Watch Me Schedule a Movie

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Scheduling a film shoot is one of the less glamorous parts of the movie-making process. In fact, it's one of the bigger pains in the butt...or pain in the butts? I digress. No matter how you describe it, a shooting schedule can make you or break you. And, with a little bit of foresight, organization, and question-asking ahead of time, you can count on a smoother, faster, and more efficient shoot.

We are currently in the throes of tightening our schedule now. As Jean-Raphael Ambron (Raff) at Act Zero Films said to me in an email, "The key to winning any battle is preparation." I'm sure Sun Tzu gets the credit for that one, but boy does it ring true in filmmaking. Between myself, Raff, and Alex, we are kicking around all the different possibilities and approaches to best achieve what we want in the most economical, expedient way.

The first thing to consider is timeline. How long do we have to shoot? Over the past ten years, a sort of golden number of shoot days has prevailed for many indie films: 18 days. That number may seem arbitrary, but it's understandable why filmmakers often settle on or around it. With a small, efficient crew (and no children, dogs, or explosions), it's quite doable to shoot an average of 5 pages a day, give or take. That's fast, but time is not a luxury we can afford. The average independent feature script is usually around 90 pages or so (PHB is around 93 pages). So dividing 90 pages by 5-page days yields 18 shooting days. Easy enough. But what if your script is ten pages longer and you need two more days? Time to consult the budget...

A film crew works either five or six-day weeks. One is faster and one is less exhausting. For Blumenthal, because we are indie (and cheap!), we are shooting for six-day weeks. So, three weeks of shooting total. What about those two extra days? If we shoot two more days, that goes into a fourth week which could potentially increase our cast, crew, and equipment rental costs by a full weekly rate. That's an expensive two days! So something must be compromised somewhere. Of course, if every page of your script is sacred and you don't want to rush anything you already have scheduled, you're going to have to spend some extra money. If you don't have any money to spend, then it's time to get creative, both in scheduling and in writing. Getting creative is where we are now.

In the early stages of pre-production, everything sort of needs to happen simultaneously. The schedule depends on the locations and the actors, the locations and the actors depend on the budget, and the budget depends on the schedule. As you can imagine, there is plenty of back and forth on the phone and email before anything is nailed down. The other major factor in pre-production planning is the script. That one should be more obvious than it is, but long after a script is written or locked, we tend to stop thinking of it as a living thing, which it is! Just as I've addressed the effect of a script on location demands, the same applies to the broader scope of the shoot. Today, I noticed a particular day in our one-liner schedule that I couldn't remember writing. It was eating up more than half a day of shooting, which is a good deal of time for something you forgot was even in the movie. I am now on the brink of axing that particular scene, or at least severely paring it down. What's more, I think the new edit ultimately serves the story and characters much better!

All told, we are angling for an 18 day shoot of principal photography with one or two extra days of shooting later in the summer. We would likely squeeze those extra days into the principal shoot, but can't due to actors/logistics scheduling.

After a few (several) more passes at the schedule, we can move easily into production with a comprehensive battle plan. Armed with the schedule, our First Assistant Director will be able to guide us through the shoot from scene to scene, and everyone onboard will have the confidence that everything will get done on time. Most importantly, that schedule roadmap will give me a sense of security, lower my blood pressure, and permit me to make clear-headed creative theory.

From the Blumenthals in New York,  Happy Passover!