Sep 1, 2020
*Updated May 2022
Time is the enemy of every filmmaker.
If only you could take as long as you wanted to create your film, then it would be a better chance of being perfect.
But film production is a complex, often-expensive process. Equipment must be rented. Sets must be staged and prepped. In some cases, a legion of cast and crew must be organized.
All of this works against the time constraints you have for a project. Just getting things done on time is impressive enough, let alone getting the film done on time the way you wanted it to be shot.
But everything in life happens by degrees, so to help mere mortals get closer to shooting your movie the exact way you imagined it, the filmmaking gods bequeathed unto humanity the call sheet.
Call sheets provide a single source of truth — that place where you can find everything you need to know about a film production. This is rare in both life and in film production, so call sheets are absolutely vital to ensuring things run as smoothly as possible.
Each new day of production warrants a new call sheet. So if you’ve set aside a week for filming, you’ll need to draft up and distribute seven call sheets. This same principle holds true whether production takes place over the course of one day or eight months.
There are a couple of ground rules for this document. First and foremost, only send it out once. You don’t want multiple versions of the call sheet floating around on Day 1 of film production. That will only lead to chaos and gratuitous time wasting.
Second, only use the information that you need. Our free call sheet template is pretty fancy, but if you don’t need all that information, don’t use it. You want the call sheet to be informative, not overwhelming.
Third, if you think that you can get away with not using a call sheet – well, best of luck to you. It doesn’t take years of experience in this industry to realize that call sheets serve a crucial role in film production, especially when you consider how production would go without a call sheet.
To emphasize just how necessary a call sheet is, let’s take a look at the inevitable outcome of transitioning from pre-production to production without this document.
Where will the film production take place? When does the talent need to arrive on location? What scenes will be filmed today?
Just as your DP and camera department rely on a storyboard to guide their cinematography, your cast members and crew rely on the call sheet to find answers to all of these questions and more. Without this document, only the people leading production know what’s going on at any given moment. Everyone else is left out of the loop.
As a result, you end up spending all of your time as a liaison for the cast and crew. Instead of focusing on your other responsibilities, you enter into this inescapable cycle of fielding phone calls and sharing the same information over and over again.
Everywhere you turn, someone is asking you a question that could have been answered with a call sheet.
So not only are you frustrated and not able to properly do your job, everyone else is feeling the same way.
One of the most important functions of a call sheet is that it outlines exactly who is expected to be where, and when.
If you forego the call sheet, no one but you knows the daily production schedule. Your cast members won’t know their call time or what parts of the script they should memorize ahead of time.
It’s a recipe for disaster, in other words.
Someone who isn’t expected to arrive on set until 2 p.m. could show up at 9 a.m. because they didn’t know otherwise. And someone who is expected earlier in the day could miss their call time altogether.
As one of the people leading production, the responsibility ultimately falls on you to make sure that everyone has the information they need to do their part during production. If you don’t distribute a call sheet, the right people will inevitably show up at the wrong times and places.
The call sheet is what you use to structure each day of production. It’s the blueprint that tells everyone what they need to know so that they can do their best work on set.
Take the call sheets away and problems are bound to happen.
Your talent will miss call times, your crew will show up at the wrong location, utter chaos will ensue, etc. And here’s the thing: small issues turn into big issues quickly.
If one person doesn’t show up for their call time, you’re not able to film the scene. That means you’ll have to reschedule (which you probably don’t have the time for) and extend filming by an extra day or two (which you probably don’t have the budget for).
This puts your cast and crew in a difficult situation — not just during production but post-production as well. Even if it’s possible to get production back on track, everyone will have to work overtime to pull it off.
The thing about production is that there’s no going back once it starts. If you realize too late that you should have made a call sheet, you take the risk of leaving out important information when you scramble to make one last-minute.
And if you don’t make a call sheet, you’ll keep running into the same types of problems day-after-day during film production.
By setting aside time in pre-production to create a call sheet(s), you can spare yourself and everyone involved from miscommunication, scheduling nightmares, and added complications.
But the question remains: “What should I put on a call sheet?”
Well, that comes down to your production. To make it a little easier for you to figure out, here’s a walkthrough of everything that’s on our film call sheet template (download our free call sheet template here).
There’s a variety of information a call sheet can contain. The exact amount and complexity depends on what you need for your video or film production.
In that sense, think of each section as a component you can keep or remove. Our free call sheet template is pretty comprehensive, but if you don’t need some of the sections you’re free to leave them blank or cut them out entirely.
Here’s a rundown of what to put in each section and why it’s important.
This is where the highlights live. Stuff like: what time things start, where stuff is happening, who to contact when you have a question.
Do I really need to elaborate here?
These are the head honchos, the people who are keeping the entire production on the rails. Typically, you’ll want to list the contact details for the director, assistant director, producer, and production coordinator. The AD and production coordinator are there for the day-to-day stuff, but if someone needs the director or producer for a big call, they’ll know how to ring them.
This is a bit of a catch-all section, but the information is important. Posting the weather forecast is important, because people need to know what to wear. (We can’t expect them to look up this information on their own.)
Likewise, letting everyone know when lunch is happening and how to get in touch with craft services (if that’s how you roll, that is).
This is also where you can share information about the parking options, commuting information, and anything else that people should know going into that day of film production.
People gotta know where the set is, or else they can’t get there. If there’s multiple locations, be sure to list who needs to be there and at what time.
You’ll notice in the image above that you can also specify whether the entire crew or only the essential crew is needed at each location. It’s a small detail, but it makes a big difference in giving your production team the direction they need.
The huge call time in the middle may seem like overkill, but trust me, it’s not. This section exists so that everyone knows where they’re expected to be at any given time. And you’re not to blame if your talent is a no-show.
Knowing the location of the nearest emergency hospital is film production 101. It’s human nature to think “we won’t need that; we’re not shooting anything dangerous.”
But you never know what will happen on set. And you owe it to your cast members and crew to make sure you know where to go if something goes down.
I can’t stress enough the importance of listing the nearest hospital for each filming location, not just the primary one, and the contact details.
If production takes place in three different places over the course of four days, you need to disclose at least three nearby medical facilities with an ER.
If you don’t, your cast or crew members probably won’t get the help they need as soon as they need it when emergency situations do happen.
Now you’re in the weeds. These are the details people need to make each day of production happen — otherwise known as the daily shooting schedule.
This is where the shoot is broken down into as much detail as humanly possible. (Not really, but it’s pretty close.) Here’s what they each mean.
Choose one of the numbers from the options in the previous section
and make sure you list it clearly on the call sheet.
If you’re shooting from 5 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. but don’t specify that this is taking place at Location #1, you take the risk of your cast and crew showing up at Location #2.
And if filming is slated to happen in multiple places during one day, don’t forget to schedule out time for the commute from location to location. Not doing this will absolutely throw off your production schedule, especially if you’re dealing with long commutes and traffic.
As a best practice for anything production-related, remember that little details like this do matter.
This section describes exactly what will be shot and how long it’s expected to take. So in the first two, choose when shooting begins and ends for this part of the film. Below that, describe what types of shots you’ll be doing.
As you can see from our call sheet template, this could be something as simple as “Last two scenes after dark — set camera 4:30 p.m., first shot at 5:15 p.m.”
Keep in mind that the call sheet doesn’t replace your shot list, shooting script, or any other document you’ll have with you on set. So you don’t have to be extremely thorough to the point that you’re listing a full shot-by-shot breakdown.
This section, specifically, just gives you and everyone involved a basic guideline of how each day of production will go.
Each actor is assigned a character number, which you can find in the next section of this very sheet. But for the daily shoot schedule, using the numbers is an easy way to get an at-a-glance idea of who needs to be on set.
What day of the week is this happening? Type it here.
If you’re planning to commute from Location #1 to Location #2 on Friday during rush hour, that’s something that your entire team will need to know ahead of time and account for.
This section outlines what pages of the script will be covered in the shot. That way, the talent knows which lines they absolutely can’t forget, and the production crew has a better understanding of what’s going to happen in the scene.
I can’t say for sure, but it seems like this might be where the expression “getting on the same page” comes from.
Any additional notes about the location, like special parking instructions, if any special equipment needs to be brought, etc.
You want to include any location-specific information that your cast and crew should probably know (i.e., if filming will take place rain or shine, what the local weather forecasts are, where people can get a parking pass, etc.). This makes it easy for everyone to, once again, be on the same page.
The final part of the call sheet is dedicated to listing the talent and all the contact information for people in production, the camera department, SFX / makeup, and the art team. There’s also a place for important contact details and notes for the cast and crew.
Again, these are the default teams we have listed on our call sheet, but feel free to chop, change, or ignore these sections as you see fit. Here’s how this final part looks:
Productions don’t run smoothly by accident, and that’s something our Creative team knows firsthand. So while it’s true that we created this downloadable call sheet template for you, we’ve had plenty of experience using this particular document for our own projects.
Some days we’re producing Soundstripe Live videos and working with talented artists like Luna Wave, Visitants, or Timber Choir. Other days, we’re filming content for our Filmmaker Tips & Tricks series on YouTube.
From music videos to tutorials and gear recommendations, our video production process looks different for almost every video we create. But one of the things that never changes is that we always use a call sheet.
And here’s just one example why:
To produce our Soundstripe Live videos, we book one location for a single day and then film with two music artists during that time — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Creating a call sheet at the end of pre-production is the only way we can pull something like this off.
By filling out and distributing this document, our team has a set plan (including what types of shots and camera movements that we’ll need) for making sure that production goes on without a hitch. And the music artists we’re working with know exactly what to expect before arriving on location.
So that’s our version of a call sheet template. (Feel free to download it here.)
This film call sheet template may be overkill for a lot of the indie filmmakers in the house, but it’s better to have a document you can cut down, rather than one you have to keep adding to.
And in the end, having too much organization is never a bad thing.
And finally, in case you missed the link above, we have our very own simple call sheet template to share with you. Remember, these call sheet templates are meant to be a starting point — or a call sheet example, if you will — where you can create your one call sheet to rule them all.
Also, keep in mind that crew members might have call sheet templates of their own to share, but as with any call sheet templates they're best thought of simply as a call sheet example for what your final film call sheets will look like.
Let your assistant director set up your own call sheets, arrange a compact production schedule, and lay out the call times for your cast and crew members for optimal success. Just don't forget to double-check that you're not sending out the wrong call sheet the night before!
So, while you and your team on your call sheets online with these helpful templates and examples, feel free to check out some of these additional articles and resources from the Soundstripe blog: