffic is more controllable or non-existent, then that would be a better time to schedule the scene.

Two major factors in scheduling the total length of time for a shoot, and how many scenes to schedule, are the number of setups per day you need and the number of x/8-pages you need to cover.  The Director will have already planned a shoot list for the day, and it will be the AD’s job to take a close look at this list.  Note what shoots will require separate setups and which will use the same.  If the scene will be shot from different angles, then it will require the camera to be moved several times.  Moving the camera requires a moving of the lighting also, and this takes time.  The experience of the Director and crew must be taken into account also.  An experienced crew can make 30, or so, successful setups and possibly up to 40 if there is more than one camera.  However, new or particularly detailed Directors may only achieve 10 or 11.  Then, of course, if you are shooting with an IMAX or another type of 3D camera, or working with stunts or special effects, you might only get 5 setups for a whole day.

Also, the schedule needs to allow a reasonable amount of time for the number of script pages you plan to cover.  As a starting point, the average amount of pages covered for a Feature Film shoot is around 3, whereas in television pages are covered faster at up to 10 pages.  The amount of pages covered for dialogs is higher, but there is less difficulty in shooting them so they take less time.  As stated above, special effects or stunt scenes may only cover one page, but take a while to shoot.  This must all be taken into account when planning and laying out the schedule.

Some of the less mentioned but equally important things to consider n scheduling are weather issues, sunrise or sunset, and turnaround times for the crew.  For weather, it must be considered that a good deal of sensitive electronic equipment is being used and could be damaged in wet or cold weather.  Also costuming and makeup can suffer, let alone the comfort of the cast and crew.  Proper cover from weather needs to be quickly available, as well as last minute re-scheduling.  A good AD and crew will keep on top of the weather forecasts and work accordingly.  Exterior shots may be switched to interior, or other contingencies can be worked out.

When considering special shoots of exteriors during sunsets or sunrises, timing is critical.  An Almanac or website can be checked to find the necessary information on the times of rising and setting in your area, but how good a quality is always an unknown.  Experience will help with judging the area and weather in regards to the quality of the sunrise or sunset.  For instance, if the weather is forecast as clear, and the sunset is set for 7:06pm during the winter months in the Florida Keys – then you can be reasonably sure the sunset will be of good quality.

Turnaround is simply planning the switch between shooting scenes during the day, and shooting during the night, with the same crewmembers.  The scheduling has to do with giving all cast and crew involved enough time to rest and recharge before starting a new set of shooting.  In a way, it is like jet lag.  If the crew is used to working at night and sleeping during the day, then they need proper time to adjust.  Things to be taken into account are how long the shoots have been, how many days or nights in a row have been scheduled, and how much downtime the crew had last.  It takes many people and a lot of work to make a film-shoot run smoothly.  Keeping these people rested and happy can only benefit the management, and the quality of the film itself.  A good AD and PM will consider the health and welfare of their crew a commodity worth taking care of.

As we have seen, there are many things involved in scheduling for film.  On top of what has been discussed, here there are other things such as Second and Third Units that require separate schedules, and Breakdown Memos, which are basically mini-schedules for specific departments within the film.  The AD’s need to remember countless details like correct spelling of names, and coordination of various extras like the Craft-Services (food).  Even the budget of the film influences the scheduling.  A low-budget film does not necessarily mean an easier schedule.  One thing can always be said; a thorough and well-planned schedule solves a majority of potential problems and will increase the overall of success of your film.