Scheduling Your Film (with FREE template)

 In Pre-Production

This lesson we’ll cover moving the information from your script breakdown sheets to stripboards (the easy bit), then how to schedule your film (the hard bit).

If you haven’t already broken down your script, check THIS out.

As mentioned, feel free to use Movie Magic Scheduling or StudioBinder for the next step of your pre-production. These programs will keep the data you’ve imported or manually entered and display as a stripboard for you. If you prefer an old-school spreadsheet, we have a free template for you at the end of this lesson.

Film Stripboards - HIRED GOONS

Stripboards are used to clearly see all the scenes at once to schedule your film. Every scene will have its own stripboard – containing only the most relevant data to help you visualise the schedule. Stripboards used to be done painstakingly by hand. Now, Microsoft Excel or the programs I mentioned above make our life easier.

Before we begin, let’s number your cast members. Every character in the script needs to be assigned a number and this number cannot change. Usually, the lead character will be granted #1, supporting characters #2, 3, 4 and so on. You can also number chronologically. This is your shorthand when scheduling cast. A small cheat sheet list has been included in the free template below.

Every stripboard contains information you’ve already sourced into your script breakdown sheets. Simply input the data into the categories:

  • Scene # – Self explanatory.
  • Page # – The page that the scene starts, not a range.
  • Time – If you have conducted a read-through, you can add the time length of the scene.
  • Page count – 2 1/8 etc. In Excel, ensure these cells are formatted as ‘Text’ or it will display as a fraction or a date.
  • INTerior or EXTerior
  • DAY or NIGHT
  • Scene Header – eg: JOHN’S OFFICE
  • Scene description – eg: “John goes to leave for the day, but his boss interrupts him.”
    • Note: scene descriptions need to be clear enough that everyone can understand which scene this is. There may be more than one scene in JOHN’S OFFICE and they need to be differential. That being said, this is not Shakespeare, so keep it succinct.
  • Cast numbers – every character’s number that is in that scene, in numerical order.
  • Notes – Anything important for your specific scheduling restrictions, eg: props, special equipment, vehicles, extras.

In addition, each stripboard is colour-coded:

  • WHITE: Interior, Day
  • YELLOW: Exterior, Day
  • DARK BLUE: Interior, Night
  • GREEN: Exterior, Night

This colour coding will make it easier to group like scenes, which we’ll go into next.

Finally, your stripboard will also contain information about shooting dates, locations and call times. Don’t worry if you don’t know this information yet, you can add it later. Remember, everyone on your set should be given a schedule, so make it clear, easy to read and informative.

There is no shortcut or magic formula to film scheduling. Every film is different, with different issues and priorities. A shooting schedule is the daily shooting order of all scripted scenes.

Your schedule is a declaration of intent: using your best judgement, you’re estimating how long (hours, days, weeks or months) it will take to shoot the script. Your schedule needs to be budget focused and realistic. If the shoot is much longer or shorter than your schedule estimate, there can be consequences. Every member of the crew will bring new challenges and conflicts to your schedule and establishing priorities and compromise is key. Remember, your shoot is not ‘locked-off’ until you’ve actually shot.

While every schedule’s priorities are different, here’s a good order to start:

  • Locations vs Studio: some locations may only be available at certain times, eg: don’t try shooting at a bar or restaurant on a weekend night.
  • Exteriors and Interiors: Depending on where you are, weather can play a crucial role in your schedule. Placing exterior scenes on clear days early in your schedule allows you the opportunity to reschedule if it rains.
  • Days and Nights: It’s not wise to shoot a day here, then a night there etc. Your crew won’t be able to keep up a sleeping pattern, so can’t perform for you on set. Group all of your day shoots together, then all of your night shoots together. Consecutive night shoots aren’t fun, but it’s better than the alternative.
  • Special Climatic Conditions: Perhaps you need to shoot in the snow, or on the beach. Seasons can play a huge part in when it’s appropriate to shoot.
  • Sets: May need to be sourced or constructed, delaying production.
  • Cast: Cast availability can be one of the trickiest variables for your schedule. Lining up cast to shoot scenes together, trying to keep them consecutive and working around their other shoots and commitments can be very difficult. Transparency and commitment from your cast is key.
  • Wet Weather Plan: Shooting exterior can cause issues if it rains, but having a backup plan or different scene can save you time and money.
  • Children: There are specific laws regarding filming with children, including their supervision, the amount of hours they can work, break times and schooling. Australia has strict laws protecting children, and more information can be found here.
  • Extras: A large crowd of people can cost your production a lot of money. Most extras are paid on a half-day or full-day rate. Squeezing all of your extras shots into a half-day can save you a lot of money.
  • Art Department: Turning a boring location into something ‘shootable’ takes time to set up. Allow your Art Dept sufficient time at the beginning of each shooting location.
  • Make-Up and Wardrobe: Especially with multiple cast, the beginning of the day involves taking everyone through hair, make-up and wardrobe. We’ll go into this further in a later lesson.
  • Other: There will always be something else that challenges your schedule…

Aside from these large factors, there are many other things that will affect the speed in which you can shoot your script:

  • Director’s style: David Fincher is renowned for doing many takes, whereas other Directors are happy to move on. The Director’s style with how he/she runs the set will be the major contributing factor to your progress.
  • Director of Photography: Similarly, the expertise and skill of the DOP will affect how many shots you can set up. Having a great Director, DOP and First Assistant Director relationship is the key to a smooth set (we’ll go into this in a later lesson).
  • ‘Big’ scenes: This can be a scene with many cast, or just one actor needed time to give a heavily emotional performance. Give these scenes room in your schedule – they deserve it.
  • Dialogue: With sufficient rehearsal, dialogue scenes are generally quick to shoot. Not knowing lines will halt progress.
  • Action, fighting or dancing scenes: Although fun, these scenes need a lot of time to choreograph, rehearse and perform. Correct safety procedures need to be enforced, regardless of the size of production. Hiring a fighting or dance coordinator will save you time.
  • Stunts and special effects: These must be performed by professional stunt performers and special effects coordinators, again, even on the smallest shoot. There is nothing more important than safety on set, and these moments can put your crew in danger. Schedule much more time than you think for stunts and special effects to ensure they are done safely.
  • Montages: Just a few lines in the script can turn into several scenes, so plan these out carefully.
  • Public areas: Some public areas allow you to shoot for free (some not so much). Either way, the public still have the right to access the area, so being friendly will help you ask passerby’s to move on. Tip: if anyone asks, you’re shooting a mayonnaise commercial – it’s boring enough for them to not need anymore information.
  • Children and Animals: As mentioned before, children have set time limits in how much they can legally work. It is also not guaranteed that their performance will be ideal in the first few takes. Similarly, animals will happily do their own thing and can get overwhelmed on set. Having a trained film animal will save you plenty of time (compared to your neighbour’s dog).
  • Cars: Shooting in moving cars is inherently difficult. The actor can never be driving the car. It’s simply unsafe. Hiring a low-loader or shooting on green screen are your best options.
  • Boats and Water: Like cars, safety on boats and near water is very important. If a crew member or equipment were to fall into the water, your production needs to halt. Again, hiring professionals for your water transport is ideal.
  • Weather, season and terrain: Overly hot or cold seasons can slow your production. Keep your crew warm, watered and happy during these times. Perhaps your shooting location cannot be accessed by vehicle? You’ll need to include slow travel time into your schedule.

One thing we like to do to clarify the importance of scenes is to give them an A, B or C rating:

  • A scenes MUST be shot at a specific time. The scene cannot be removed or rescheduled.
  • scenes must be shot for the story to make sense, but can be rescheduled or tweaked if an issue arises.
  • C scenes still need to be shot, but the story would make sense without them. They are nice-to-haves.

This system can also be used for each shot. Again, we’ll discuss this in a later lesson.

Hopefully this lesson has helped you begin to understand the complex process of film scheduling. If you would like an Excel file of the stripboard template above, send us THIS EMAIL.

We always welcome your feedback, so please comment below. Next lesson, we’ll get into film budgeting.

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