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How the heck do I work out a filming schedule?

It's funny how all roads can lead to one place. That’s how I feel at the moment.

Up until very recently, I had worked in the UK Higher Education sector for nearly 15 years on top of my acting. I’ve done everything from professional qualification accreditations, finance, scheduling, project management, engagement strategies and design thinking. It all seemed very far from my drama school training and MA in Creative Writing, but as with everything I do, I dived in head first. Little did I know how useful all those roles would be for producing films.

In this blog I’m going to talk about scheduling your film in pre-production and how useful the various layers of schedules have been for my process. If you’re on a big set your 1st AD would do this, but if you’re doing a low-budget indie like me, you might have to do everything yourself.

I must stress, this is my way of working and based on countless hours of trawling the internet, watching videos, listening to podcasts and audiobooks about filmmaking, using documents I have received as an actor and, more unexpectedly, using all my years and experience from business. You will no doubt find your own way of working but reading this could save you time and help if you don’t know where to start.

It will also serve as a marker in the sand for me. I love journalling and looking back on what I’ve written, like a time traveller of my own life. Seeing the inception of ideas and my ways of working have evolved and developed with time.

So, let me talk you through my process for Changing Tides. It may not be the most eloquent blog because, let’s face it, it is difficult to make scheduling sound sexy. But, at the very least, I hope you find it useful.

You’ve got your script, but how the hell do you know how much time you need to shoot it? To find out, you need to break it down. You do this by splitting your script into eighths, which is eight equal lines one inch apart. You can pay for software to do this, or you can do it the old-fashioned (and free) way and quite literally take a pencil and ruler to your script, divide it by eight and draw a line for each section.

Why do you do this? Well, each page of script is approximately 1 minute of shoot time and you can usually shoot around four or five pages of script per day. With your broken-down script, you can work out how long it will take to film each scene without using guesswork.

Next, you need to mark up your script to create a detailed list of all the characters, locations, props, costumes, etc. needed for each scene. Most screenwriting software has this functionality and will even create reports for you, so you can see them in one easy glance.

Armed with all this information, it’s time to make your stripboard.

First, group all your scenes together by location. You don’t want to be jumping between locations for each scene, it will take too long to reset, will eat into your budget and energy, and everyone else's patients. Instead, you want to film all the ‘garden’ scenes together, then move on to the ‘living room’ scenes, for example.

You bunch these together in ‘strips’, which, if I’m honest, is a fairly ugly document, but hey, I didn’t make the rules. Next to the scene you add how many eighths of a page that scene covers, so you can make sure you’re not shooting more than 4 or 5 pages a day. As I mentioned in my previous post, in single-camera films we operate in 12-hour days, and trust me when I say no one wants you running over.

Don't forget to add time in for breakfast, lunch and location moves. Hungry cast and crew make for an unhappy set.

I created mine in Excel using a simple formula to add the eighths, breakfast, lunches and travel time into one total hour count. If you want the formula, just ask in the comments and I’m happy to share.

Stripboard complete, and with the storyboard to hand (I’ll write a separate blog on that and share my terrible drawings), you can now create your shot list.

A shot list is a detailed description of each shot that will be given to all crew, so it needs to have information relevant to them. The DOP needs to know the camera kit, lens and angles. The sound department needs to know if a boom or lav mics, or both, are needed and how far away the actors will be from the camera. The gaffer and lighting department need to know how to light the set, and so on. It’s (another ugly) spreadsheet with information on every single shot you plan to film. There’s much discussion on the internet about what information you should add, so I created mine using a mix of what Masterclass, Studio Binder and Vimeo suggest, plus what I thought would be helpful. My headings were: scene number, storyboard frame number, shot, shot type, subject, angle, movement, lens, gear, frame rate, location, EXT / INT, sound, shot description, coverage, cast, set up time, shoot time, total time and best take number.

To create this, I used both the storyboard and the stripboard. The stripboard so I know the order we are shooting in (this is the order I’ve created the shot list in) and the storyboard so I know how I want each scene to look.

The storyboard gives me the frame, angle and lens we need for each shot.

The stripboard has the basic shoot time for each scene that I can now break down further, so each shot has a set-up time and a shoot time. This is where you’ll find out if you did your stripboard correctly. Scenes that are complicated to set up might require more time than you allocated on the eighth of the page, which might mean a whole scene needs to move to another day. Or, a more happy discovery, you might find you allocated far too much time to a pretty simple scene. Any changes you make to your shot list should be replicated in your stripboard, so they always match.

If you have a DOP, you should work on the shot list together, talking through each shot and making changes if and when required. If you are the DOP, I suggest you step away from your shot list for a little bit, so you can view it against your stripboard and storyboard with fresh eyes.

Once you’re happy with the shot list and it’s signed off, you can move on to the daily schedules.

Daily schedules are a breakdown of everything you are doing each day: all the locations addresses; cast list; crew list; call times; important contact information for health and safety, such as hospitals; sunrise and sunset times (and in our case tide times); and what you’re actually shooting each day.

To create this, you use the information from your stripboard and shot list, plus all the shareable details you have on the cast and crew. When you create the daily schedules, you should also add the sides for that day, so everything is in one place. Sides are the pages of the script you film each day in order of filming, so everyone has them to hand instead of going through the whole script.

To do this I did a PDF print of the pages I needed, so it saved exactly what I wanted in a separate document.

Now you have all your shooting schedules.

If and when changes occur I think you're allowed to have a silent tantrum and then you need to get on with replicating the changes on all documents: strip board, shot list and daily schedules. If you don’t, you’ll end up in a whole heap of confusion, not knowing which is the latest and truest version, and no one wants to be there.

All my years of scheduling and project managing at universities came in handy doing this. It’s so funny because I used to always think, when am I ever going to use these skills outside of this job? Just goes to show how wrong I was.

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