If you’ve been hired onto a project where you’re in charge of creating a shooting schedule, you've come to the right place! Multiple factors go into crafting one, and a poorly made film schedule could result in a production disaster.
So let’s avoid that.
We’re laying out what it takes to make a film schedule, so you can plan your shoot days with confidence.
When it's time to plan your shoot, you don't need the fancy frills. You just need to get it done. Wrapbook keeps it clean and customizable so you can craft it to the needs of your project.
Okay, now let’s jump in!
A shooting schedule, which might also be called a film production schedule, outlines what scenes will be shot for each shooting day of a production. It also includes any production stops, such as those for lunch, travel time to another location, and the wrap of each shooting day.
A stripboard is another common term used with shooting schedules. Also called a film production board, it originated with cardboard strips of different colors used to signify different scenes to be shot in a day. Though cardboard strips have now been replaced with digital documents, stripboard terminology remains. In short, it’s the stripboard that primarily makes up a shooting calendar.
A film schedule is the single most important document used for a production, as it provides the foundation for what is needed to be accomplished on each shooting day and who is required to accomplish those needs.
Input is typically given from others working on the production, including the producers, director, director of photography, production manager, and location manager.
A seasoned 1st AD will often ask various department heads, such as the key makeup artist or costume designer, for their insights or if they have overlooked any needs or constraints of those departments. For instance, an actor who requires several hours of makeup for a scene may require filming it later in the day so that the makeup team has time to work their magic.
That doesn’t mean the shooting schedule is locked in! In fact, the 1st AD should always prepare themselves for issues during principal photography that will require a change to the shooting schedule. Examples include: inclement weather that prevents shooting an outdoor scene, or a sick cast member whose scenes need to be pushed. All that to say, it’s incredibly common to have to update a filming schedule on the fly.
But having a thought-out, detailed film schedule ready to go ahead of principal photography will help to alleviate as many preventable issues as possible once the camera rolls.
Well, here’s an example of one:
You can see from the shooting schedule example above that the 1st AD, and whomever else contributed to the filming schedule, added notes for props, lighting, and camera shots. Though not mandatory, you may want your shooting schedule template to include a section for additional notes.
If you still need one, grab one here! Simple yet effective, you can craft and customize as you need. You can also use it as a reference as you go through the rest of our breakdown.
Okay, now it’s time to really learn how to make a production schedule for film or TV. From here, we’ll dive into how to arrange a shooting calendar after taking into consideration all the variables that could affect the order of it.
Though the shooting calendar will initially be constructed in chronological order, the below elements will almost certainly require it to be reorganized to accommodate any needs.
The 1st AD must know the script backwards and forwards. That means reading it several times over ahead of putting the schedule together.
Organize a script read-through with the department heads early. This way you can stay on top of any potential issues or constraints, and immediately factor them into your shooting calendar.
Depending on the intended length of your production, or the demand for a particular cast or crew member, you might run into availability issues that will affect your schedule.
As early as possible, talk to all key individuals about their availability for your intended shooting days. Fingers crossed, there are no conflicts, but again, better to know as soon as possible so that you can adjust the order of your film schedule to accommodate them.
Though not every element listed below will be part of the schedule, the 1st AD should make side notes about these things, because they could impact the order of filming.
For instance, let’s say that there’s an elaborate costume needed for a scene, but the getup in question won’t be ready until a particular date. While you wouldn’t necessarily note the costume in the film schedule, that information would obviously inform the ordering of the scene being shot.
This may sound repetitive, but even after you note all the locations, there’s some decision-making to be done.
For instance, is it necessary to film in both Chicago and New York just because the story of the script takes place in both locations? Unless you absolutely need to shoot a scene outside the Statue of Liberty and Navy Pier, can one location stand in for the other?
Restricting location changes is a key component of having a smooth-running and on-budget shooting schedule. It’s also why it can be beneficial to do a script read-through where you can hash out how many locations the production needs, which will always affect the calendar and financial bottom-line.
Now that you’ve determined where you'd like to film, it’s time to see if those locations are available.
Whether you’re preparing a TV or film shooting schedule for a sound stage or on-location, we cannot stress enough how important it is to check the availability of where it is that you want to shoot. This will be one of the biggest determinants of your shoot schedule, and it may even change your locations.
Sometimes location issues are not about the availability, but rather what the costs will be to use them. For instance, let’s say your production wants to rent a castle for a particular scene, but the rental cost far exceeds your budget. Better to know now and find a backup! And obviously, paying for film permits is another factor.
You may have noted whether each scene in your filming schedule requires a day or night shoot, but how will that affect the ordering of that film schedule?
Especially when renting a location, it’s important to determine what regulations might come into play if you’re filming in the middle of the night. You also have to factor in the needs of the cast and crew.
For instance, actors cannot be part of a night shoot and then be expected to return to set the following morning for the next shooting day. Crew may be entitled to a higher pay rate for filming in the middle of the night. Depending on the location, a night shoot might also mean lower temps that require additional heating, clothing, or other necessities for both cast and crew. These are all considerations that will affect your overall shoot schedule.
Other factors to consider are the time of year you’ll be shooting and what you can expect the weather to be like at that time of year.
Winter shoots can mean fewer daylight hours in the northern hemisphere. Summer shoots can mean uncomfortable outdoor temperatures for cast and crew. Again, these are considerations that will impact how you plan.
Ah, the world of production, providing an unlimited number of ways where things can go wrong. Here are just a few more considerations to keep in mind when creating your shooting schedule:
Has your production company or studio given you a set block of dates when you can film? How will that affect the order of your shooting schedule?
How long can you reasonably expect your cast and crew to work? If some scenes are physically taxing, can you shorten certain shooting days to ease exhaustion? Do all that you can to avoid cast and crew burnout.
Are there any major holidays over which your shooting schedule falls? Can your budget accommodate the additional costs of shooting on holidays? Will your cast and crew agree to filming on them?
If it’s a must to film in both Las Vegas and Paris, how will you factor in travel costs?
Do any of the characters go through major physical changes that will call for working around the time needed for those changes?
Are you filming scenes with complex stunts or special effects? If so, they should be scheduled at the top of a shooting day to allow for the additional time and energy needed to complete them.
On a similar note, are there any scenes that require special equipment? Your filming schedule will need to accommodate the availability of that equipment if you are planning on renting or borrowing it.
A major part of how to make a production schedule for film is doing what you can to anticipate changes to it… because there will (usually) be changes.
Most of the above situations will give you enough time to rearrange your shooting schedule before production begins. However, the issues below often arise with little to no warning and will require you to be flexible with your shoot schedule from one shooting day to the next.
Sick days happen, and different states have different sick leave polices. This is especially true if your shooting schedule goes on for several weeks or more. Get to know them.
A broken dolly, Steadicam, or any other piece of equipment not readily replaceable will likely mean a delay of several hours to several days. If this were to happen, do you have an alternative way to shoot the scene? Or, do you switch the scene for that day on the fly? Experience on set gets sculpted during these moments.
Even with keen attention to what could go wrong, you can’t control Mother Nature. But at the very least, check the weather.
Did the location owners change their minds last minute? Or did the air or electricity go out? It could be anything, but that anything will certainly impact your film schedule.
This is a polite way of saying that the director suddenly wants to do a scene with an entirely different setup or they are still not happy after take 67. If a scene is taking longer than expected, it’ll mean adjusting your shooting schedule.
Additional coverage could be needed due to a variety of reasons - as one example, the dailies might reveal an unexpected issue with the equipment that requires a reshoot.
All of these maybes can be overwhelming.
First, some of these issues happen on most shoots. It’s important to come to a place of acceptance with that fact. Second, the single best way to address all of these possibilities – besides keeping a cool head – is by doing what you can to under-schedule your shooting days.
No doubt it’ll be a fine line to walk given the general pressure of shooting fast to keep expenses to a minimum. But that’s when a 1st AD has to advocate for not only themselves but also the production itself.
By giving your filming schedule a little wiggle room, you’ll be doing yourself and the rest of the cast and crew a huge favor by not having every little hiccup mean a ton of stress for everyone on set. A happy set is bound to be a more successful set.
Your shooting schedule needs to have everything that identifies the where, the when, and the who of a scene. It quickly and concisely explains what is going to be filmed on each shooting day.
First, make your script breakdown.
Your 1st AD will work through the script, quite literally, breaking it down. They'll mark up each scene for locations, characters, times, props, costumes, etc.
Now that you have that information, here’s what to put on your shooting schedule:
Seems obvious because it is. Please put the date. This is of primary importance to your entire production.
If you look at an example of a shooting script, you will see that each scene is numbered.
Again, considering that most shooting calendars are set up out of chronological order, it’s all the more important that every scene number from the shooting script is included in the film production schedule as well.
Everyone involved in a production needs to know if a particular scene is being shot indoors or outdoors, which is why “INT” or “EXT.”
We might know generally where the scene is set with the inclusion of “INT” or “EXT,” but what about when it is set? That’s why a shoot schedule will also have “D” or “N” included as designations to inform the cast and crew of whether it’s a day shoot or night shoot.
Next, where exactly is the action taking place? Yes, it might be indoors at night, but is it inside the White House, or the Vatican? Is it a bathroom or a grand ballroom?
This more communication, the better.
Brevity, baby! A few words or a short sentence to describe what's happening in each scene is all that's needed.
Think “Tim washes his hands at the sink” or “the alien aims a nuclear weapon at the crowd.” Explain the action in as few words as possible.
Clearly indicate the shooting location for each scene on the schedule.
The shot description may or may not indicate every cast member needed for that particular scene. Just so there’s no confusion, all cast – including non-speaking actors! – should be noted on the filming schedule.
How long a scene will take to film matters to your budget. Because of this, it needs to be part of your schedule.
It's industry standard to divvy up every page of a script into eighths. It’s this division of a page that allows your team to more accurately estimate how long each section will take to shoot.
Generally speaking, one-eighth of a page will require 15 minutes of shooting time. So if a shooting schedule indicates three-eighths for a particular scene, that means, roughly, 45 minutes of shooting time.
Both page count and its corresponding estimated shooting time should be part of every filming schedule.
Everyone involved expects to have a clear picture of how the day will unfold (roughly). Both cast and crew should know when they’ll be getting breaks for meals, when they'll have to travel, and expected wrap time.
In addition to including the above key details for any shooting schedule, it’s standard to have each scene color-coded as well for quick reference on basic elements:
It’s not an absolute to use the above colors to indicate the different types of scenes, but they are the colors most commonly used for each one.
Just as you did at the outset of creating your filming schedule, you should check in again with all pertinent individuals for feedback once you complete your initial shooting schedule. At a minimum, this means: the producers, director, production manager, location manager, and other department heads.
This process will be invaluable as you learn how to make a production schedule for film because you’ll then need to discern what feedback to incorporate and what feedback to disregard as you make follow-up changes.
Yes, you want to keep everyone happy on a production, but not every single request can be accommodated if it doesn’t directly pertain to a shooting schedule’s needs.
Back in the day, 1st ADs would have to write out every part of a filming schedule – and that would be after making your own template – but now you have options that offer easily changeable film shooting schedule templates.
You can also create your own with Google Sheets or Excel. These will help provide a framework for the creation of your film schedule. If you need more substantial support beyond a basic shoot schedule template, there are several software programs that can help.
Whether you use shooting schedule software or not, keep in mind that filming schedules are documents shared among the entire production team, so it’s important that the result be one that holds to industry standards.
Being the person tasked with creating a shooting schedule for film or television is a monumental responsibility. But when you thoroughly research the needs of the production, assemble the initial filming schedule, and keep calm when the inevitable last-minute issues arise, it won't be as stressful as anticipated.
Download this shooting schedule template to get planning! And if you need more templates for upcoming projects, see our full library here, or, skim through our resource page solely dedicated to film producers.
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