Guest post by Chris Henderson.
One of the most frustrating things about being an actor on a disorganized set is sitting around waiting for my scene to start. Now I understand that things go wrong, I understand that the production team can’t plan for everything, and I understand that sometimes things take longer than you originally thought. But it’s incredibly frustrating to sit there watching a hapless crew trying to figure out where they should put lights or seeing the director drawing up a shot list on-site because things weren’t planned very well.
Scheduling issues are difficult to combat, which is why Hollywood movies provide trailers where actors can take a nap or rehearse their lines or meditate (or whatever else they do in there). But your budget won’t allow you to provide trailers for all your performers, so scheduling for you becomes even more important.
As with everything else in micro-budget filmmaking (and life), it boils down to respect. Because you can’t pay your cast and crew (or can’t pay them very much) monetarily, you pay them in respect and flexibility. The overall shooting schedule is going to have to work around everything else your actors have going on in their personal and professional lives, so putting together a full production schedule is like the final minutes of an intense game of Jenga. And inevitably something is going to go very wrong and the whole thing is going to explode, and you’ll have to piece it back together. There’s really no advice I can give on how to do this, except communicate. Without throwing an irresponsible performer under the bus for cancelling (unless he does it a dozen times, then let everyone know what the problem is), explain to your cast and crew why it’s necessary to shuffle the schedule and let them know how much you respect their schedules and want to make this as accommodating for them as possible.
SIDE NOTE: If you do have a cast or crew member who won’t play along, or cannot make any accommodations in their schedule for your shoot, it’s time to replace them. It’s the worst job in the world, but you were the one who decided to shoot a microbudget project. Everyone, except the replaced person, will respect and appreciate you for doing what had to be done. And if you don’t do it, everyone will become frustrated with your project.
I can’t be of much help with preparing your full shooting schedule, because every cast and project has different needs, but what I can do is give you advice on putting together a daily production schedule (or call sheet). Here are some basics that may seem obvious but are overlooked by many inexperienced independent filmmakers:
Be prepared. The absolute, most important thing is that you are as prepared as you can possibly be before you show up for every day of shooting. Know what you’re trying to accomplish, have your shot list already made up, and as much as possible know your blocking and lighting and camera setups.
Don’t make everyone show up at the same time. Too often novice filmmakers will have a slate of three or four scenes in a day and will have everyone show up at 8:00 a.m. even if they aren’t up until the last scene. Know your schedule and figure out what time each scene will shoot.
Crew call should be earlier than cast call. Don’t make your actors show up and sit there while your crew rigs lights and drags cables, unless there is something for them to do. Only ask the cast to come in early if the director will be available to rehearse with them or they’ll be in makeup.
Schedule time for makeup. On a big-budget set, it’s not uncommon to have actors show up two hours before their shoot time for makeup. Often on micro-budget shoots though, where your makeup is simple (or non-existent) this is way too early. If makeup is minimal, only have your cast show up 30 minutes or so before start time.
Know your people. On a one-day shoot, you’ll just have to guess. But on a multi-day shoot, get to know how everyone in your cast and crew works. Some actors won’t prepare well and need more time on set to memorize lines; some D.P.’s take forever to set up each shot; some makeup people like to chat; and some people nail their job the first time, every time. Know who you’re working with and adjust your daily schedules accordingly.
Over-schedule on the back end. Don’t bring people in before they’re needed, but always schedule them longer than you think they’ll be needed. You don’t want to keep people past their scheduled end time, because they’ll make plans and resent you for it. On the flip side, people love to finish up early. And if things go terribly wrong, at least they’ll still be out at the scheduled time.
Schedule time for meals. Not everyone needs to eat at once, but it’s good if they can. Either way, make sure each member of your cast and crew has a break long enough to eat and recharge at some point during the day.
Communicate! Communication = respect. If possible, have someone on hand (probably you’re A.D.) to let everyone know where you are with the schedule. If things are running behind, call everyone who’s scheduled later to let them know.
Film sets (independent or otherwise) are notorious for being way behind schedule, keeping people hours and hours late, and changing things with little or no notice. It can be really frustrating. On the flip side, if your set is organized, well-scheduled, and runs smoothly, people will love working with you and will want to work with you again and again.
CHRIS HENDERSON is the writer and executive producer for the recently produced web series “The Gap.” He graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Film (focus on Screenwriting), and has worked full-time as an actor/writer/director/producer in the film/theatre/television industry of Salt Lake City for over 10 years.