Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Behind the Scenes 3: The Call Sheet

The Call Sheet is the Bible of any film production. It's the document that tells everyone involved in the film shoot, from the director to the lowliest runner to the insurance company covering the shoot, what's being filmed on any given day.

The international websites I've visited state that the AD's department (assistant directors) are responsible for putting together the call sheet, but in my experience it's the Production Manager's job. (ie. mine!) I'm not sure if this is because South Africa works differently to every other country or because things have changed since I last worked on a movie, or because ADs like to take all the credit.

On commercials, we usually issue one call sheet for the entire shoot. It can run anywhere from 10 pages up to about 30, and includes the complete list of crew and cast, contact numbers for all our suppliers, the shooting schedule, lists of all the equipment required, travel and accommodation information, safety notes, as well as maps to all locations.

On bigger commercials we may supplement this with daily call sheets, a 1-2 pager with nothing more than location details, maps and call times.

Call times are the start times for the beginning of each shoot day, and may differ from team to team and actor to actor. Since film shoots are mobile and every day is different, every crew member has to check daily where they're working the next day and what time they need to be there. I bet that makes most of you glad you work 9-5 in the same place every day!

On feature films and TV series (what we call 'long form work') call sheets are issued daily and are  little different. Rather than listing every single crew member or piece of equipment, the daily call sheet only lists the elements that vary from day to day.

So, for example, it's a given that your main crew will be on the shoot every day, but a stunt team, extra riggers, auto detailers etc, will only be called when needed for a specific scene, so they'll be listed.

Each technical team will already have its truck packed full of the standard equipment, but the call sheet will tell them if they need to arrange something special for that day - for example, a special underwater housing, tracking vehicle or steadicam rig.

Without doubt, the most important part of any call sheet is the daily shooting schedule: which scenes will be shot that day, which script pages, which actors are required for those scenes, what sets, props and wardrobe will be required at what times, and transport arrangements to get everyone and everything to where they need to be.

If the shoot is exterior, the daily call sheet will also list the alternate scenes that might be shot in the event of bad weather halting exterior filming. This is so that the locations people, drivers, and props people can ensure they have everything they need on standby just in case.

Finally, the call sheet will also give advance notice of what scenes are planned for the next few days and will notify the crew of any changes to the schedule so they can plan ahead.

Film shoots are often compared to military units, and it's an accurate comparison. Not the crack SEAL teams that can get in and out of a contact with lightning speed, but those big, lumbering units that involve massive preparation, clumsy communication, and lots of people who don't really have a clue why they're doing what they're doing, but do it anyway. Yet somehow it all works.

Here's a sample call sheet I pulled off the internet. It's a little old, dating back a few years, but a great example:

Next week I'll start to introduce you to the people who make up a film crew, starting with my own team: the Production department.


  1. This is fascinating, Romy! Although I'm cringing a little as my next book has a Production Co-ordinator heroine, so if you read it I hope I didn't make too many mistakes :)

    I find the whole world of Film so, so cool! I loved learning about it for that book (thanks to a tolerant sister who works in Production, too), and I'd like to set another book in that world, too. Have you written any books set in film? I reckon your knowledge would make for a fabulous book!

  2. I can't wait to read your book, Leah, and I know I'll love it no matter what because I've loved everything I've read of yours so far.

    I've written one book with a TV series setting (a mainstream romance) which I've just started shopping to agents, so keeping all fingers crossed...

  3. Loving your film/commercial production blogs Romy! Just saw them now and it's great to see it all laid out so clearly :). In my experience it's always the AD's that do call sheets on film/tv but it can get handed over to Production on commercials usually because the requirements are a bit different. Although on big, long-running commercials it becomes a bit more like a film and then I've done the call sheets xx

  4. Lovely blog!!!
    Does anyone know here I can find a simple distribution list of exactly who gets what paperwork during (principle photography) production? I lost my old one, it made it so much easier...
    Thank you!