It’s impossible not to notice the electricity in the air. The actors have been cast, the crew has been hired, the locations and budget have been secured, and the script has been broken down into a working shot list. Now the time has finally come.
All your hard work and preparation is about to materialize into that exhilarating, terrifying, intoxicating, and irresistible phenomenon that François Truffaut famously portrayed in his 1973 film La Nuit Américaine (Day for Night) — when a group of people come together armed with imagination and technology to (re)create reality. We are, of course, talking about the shooting phase of a movie or commercial.
Shooting a video is one of the most demanding yet rewarding processes a professional producer will embark upon throughout their career. As any seasoned assistant director will know, the success of a video shoot comes down to much more than the quality of the script. There is a special alchemy that must be achieved in bringing together the talents of the cast, the skills of the filmmakers, the ingenuity of the technicians, and the support of the producers and production staff, and by doing so achieving something much greater than the sum of these parts.
While the synergy of these often eclectic personalities into a larger organism is the ultimate goal, crystal clear logistics and ergonomics are key. In fact, there is one tool that can arguably do more than any other single ingredient to maximize the quality of any professional video shoot. This essential ingredient is the video production’s daily call sheet.
A quick note that you can download a free call sheet template here from Assemble to use on your next movie or commercial shoot. Now let’s dive in.
What Is A Call Sheet?
The call sheet is a communication tool that is traditionally addressed from the assistant director on a daily basis to the entire cast and crew of a video production. The call sheet is a lot like the DNA of a shoot – it’s a set of straightforward instructions that tell everyone involved when and where to be in order to achieve a specific, well-defined number of shots by day’s end, also known as “making the day.”
The call sheet is also a reference document of the most important information that will be needed for everyone on a shoot, including details about meals, transportation, emergencies, and of course the shots themselves.
What makes up a great video production call sheet template, and how is this information best arranged so that everyone’s energy will be laser-focused on the collective task at hand? Let’s dive in.
General Call Sheet Structure
The top of a call sheet template contains the most important logistics for everyone in the cast and crew. The date, general call time, production office information, important locations included in case of emergencies, transportation instructions, a weather forecast, and important universal messages get top priority. This should take up no more than the top quarter of the first page — due to the importance of this information, it has to be a no-brainer to locate.
The next section is the day’s shoot schedule, a statement of the day’s scheduled tasks. It will reference scenes and shots from the shooting script.
After that comes the cast breakdown, specifying specific call times and instructions for the on-camera talent.
Finally, there is a full listing of every crew member’s individual call time. This can also include a breakdown of special instructions or notes per department.
Sometimes, there will also be an advance preview of the following day’s schedule.
The rest of this article will guide you through each section in greater detail.
The most important thing a call sheet tells you is when the crew is expected to report on a daily basis. Although individuals may be called to the set at different times (more on this in the following sections), the majority of your crew will be expected to be ready to work at the same time each day. This is the general crew call, noted in large, bold font at the very top of the template, second only to the production’s logo. It is usually even highlighted in a box for extra emphasis. While the general crew call is always listed at top of the sheet, specific call times for different crew and departments are listed lower on the page.
Some call sheets will also include a small section at the top listing times for meals (e.g. a courtesy breakfast may precede the general crew call by an hour or so) and the anticipated time of the day’s first shot — the “shooting call.” An assistant director with a “hard out” due to location availability or union rules can include this as well to mark the definitive end of a day’s work.
The top of the call sheet will also include a separate section for the date, written as the day of the week, followed by the calendar date. Since the call sheet is a daily communication it should also exist in the context of the entire shoot schedule, so you should include the “day of days” (e.g. the first day of a two week production starting on New Year’s Day will be written “Friday, January 1, 2021. Day 1 of 14”).
Next at the top of the call sheet you will tell the crew where to show up. This is the full address of the actual set or location of the shoot, as well as the specific address where the crew is expected to park or be dropped-off, parking instructions if this is off-site, or specific public transportation options if they’re available.
Safety information in case of an emergency is a top priority on any video shoot, so the address of the nearest hospital or emergency care facility is an essential piece of information that must be included at the top of the call sheet. This should get equal priority in terms of size and distinction as the shoot location itself.
Other locations that are useful to include but not as high of a priority, such as the closest hardware store or nearby restaurants, round out this section.
The Rest of the Top
The top of the call sheet should also include information about the production itself. The production title, production company and production office contact information and address, and the names of the top line personnel (director, producer, EP, etc.) are important for accountability and posterity.
Finally, the top of a call sheet should include a weather forecast if the shoot is located outdoors or is otherwise dependent on natural light (or for the benefit of commuters to and from the shooting location). Include not only the obvious stuff like rainy/sunny/cloudy conditions and high and low temperatures but also invaluable environmental information for the camera department such as the exact time of dawn, sunrise (usually a half hour after dawn), sunset, and twilight (the “magic hour” cherished by cinematographers).
After this section there will usually be a break before the rest of the call sheet. If there are any important messages for the entire crew, include it as a banner separating the top from everything else. This could be a message on the production’s social media tolerance policy, special dress code for the crew, or even an encouraging phrase to set the mood for the day.
The Shot List
This section includes the day’s shoot schedule, referencing the scenes and shots from the shooting script or shot list, listed chronologically in the order of each set-up.
The shot schedule is best communicated as a table with columns for the scene number, the amount of pages expected to be shot per scene (it is common to break down scenes into eighths of a page and list the total for the day at the bottom of the section), the set and scene description (e.g. INT. BEDROOM. Julie and Alphonse have an argument.), day or night (e.g. D/N), the scene’s cast IDs (more on this in the cast breakdown below), and additional notes.
The next section will be another table containing the day’s participating cast members according to the shot schedule.
Since on-screen talent often have call times different than the general crew call due to makeup/wardrobe or other considerations, this section should include each actor’s individual call times (often broken down into specific pickup/set call/shoot call/break times), as well as the actor’s ID (a numerical designation decided on during the script breakdown phase for logistical ease), character name, actor name, and special notes.
We round out the call sheet template with a spreadsheet of every single crew member from the director to the production assistant and everyone in between, broken down by departments. Each crew member should be listed with their title, full name, and individual call time.
Remember to include the names and contact information for the managerial crew and production office staff. The production manager, assistant director, and line producer are very important crew members to contact in case anyone in the production needs a clarification or to call in sick, etc. Their contact information should be listed clearly at the top or bottom of this section. Special communication instructions such as walkie channels should also be clearly listed on the call sheet for larger productions.
This section should also list helpful instructions and reminders designated to each department involved in the video production other than the cast. References to the script for specific needs can be addressed to the props department, hair/makeup, costume, art department, special effects, weapons, camera, sound, grip/electric, stunts, locations, background talent, and/or transportation separately. This will probably not be universally read by everyone in the crew but still serves to keep all the departments literally “on the same page” about what’s expected of them.
This is an optional yet often very helpful preview of the next one or two days’ work. This is exactly like the shot schedule from higher up on the page, listing the scene, number of pages down to the eighth of a page, set and description, day or night, and the cast.
To make things as easy to digest as possible, try to include all of the preceding sections from the general crew call through the advance schedule on a single page.
As I hope you’ve gathered from this guide, the art of an ergonomic video production shoot is the process by which you, the assistant director, transport yourself into the shoes of each member of the production and anticipate their needs. To work as one, the members of a crew must share not only the same basic information, but also a profound sense of togetherness and well-being — the confidence that comes from knowing that you are being supported and well taken care of in your collective endeavour.
In that spirit, our final advice is to never leave your crew waiting for a call sheet for long after the day’s work is wrapped. Always have the following day’s call sheet prepared in advance, making adjustments when necessary throughout the day in case you end up falling behind or jumping ahead of schedule. The appropriate time to send out the next day’s call sheet to the cast and crew is immediately after the “martini shot,” or the final shot of each day.
As always, remember that Assemble can help you manage all of your production documents and keep everything in one place. This includes a free call sheet template, available to download at the link above. Happy shooting!