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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Teenage Production Assistant Special: The Call Sheet!






I started putting together the next post in the recurring I Was A Teenage Production Assistant series when I realized that the beginning of the post kept referring to something called a "call sheet." For those unfamiliar with that term - here's a bonus IWATPA post breaking that fine document down.








The call sheet is a daily one page document of the day’s work. For the illustrations in this post I'm mostly using a call sheet from the TV series Lost. I grabbed it at random off the internet - I did not work on the show or anything. But it was set up like most of the call sheets I saw across my years in the business.

Lost is wrapped, so I don't think there's any proprietary or sensitive info left on here - maybe something on here could tork somebody on Hawaii 5-O off - who knows?







The front side has a masthead with the production’s information – office address and phone number, project title, producers; director; sunrise; sunset; closest hospital; and even a weather forecast for the day (important when you’re shooting exteriors, of course, but potentially important for interiors too.)


The masthead



Under that section is the listed schedule of scenes for that day’s shoot, including the scene numbers, scene descriptions, cast needed, whether a scene is day or night, what script day it takes place on, and script page count. Script page count is always in 1/8's of pages. For example, a scene that runs 2 1/2 pages is listed on the call sheet as 2 4/8 pages. This has to do with the breakdown of each page and how much screen time a scene will take up. Script format produces roughly a minute per script page. When you put something in like "Establishing shot of diner" it will be listed as a 1/8 page scene. Shooting it took time, and it will add to the day's page count - and by it being 1/8 of a page everyone knows it is expected to take up roughly 7-8 seconds of screen time. If something happens in that shot - a character driving up, getting out, and going in to the diner - now that scene will have more description in it and will be listed as 3/8 or 4/8 of a page. Then it is also known that the shot is expected to run 20-30 seconds onscreen.



Scene listing



Under that is the cast listing – with the times they are to work (“call times”) or if they are on hold for the day. Usually the main players are printed every day – and the actors with shorter scheduled roles will be handwritten in or added only on the days when their status changes. And by the way, due to SAG rules – there are lots of necessary listed status changes. S = ‘start’ W = ‘work’ H = ‘hold’ F = ‘finish’ TR = ‘travel’.



So, accordingly, an actor may be blank for a few days if he doesn’t start work until some days into the shoot. Then, the day before he works he might be listed as “SWTr” which means that he is Starting Work with Travel – which he is paid for. The next day he starts shooting, so he would be listed that day as “W” for work. The day after that he has no scenes to shoot – so he would be listed as “H” – he is on Hold. Hold is important, because if the production gets rained out for exterior scenes – and has to move to interiors – the actor on Hold could be called in to work. This is handled by the second Assistant Director – AD – letting them know the day before the Hold day – “You’re on Hold tomorrow, but the weatherman is calling for a 50 % chance of rain, so if we move interior we will shoot scene 57 with you.” That way the actor knows to prepare for scene 57 and to either stay put at the hotel or keep the production notified as to his whereabouts all day – so he can be called in with a minimum of time wasted. Nowadays this certainly must be easier with cell phones – but the keeping in touch part was a whole different animal in the 90’s – when there were cell phones, but few people had them, and the pager was still king. So the actor has his Hold days, and his Work days. Finally, he shoots his last day – on that call sheet he usually would be listed as WF – Work Finish. Then after he is camera wrapped, he usually gets one more night staying over – then the next day is listed for the last time as TR – Travel home. If the person Is wrapping the show early on the last day he could be travelling home the same day – in which case he’d be listed as WFTR – Work Finish, then Travel. This is for the major actors on the show – or the smaller parts if the deal is worked out that way. Other actors on the show are called ‘day players.’ They usually only work a day or two. They also get less SAG consideration. They might not get TR days – so if they work only one day with no travel – they would appear on the call sheet one time – SWF – Start, Work, Finish. Then their name would disappear off the call sheet.


Cast info





Okay – under that on the call sheet is a two column block. On the left is a block that contains the information about the background extras, photo doubles, and possibly stand-ins for the actors. The background extras are the non speaking people who wander around in the background of a shot (not really wander – they have specific actions set by the assistant directors on set). They could be diners at other tables in an eating scene; a crowd gathering after some violence or an accident, or bystanders walking down a street. If there are people in the shot other than the actors – be aware they are always background extras hired to work in the scene – not actual bystanders who are lucky enough to be walking through the scene. There are several reasons why this is so. (And yes, it is possible that for a very low budget shoot especially in these digital days a production could stage a scene in public and let people just occur as background extras – but it’s still somewhat unlikely as you will see with my next statements). A production cannot put faces before the lens without the permission of the faces’ owners. This is accomplished either through the payment paperwork for a paid extra, or in rare cases where a show has called in extras they aren’t paying – through paperwork called a release form – which allows the production company to use and exploit your image forever and ever amen for no recompense. Extras need to be controlled. If you strolled down a city street shooting a shot of Tom Cruise – playing a nobody librarian – then you would get scads of people looking directly at him, and directly at the camera lens. This would look silly in your movie. Instead, you need professional extras, who would bustle down that street “on their way to work” totally ignoring that ordinary librarian – and the camera – just like real life where librarians aren’t Tom Cruise and cameras aren’t following him. You also need to be able to reassemble your extras to match for coverage shots. If a tall redheaded lady crosses behind Tom just as he flashes his million watt smile in the wide shot – then she needs to cross in exactly the same way when they punch in for a close up. Below they had 50 total background extras - the numbers on the far left are how many of each are needed. Note the staggered call times for each set of 20 travelers w/bags (20 at 5:30am, 20 at 6:00am) - this gives makeup, hair, and wardrobe time to check the extras out during the morning process.

Also listed here are stand-ins. The process of production is - the actors come to set and rehearse the first scene of the day - all of the departments watch to get an understanding of the scene in full. Usually the first set up will be the master shot of the whole scene in wide shot. After rehearsal the actors are sent out to finish getting ready (makeup, hair, and wardrobe) and the set is turned over to the director of photography (DP - not DoP) who then proceeds to set up the first shot - directing the camera crew, the electrics for the lighting, and the grips for anything that affects the camera (like a dolly track) or the lighting (a bounce screen; a light diffusing screen). In order to see the bodies being lit - there are stand-ins for the actors - they watch the rehearsal and then stand in the actors' places while the lights are set. They are usually as close to the same height and general coloring - you wouldn't have a woman with jet black hair stand in for a blonde actress like Cyntha Watros in our example. They also usually wear clothing similar in coloring to the wardrobe for the scene. When the DP is finished lighting the set, the stand-ins step out and the "first team" (actors) step in. The shot is completed, then the entire process is repeated for each successive shot in the scene (medium shot, over the shoulder, close-up, and then the reverses of each of those if needed) until the scene is complete. As listed below - they had regular stand-ins for the main actors, then a fourth "utility" stand-in to cover anyone else.







Photo doubles are people who resemble an actor – whether naturally or or through makeup and hair alterations. They are used for various reasons – perhaps the actor is facing away from camera in the background – the character is in the scene, but the actor won’t be seen clearly or speaking. Or it could be that during a sequence with the actor there’s particular attention played to a prop they hold, or the clothes they wear – the actor would shoot parts where his face is clearly seen – then a double would be used to shoot the shots of the hand holding the prop, or his shoes, with their incriminating mud spatters. Actors tend to like to skip shots like that – so they are often doubled for these shots. There are other reasons actors are doubled as well. When these reasons happen on the shows I work on I’ll mention them in more detail. That way maybe I can keep this thing down to 70,000 words or less.
 In any case - our representative call sheet lists no photo doubles.



The right hand side of this section is a block containing special instructions/needs for various departments. For example, perhaps props needs to provide a hammer and nails for a scene, along with an identical stunt rubber hammer. They would be listed here. Of course, the prop department would have been aware of the need for the two hammers and nails since they did their script breakdown in pre-production. This consists of reading the script carefully, and making a detailed list of every prop needed, as well as the scene numbers they appear in. Putting the props needed in this section of the call sheet is a reminder only. It's also a bit of a CYA - because no one (director; producers) can say something was asked for in a particular scene if it isn't listed on the call sheet - and no one (props) can say they didn't know something was needed if it is listed on the call sheet.





Lastly, beneath this section is the schedule ahead - usually 2-3 days worth of the upcoming scenes and locations, sometimes as little as the next day only if it's a big day. Again - no surprises (on paper). You read your call sheet, you can see scene 47 listed for Thursday at the bottom of Monday's call sheet. On Tuesday and Wednesday it moves up the schedule. Therefore you should not be surprised that the scene is shooting on Thursday. This is also a way to keep track of upcoming scenes as the schedule changes.  (Weather, actor availability, etc).

Like a time machine into the future...



The back of the call sheet lists all of the crew members in each department. It also provides a place for their call time to be listed - if they are supposed to be on set at "crew call" - let's say 7 am - or if they need to be there earlier (makeup and hair to get actors ready) or later - marine department for a boat scene after the crew lunch midday. Some departments are provided a call time by the department heads - like makeup and hair assistants, who get their call times from the keys (head person in the department.) Production might have called in the makeup assistant at 6:30am, but the makeup department key knows they are putting the burn scar makeup on the actress, so maybe the assistant needs to arrive at 5:30am to prep that. So, the key gives the assistant the 5:30am call time, and the call sheet just lists it as "per (key's initials)." I have a call sheet back for a different show - the WB series Roswell - as an example - coincidentally this show has Patrick Norris as a director - and I worked with him several times on Dawson's Creek!

If you want an explanation of any of these jobs in greater detail - let me know.





Call sheets are handed out at wrap - they usually make far more than are needed - goodbye, trees - and people carry them around all the next day. Another small call sheet will be attached to the front of something called "sides" - which are the script pages being shot that day, reduced in size to about the dimensions of a paperback book. This is for the actors mainly - so they can refer to the script quickly without having to pull out a full sized one and dig through it - but others use them as well - like the sound department - to get a feel for the dialogue in a scene.


This is a page from a set of sides. This picture is roughly how
big a set of sides is. Also, note the X-ed out scene - that's a
scene being shot on a different day - so in this case the actor
should concentrate on scene 13.




When a production is moving to a new location the call sheet may have attached to it a map showing how to get to the location. They base the map on getting to the set from the production office, or if a majority of the crew is being put up in a certain hotel  - to the set from that hotel. They may combine these. But locals will need to check for landmarks and pick up the path from their own homes. Here's a call sheet map from some show shooting in Los Angeles:






In addition to very efficiently supplying all of that information to all of those crew members every day - call sheets serve another function too. Anyone who wants to join the Director's Guild of America (DGA) as an assistant director needs to document 600 days working as a production assistant or non-DGA assistant director. So, you need to keep a call sheet (with your name listed on the back as crew) for each day you work until you hit 600. (There are other documents needed for this as well - but we'll get in to those in another post.)



And that, friends and neighbors, is a call sheet. I think it may work well to do some other pieces like this - laying out some of the terms from the industry in detail - maybe even a glossary one of these days.



When next we jump in to this department we'll be back to the regularly scheduled next job from my resume! And the next one is a virtual assault on a legendary director!



Until that post - or whatever is next - you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

17 comments:

  1. Thank you!! This is too freaking cool. I had a film class and only touched on the call sheet. I'll have to show this to my nephew as he is immensely interested in film making. Do more pieces like this for sure. I would love, love to read more about the nuts and bolts of the set. BTW are you in the DGA?

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    1. Awesome! I hope your nephew likes it! I'll have to see what other nuts and bolts I could find to do! I was DGA eligible - did not get the job that would have cemented me in (and cost dues) I probably technically still am eligible - but then again there may be time limits and I might have been dropped from the eligible roster.

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  2. Oh! My! Goodness! I just flipped through it but what I saw was simply amazing! Gonna check the whole thing out over the weekend. You worked hard for this post, so this post deserves my full attention! :)

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  3. Ok, read it - super-fucking-amazing! Never seen anything like it, and actually I had no idea that something like that exists, although it obviously makes sense.
    Gonna be at my very first shot end of month - maybe they have something like that too?

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    1. They probably will have some form of it - I'd love to see one if they do! Glad you liked this one - another Megapost!

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  4. Can you explain what D/N means on the part of the call sheet describing scenes?

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    1. The D/N column denotes bother whether a scene is supposed to be taking place in daytime or night time - and also which script day the scene comes from. For example, if a movie's story takes place across five story days - the scene could be N3 - meaning the night of the third day. D5 is the fifth story day. In the example above an extra layer of information is added - which was something Lost had to work with every episode - all of that days scenes are flashback scenes from before the plane crash in the first episode. The first scene is noted a FBD3 - Flashback Day 3. The other two scenes are only FBD - they take place in a different time period than the first scene, so they are only listed as FBD - because if a script day number was assigned to them it might easily be confused with Flashback Day 3. Let me know if you have any other questions. I might add this comment to the post at some point - thanks for pointing this out! Cheers!

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  5. Works for the Assistant Directors but in effect works for all departments by taking information (usually from the A.D.s) and passing on information. Other duties regularly assigned to Set P.A.s include: Supporting the set through Lock-ups, managing Extras; helping in company moves or crowd control; collecting paperwork and out times for the production.


    Jason@VanEman

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    1. That is a production assistant! Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  6. what does o/c mean in the crew call time secction?

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    1. On call - meaning they don't have to report to work at a certain time, but manage their own comings and goings to and from set with a proviso to be available (on call).

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  7. also what does RTM mean under location info

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    1. I don't see RTM in any of the pictures - sorry - can you tell me which picture you see it in (the second, the fifth, etc?)

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  8. Hello,
    Could you please tell me what W/N means

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    1. I've scanned all over this post looking for a W/N - could not find one. Generally speaking W/N means "will notify." That is used when someone (an actor) or a department will be needed the next day, but because the scene that needs them is happening later in the day - the production tells them they "will notify" them with a phone call to come in sometime after the day has started. In some cases this could be to save money if the thing or department needed is high dollar or makes a lot of overtime - they wouldn't want to call that person or thing in and have them sitting around sucking money and not working. It could also be a child actor with finite time on set - if you only get six hours with the kid and the scene with them is expected to take five or six hours to shoot - you don't want to call them in and have them burning those precious minutes up while not actually working.

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    2. Thank you so much! Sorry, it wasn't on your article but after reading your article and not seeing it I figured I would just ask you. My daughter ( age 4) just got offered a principal role on a tv series after having worked as an extra. We just received the call sheet and I noticed that by her name was W/N and was so confused. I appreciate you taking the time to explain this to me as it makes perfect since given her age and the time limit she has on set

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