A film is a machine with many moving parts. In order to function efficiently, or really to function at all, you must run a tight ship. The most important way to do this is to create a production schedule.
Creating a production schedule is no trivial task. It requires effort and organizational skills. Here are some actions you should take and considerations you should keep in mind as you create your film production schedule.
Read Over the Script
The first step to take in the process of creating a production schedule is to read over and annotate the script.
Simply reading through the script a few times will help you know which scenes are most important to the story, which will take the longest to shoot, and which will be the most difficult to shoot. As you will see, this can dictate how you arrange your production schedule.
Also, annotating the script and noting who must be involved in each scene will make it much easier to make your breakdown sheet, which will in turn help your production schedule template.
Use Breakdown Sheets
A breakdown sheet is used to keep track of everything and everyone that is going to be in a given scene. This includes cast members, extras, props, costumes, makeup, set dressing, and any other possible elements like greenery or animals.
With a comprehensive breakdown sheet document for all of your scenes, you can see which cast and crew members are present in each scene. This can allow you to space out specific people’s involvement.
There are many different websites and services that auto-generate breakdown sheets. One example is Studio Binder.
You can also read The Film Fund’s blog on how to do a script breakdown here.
Estimate the Length of Production
In order for you to hammer out the logistics of your production schedule, you have to estimate how many days you will be shooting for your film in the first place.
You can roughly estimate that one eighth of a page will take 15 minutes to shoot, according to Studio Binder. Given this, you can estimate that one page of your script (and one minute of your short film) will take 120 minutes, or 2 hours, to shoot.
If you’re making a 15-minute short film, then this translates to 30 hours of production. When you take into the account the hours of prep time, this will likely give you five days of production. Remember, though, that this is not an exact science.
Under-Schedule Each Day
Just like everything in life, nothing goes exactly the way you expect. If you under-schedule each day in your production schedule template, you are more likely to still get every scene done that you had planned for that day. Ultimately, that’s the most important part.
In general, expect the worst case scenarios to come true. Always place more elaborate sequences in your schedule in such a way that their implementation remains flexible.
Some unexpected issues that you could encounter during your shoot are inclement weather, faulty equipment, late cast and crew members, or general interruptions or emergencies. Being a successful filmmaker means being able to deal with any of these issues and work around them.
Keep Your Cast and Crew in Mind
People work best when they have sufficient time and energy to recuperate between scenes.
If there are some scenes that involve extensive effort in costuming and makeup, you might want to space those scenes out. That way, the crew members in charge of costuming and makeup can put their full effort into every single of these scenes. Otherwise, if all the scenes are churned out back-to-back in one day, you could be getting partial effort each time from overwhelmed crew members.
The same goes for your cast. In your short film, it’s very possible that your protagonist is in every single scene. Try to give your protagonist time to take a break, so that he or she is always prepared to deliver a great performance.
Also, make sure that the whole cast and crew has the opportunity to take a break for a meal. Production will run much more smoothly with a satisfied cast and crew than an agitated one. Lunch breaks should even go in your production schedule template, so that no moment in production goes unplanned.
Schedule Difficult Scenes First in Production
Scheduling difficult scenes earlier on in production is a preferable move. That way, if it becomes apparent that there was a better way to shoot, you have time to reshoot later on. Also, if you shoot difficult scenes first, it will be easier to get together all the necessary cast and crew members, as it tends to become increasingly difficult to bring everyone and all necessary materials together by the end of the shoot.
If you get the difficult scenes out of the way in the beginning, you are starting off on a good note, and everyone knows that it’s all downhill from then on. This builds positive momentum going into the rest of the production process.
Avoid Abruptly Shifting Emotional Gears
If your short film starts off with your characters being happy, but then a devastating event takes place that plunges your characters in despair, you have a big emotional shift on your hands.
You may want to avoid filming a scene in which your character is bawling her eyes out right next to a scene in which she is joyfully going about her day.
In fact, scenes in which your characters give an intensely emotional performance should be filmed at the start of the day. That way, the actor has had the entire previous night to mull over how exactly to give this performance.
This can be accomplished by following the next step.
Shoot Chronologically Whenever Possible
Often, shooting chronologically isn’t feasible. After all, it only makes sense to shoot all of the scenes that take place in a given location back-to-back, regardless of when in the story all the scenes take place.
However, when shooting chronologically can be done, it should be done.
Understand Timing Each Day
It can take a lot of time to break down and set up equipment like cameras, lights, sound recorders, and more. The more equipment you have, the longer these processes will take.
When you make your film production schedule, you should have a rough idea of how long it will take for the crew members to prepare, and account for it.
Mix Up Indoor and Outdoor Scenes
Planning a mix of indoor and outdoor scenes to be filmed on the same day can be a good move. That way, scenes can be rearranged if filming outside is not an option at a particular time. For example, if it’s raining in the morning when a sunny outdoor scene was supposed to take place, an indoor scene that was originally planned for later that day can just be filmed in the morning instead. The outdoor scene can then either be swapped in for the indoor scene, or you have the morning to brainstorm a possible alternate location in which that outdoor scene can be filmed.
It can also be helpful if it’s especially hot or cold outside on a filming day. Intense weather conditions during production can be brutal.
Remember Travel Considerations
Certain scenes in your film may require you to travel to a farther location. If your script takes place in many different locations, you should calculate driving distances online between these locations and factor them into the production schedule. Remember that it may take some people longer than others to arrive at the same place.
When it makes sense, try to film scenes in the same location on the same day. This could save you unnecessary travelling time.
Read Sample Production Schedule Templates
Fortunately, you don’t have to conjure up a film production schedule just from your own mind.
Production schedules usually list the scene number, whether the scene is indoors or outdoors (INT or EXT), whether it’s Day or Night, the cast members included, the shooting location, the script page count of the scene, the estimated shooting time, a shot description, and any other notes.
You should write out your film production schedule on an online platform like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel so that you can share it digitally with others on your film production team. With Google Sheets, you have the capability to share editing access to the film production schedule with collaborators.
Organization is the key to success. Having a detailed production schedule is crucial to making film production run as smoothly as possible.
If you’re working on or have an idea for a film and need funding to bring your project to fruition, make sure to check out our one-sentence pitch competition. You have the chance to win up to $10,000 in funding and other potential prizes like production scheduling software.