This article is a detailed film production scheduling guide for producers from prep to production.
There is so much to think about when producing a film.
From people, to gear, to budget — it can be easy to lose track! And things only get more complicated the bigger the project, which is why film production scheduling is so important. A well-organized schedule is the first step to making a great film.
Below we have broken down the stages of scheduling for producers. Starting with script development and ending with locking down your production schedule. This list is the workflow many producers follow to ensure an organized and successful film shoot.
1. Script Development
Your first step in the production workflow is idea development. As a producer, you might have an original idea you want to see turned into a screenplay. Alternatively, you might have sourced a spec script or have the rights for an adaption (for example, a novel adaption).
Before choosing your script, you also need to be confident that it will work as a movie. The story must have an audience and have the potential to make a profit. Experienced producers will know from the first read what type of budget is needed. Elements such as genre, stunts, and CGI effects will quickly increase a budget. It’s worth thinking about the budget in these early stages, as this will determine how you finance your film.
Either way, to ensure a smooth film production scheduling, you must know your story inside out as a producer. And this means reading your script several times, taking in the information, and understanding what you need to make it work.
2. Script Breakdown
Now that you have chosen a screenplay, you can begin the early stages of pre-production. Your first step as a producer is to complete an initial script breakdown. This means listing every element within your script that you need to gather before production begins.
By doing this you can create two things. First, a budget estimate, and second, a preliminary production schedule. The producer will complete the initial script breakdown, but other departments will conduct their own later. For example, the art department will do a script breakdown during pre-production by taking notes on props and set design.
As a producer, you will want to have an idea of what your entire production will cost to shoot as soon as possible. To do this, go through each scene at a time and create a list of every element. Elements are everything you can see in a scene from actors, to props and costumes. When all of your elements are listed, you can begin to see how many locations, significant props, and setups you will need.
3. Budget Breakdown
You can’t start pre-production or effectively schedule without a budget. Your initial script breakdown allows you to see what you need to gather to make your film. With the budget breakdown, you can estimate how much your film will cost to shoot.
First, start with your lead actors and major crew. You can find estimates of what to pay people on sites such as SAG, BECTU (UK), and guidelines by film unions. Keep in mind that filmmakers are self-employed freelancers, and rates will vary per individual. For now, this is only a budget estimate. Your budget and schedule will both change throughout pre-production.
After actors and crew, list your equipment, locations, and production design. You can also break down costs into sections, such as pre-production, production, post, and distribution. It’s essential to not just focus on the film shoot, remember that all of your film stages will need a budget.
Once you have a general budget breakdown, you can begin to finance your film. Unfortunately, this stage can take a long time to accomplish. Many films stay in the financing stage for years. Financing will be more accessible for lower budgets and experienced producers. To help you get started, we have created a list of the best film funding grants.
4. Film Production Scheduling
After you have completed a script and budget breakdown, you can create your first production schedule. Scheduling begins with deciding how many pages of a screenplay you will be aiming to shoot each day. For reference, studio films will get by on shooting one page of script a day. The average film will aim for five, and low budgets can plan to shoot as many as ten.
The more days you spend shooting, the more expensive your film budget will be. However, attempting to film too many pages a day will significantly reduce the quality of your film. As a producer, you need to decide what type of movie you are making and how many shooting days you can afford.
Using your script breakdown, you can schedule locations and estimate how long scenes will take to shoot. For example, to save time, you can film all of the scenes from one location back to back together. You might also want to take longer on some scenes that are vital to the story. For instance, a scene that is mentally draining for an actor might require additional time on the schedule.
Also, keep in mind that some shots and scenes will naturally take longer to shoot. Such as scenes that require special equipment (Steadicam shots) or involve stunt work. Understand that your cast and crew’s energy will decrease during the day too. Often during film production scheduling, the most challenging scenes are arranged before lunchtime. Additionally, make sure there is extra time given per day in case you go over the schedule. Also, plan for at least one additional day of filming at the end of the schedule in case you need pickups.
You can use a pen, paper, and cards to create your first schedule. However, these days most producers use digital software. The most popular software for film production scheduling is Studio Binder, Gorilla Software, Movie Magic Scheduling, Celtx, and Yamdu.
You can also download our free stripboard scheduling template.
Download our Free Stripboard Template This professional stripboard template is designed to work seamlessly in Excel and Google Drive.
Download our Free Stripboard Template
This professional stripboard template is designed to work seamlessly in Excel and Google Drive.
5. Hiring Cast & Crew
When you have created an initial schedule, you can begin to hire your first crew. It can be hard to get people on board when you don’t have some general knowledge on schedule and budget. Before hiring, you need to know shooting dates and how much you can afford to pay people.
The first people you should hire are your lead actors and above-the-line crew. This is because you might need to reschedule based on their availability. You are more likely to reschedule if it means getting a well-known actor on board. Being flexible during these early stages is to your advantage. Your above-the-line crew includes your director, director of photography, and production designer. Once you have hired your central staff, pre-production can officially begin.
When you hire, be clear with what you can offer and make no false promises. Remember, this is a team effort, and your production team will also have ideas on film production scheduling. Your initial schedule will likely change during the hiring stage. Try to keep track of your budget with software or if you can afford it, hire an accountant to do it for you.
6. Shot Lists & Storyboards
One of the first steps in pre-production is the creation of shot lists and storyboards. These help the director communicate their vision with the rest of the crew. The director will work closely with the director of photography and other HODs to plan the film’s look.
To complete a shot list, the director will make a list of shot types they wish to use for each scene. They will then share this list with the producer and DOP. As the producer, you will need to check two things. Firstly, the director is not overshooting, and secondly, the desired shots are within budget. For example, a director might plan to use specialist camera equipment that is out of your budget range. When everyone is happy with the shot list, storyboarding can begin.
Storyboarding is when you sketch images to represent the shots in each scene. Doing this gives you a more visual representation of each scene’s shooting plans. This will give you, as a producer, a more precise idea of what to expect from your director during the shooting day. Furthermore, you might adjust your schedule based on pre-visualization. For instance, if your director wants an establishing shot of a location, you might find that you need a whole morning to perfect this shot. You don’t need to guess how long shots will take to film either — your director, DOP, and production designer will all have estimates of how long each setup will take.
Check out our detailed storyboarding guide for beginners. You can create storyboards on paper but might choose to use digital software such as Storyboarder, ToonBoom, and Frame Forge. For viewing and playing back your storyboards in sequence, we recommend Boords.
7. Locking The Schedule
Your initial schedule is going to change throughout pre-production. A location might only be available for one afternoon, or maybe you can only get an actor for one specific weekend. As a producer, you need to decide when to budge from your original schedule and when to say no.
Lastly, a final schedule will be sent to all heads of departments at least a week before production begins. And this will also include a first-week advanced call sheet. The call sheet is sent out to every cast and crew member the night before each shooting day. And lets everyone know when and where they are needed each day, including a shot list breakdown per scene.
Film production scheduling is a continuous phase, meaning that you will never truly have a locked schedule. During production, plans will inevitably change, such as an actor falling sick or losing a location. Although you can never fully finish a film schedule, do as much as you can to get everything in place before production begins.
If you’re looking for a cloud-based tool to create call sheets and publish call times via text message, that is exactly what our software SetHero exists to do! Learn more about our call sheet features.
You can also download our free call sheet template for Word or Excel.
Follow the steps above you will be on your way to a smoother and more successful film shoot. By being organized with your schedule from the very beginning, you can reduce stress and save money. Likely you will make a few mistakes on your first film schedule. But there is no need for you to panic – film production scheduling is a skill that you will master with practice. You’ve got this!
In addition to the resources included above, we also have a range of free production templates from storyboard templates, location release forms, and schedule templates.
Do you have any scheduling tips to share with other producers? Let us know in the comments section below.