Let’s face it, shooting schedules can be super complicated. Who’s available when? How do we shoot the most expensive elements? It’s easy to forget that a production schedule is as much a psychological tool as it is a logistical one. Here’s how you can schedule a shoot to be a more positive and productive environment.
The Production Schedule is a Psychological Tool
1. Read and understand the shooting script
Before getting started, you must first read the shooting script at least once without taking any notes. Just experience it. You’ll learn which scenes are more important and which are emotionally challenging. That’s knowledge you’ll use to craft a more effective production schedule.
2. Schedule people, not scenes
Preparing the breakdown sheets can put your mind into a logistical frenzy: everything is an “element” that needs to be scheduled, coordinated, and accounted for. But unlike a breakdown sheet, your production schedule isn’t for stuff. It’s for people, and it needs to account for people’s energy and creative processes. As you work through the production schedule, ask yourself the following three questions for each scene:
- Who’s working hardest in this scene?
- Who needs a break after the last scene?
- Who hasn’t been busy for a while?
Shape each day around the ebb and flow of your cast and crew’s creative energy, and you’ll have a smoother shoot. More importantly, you’ll have a production schedule that inspires creativity—creativity that will feed right back into the film you’re making.
3. Schedule difficult scenes earlier
Actors deliver better performances when the production schedule accounts for their process. This is especially true in emotionally challenging or physically exhausting scenes.
Actors can anticipate a difficult scene at the start of the next day and can prep for it the night before. If it takes extra time to shoot emotional scenes, you will still have the rest of the day to make up for lost time. Fortunately, if you read the shooting script prior to scheduling, you’ll know exactly which scenes are the emotional turning points of the story.
4. Schedule easier scenes later
Have your cast and crew tackle difficult scenes up front and the easier scenes later in the day so they can breathe easier before going home. They’ll come back happier the next morning.
5. Be mindful of your actors emotional swings
If your cast has to shoot an emotional scene, don’t schedule a very happy scene right after it (even if the happy scene isn’t very complicated). Shifting emotional gears is a delicate process. Much like actors, the director also needs time to prepare for emotionally complex scenes.
6. Don't abuse the crew
The same principles apply when it comes to the crew. If you’re shooting a scene that calls for a twenty-five minute steadicam shot, give your steadicam operator a break when that scene’s done. Make sure you understand the time it takes for crew to accomplish their tasks (makeup artists often suffer here), and schedule accordingly. The last thing you need on set is drama after pushing people to a breaking point. However, if you do find yourself in a tense situation, these pro tips on working with difficult people will help.
7. Help the director start strong
You should always work closely with the director when crafting a shooting schedule. After all, it’s the director who’s going to follow your schedule when the cameras roll. Remember that the director’s just as human as the rest of us, and needs time to put the crew through its motions and learn its quirks.
The first half of the first day of your shoot is the director’s opportunity to establish the tone of production. Some directors are taskmasters on day one, so give them a technical scene with low emotional stakes—something that the crew needs to work hard to achieve, but that won’t suffer from a little on-set tension. Other directors like to ease in and get everyone comfortable, so an easy day works better for them.
8. Schedule chronologically to keep story flow
If you’re shooting INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY, try to follow the script order in the shooting schedule. There can be logistical benefits to this, but it also helps the director and actors maintain the flow of the story through the day.
9. Make room for creative discovery
There’s an old Hollywood scheduling trick that you should know. Always shoot your first and third acts before you shoot the second act.
When your director and actor’s shoot the first and third acts of a film, they’re establishing where the character and story begin and end. If they haven’t shot the middle yet, they have room to discover nuances about their characters and story during production, and to make adjustments that will play consistently through the film.
For huge productions that take months to shoot, this is also a sort of creative insurance. If something bad happens to a central figure (such as a lead actor) during production, it’s easier to write around that character in the 2nd act.
"Always shoot your first and third acts before you shoot your second act." #filmmaking #indiefilm #filmmakers
10. Your stripboard is a team-building tool
A well-crafted shooting schedule can turn a crew into a team. It should build morale, momentum, and a positive work environment. Think of it as a team-building tool.
StudioBinder is developing a stripboard production schedule feature (currently in beta). In the meantime check out How to Make a Better Shooting Schedule by Using a Stripboard.
11. Make day one a big win
Make sure your first shooting day is easy enough that production will wrap the day successfully. Give ‘em a win, and they’ll have momentum and optimism going into the rest of the shoot. However, don’t make day one of production so easy that the cast and crew become complacent. It’s important to make them sweat a bit!
12. Set your film crew up for success
This rings true for day one as it does for the last day of production, and every day in-between. Some assistant directors (ADs) and unit production managers (UPMs) like to over-schedule and assume they’ll need pickup days at the end of the production schedule. But imagine you’re on set every day, and no matter how hard you work, you hit the end of the day with scenes left un-shot. Everyone goes home frustrated.
It might have been the UPMs plan, but after enough of these days, nobody’s really trying that hard anymore—why bother? Set up your cast and crew for success, and they’ll thank you with harder work and better results.
13. Create a secret shooting schedule
Under-schedule your days just a little bit every day, but have a secret shooting schedule of scenes you plan to pickup when you’re ahead of schedule. That way, the production they’ll feel like they’re crushing it and will want to continue their superlative streak.
Share the secret shooting schedule with the director, AD and only key personnel.
14. Avoid burnout
If your team reaches burnout, it’s most likely your fault. Avoid 6-day and 7-day weeks whenever possible. Give people the breaks they need to recharge. You need their energy, not their time.
15. Take the third day off
It’s tempting to assume our carefully prepped production schedule will go off without a hitch, but we all know perfection rarely strikes a film set. Because of that, the production schedule needs sufficient contingency for adjustments and alterations. I learned this trick from a guy who got his start working for Orson Welles, and who spent years scheduling and running sets for Roger Corman at New World Pictures:
“Schedule your first day off after only two shoot days!”
This may sound crazy, but this third day off can be critical to a production. It’s a chance to reconfigure or change crew, adjust the production schedule, tweak the shooting script, or make any of a million other possible changes. Most importantly, it allows these changes to be made before too much time or money has been sunk into production. The team has had two days to test the waters, see how everything works, and identify problems. Why wait a whole week to fix them?
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15 Pro Tips to Create a Better Shooting Schedule #filmmaking #indiefilm #filmmakers
Your production schedule is a subtle, and very powerful filmmaking tool. At a minimum, if use your locations efficiently and shoot out your expensive talent, your production team will probably get the job done. However, if you incorporate individual creative and emotional needs, group psychology and management strategy into your schedule, your production will run smoother, and it may even impact the overall quality of your film.
Have any other clever production scheduling tips? Let us know in the comments below.