Shooting a film, large or small, is very much like participating in an intricately choreographed square dance—large groups of people scurrying in circles, pushing and pulling, all hoping to ace the next Horseshoe Turn (just in case you’re not a big square-dancing fan, a poorly executed Horseshoe Turn can easily turn a party into a pile-on).
A smooth production begins with a solid schedule.
As simple as it may seem, scheduling film and video production can be mind-numbingly tricky. As you likely already know, 99.9 percent of all films are shot out of order. Similar scenes are grouped together in order to maximize every dollar spent and avoid redundant work.
For example, if your crime drama includes several scenes that take place in a prison and they require actors who don’t appear elsewhere in the film, it makes no sense to schedule those scenes on multiple days, spread across your production calendar. You’d wind up re-renting (or rebuilding) your jail set multiple times and paying actors for numerous days. By scheduling them all for the same day, you avoid all that additional expense.
Another reason to group scenes is to accommodate someone’s (or something’s) limited availability. For instance, let’s say you’re lucky enough to land a name actor for a small role. Unfortunately, she’s only willing to give you two days of her time. In this case, scheduling her scenes together will become your highest priority. That said, it’s still important to schedule those scenes in an order that makes the most sense logistically and budgetarily.
Seems simple enough, but what happens when the weather suddenly takes an unexpected turn? Or a stunt takes much longer to shoot than expected? Or one of your locations backs out?
It’s not just a matter of cramming a bunch of scenes into a bunch of days. Shoot schedules are living, breathing organisms that must remain flexible enough to shift and stretch under ever-changing circumstances. Consider it the elastic waistband on the stain-covered sweatpants we call production.
So, are you ready to take on some scheduling mayhem? Not so fast, Captain Calendar! Before you can begin scheduling, you’ll first need to break down your script. I have yet to find any iOS apps that truly contribute to this process, but there are certainly a number of excellent books on the subject. Breaking down a script involves numbering the scenes for easy identification and pinpointing the elements that appear in each scene so you’ll know exactly who and what will be needed at each location. You need a script breakdown because you can’t schedule what you don’t fully understand. If you’re not confident you can break down your own script, find someone who can.
Once your script has been broken down, you’re ready to rock.
Macs and Windows machines have long dominated the film-scheduling arena. However, with three excellent scheduling tools already available in the App Store, iOS devices may soon be taking over...or at least, sneaking in the back door.
Movie Magic Scheduling To Go
Movie Magic Scheduling for Mac and Windows has been the entertainment industry’s scheduling touchstone for as long as I can remember. Although a few other scheduling apps have attempted to crash this Hollywood party, they’ve never managed to get into the V.I.P. section.
When Movie Magic Scheduling To Go (M.M.S.T.G.) hit the App Store in April 2011, it was a clear sign that Hollywood was taking iOS very seriously. It was also a sign that insanely long app names had somehow become acceptable.
Before I get into the app’s operation, I want to give you a quick bit of background. Film scheduling is typically done by the assistant director using something called a strip board (sometimes called a production board). Strip boards were once made of plastic, cardboard, or wood, but they have since been computerized, although the basic concepts and usage have remained largely unchanged. The idea is simple. Every scene in a film gets its own color-coded strip. The color indicates the scene’s time of day and type of shot. For instance, a white strip indicates an interior day scene, while a green strip indicates an exterior night scene. All the strips are then put onto a board, which is why it’s called a strip board. The strips are then shifted, shuffled, reordered, reorganized, and assigned to specific shooting days, until the entire schedule takes shape.
Movie Magic Scheduling for Macs and Windows machines can help you break down scripts and then virtualize the creation and management of your strip board. M.M.S.T.G. turns your iPad into an extension of the ubiquitous desktop application (FIGURE 4.14). It’s not a self-contained, stand-alone scheduling app, which is a bit of a disappointment for filmmakers anxiously hoping to see the full application emerge on Apple’s mobile platform. So, if you’re not using Movie Magic Scheduling on your desktop or laptop computer, you can skip this app. Move along. Nothing to see here.
Figure 4.14. Movie Magic Scheduling To Go brings strip boards to the iPad. (Screenshot created using Movie Magic Scheduling application owned by DISC Intellectual Properties, LLC dba Entertainment Partners. For more information, http://www.entertainmentpartners.com/scheduling_to_go.)
This isn’t a book about traditional computers, so I won’t go into detail about the operation of Movie Magic Scheduling. Suffice it to say, it does a wonderful job of building complex schedules using the strip board technique. Assuming you’re a Movie Magic user and you have a schedule ready to go, you can import it into M.M.S.T.G. from an e-mail attachment or via iTunes File Sharing.
After opening your newly imported file, you can scroll through the full board by flicking your finger up or down on the iPad’s screen. You can also change a few layout options, edit the schedule by dragging strips between days, and move strips to the boneyard—what the app calls its holding area for unused strips.
Tapping any strip instantly displays that scene’s breakdown sheet, a simple form containing all of the scene’s required elements broken down by category (Cast Members, Extras, Stunts, Props, Costumes, Vehicles, and so forth) (FIGURE 4.15).
Figure 4.15. Tap any strip to view that scene’s breakdown sheet.
You can’t generate new scene strips from within the app, but you can create additional days by adding day break strips. You can also incorporate special notes, such as company moves, by adding banner strips. All the changes you make to the schedule will be saved and can be exported via e-mail or iTunes File Sharing.
There are other features to explore, but manipulating existing schedules is this app’s primary function. I have no idea if we’ll ever see a full-featured version of Movie Magic Scheduling for iOS, but until we do, users of the desktop app can still benefit from this handy app.
$499. That’s how much you’ll have to shell out for the Mac or Windows version of Movie Magic Scheduling. And, of course, that doesn’t include the additional 30 clams you’ll be dropping for the iPad app! I know for a fact that these professional-grade budgeting applications are worth every penny, but many new filmmakers simply can’t afford to fork over that kind of cash.
$12. That’s how much ShotList will run you. Things are looking up, right?
Unlike M.M.S.T.G., ShotList is a totally self-contained scheduling app, which is both a blessing and a curse. Although it doesn’t depend on an expensive desktop app for its data, it lacks the ability to work with industry-standard file formats (like Movie Magic Scheduling files).
Using the app is fairly straightforward. After creating and naming a new project, you need to start adding scenes. Like most production scheduling tools, ShotList uses the same strip board metaphor I described earlier, with each scene being assigned to its own color-coded strip (FIGURE 4.16).
Figure 4.16. ShotList embraces the industry-standard strip board metaphor.
To add a new strip, switch into scheduling mode, and then tap the plus symbol to the left of an existing strip. Your new strip will be created directly underneath. Enter all the vitals, such as the scene number, the location, the time of day, the included cast, and more (this is where a script breakdown really comes in handy). You can also import up to six images per scene strip. These might be storyboard frames or location photos and can be pulled from your photo library or camera.
After turning all your scenes into individual strips, it’s time to arrange them into the ideal shooting order. Strips can be dragged up and down, alone or in groups. After organizing a day’s worth of shots, add an end of day strip. This black divider shows the precise shooting date and calculates how many script pages will be shot that day. Depending on the complexity of your shoot and the talent of your crew, you can expect to shoot anywhere from two to eight pages in a day. Naturally, if you’re shooting an effects-heavy action sequence, you might shoot only a half-page. Likewise, if you’re shooting a 15-minute conversation between two guys in La-Z-Boy recliners, you might be able to pull off 15 pages.
Remember I mentioned that you can import storyboard frames into a scene strip? Once you’re in production, those frames can be crossed off one by one as you grab the associated shots (FIGURE 4.17). When you’ve completed the entire scene, you can toggle that strip’s status from ToDo to Done. This turns the strip gray and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.
Figure 4.17. Every strip in ShotList can store up to six images. This works great when using storyboard panels for reference.
At the end of your shoot day, if you failed to complete one or more scheduled scenes, return to ShotList and shuffle your remaining strips once again. Like I said, your schedule should always remain flexible, and that’s why an app like ShotList will make a powerful addition to your workflow.
ShotList project files can be exported to and imported from a Dropbox account, which makes sharing schedules a painless process. While the app can’t export a PDF of your full strip board, it can e-mail a one-line schedule (a condensed version of the full schedule that excludes certain information such as script pages and notes). It’s also worth mentioning that the app can’t currently print, but the developer is working to add that and other helpful functionality.
ShotList is not going to replace high-end, desktop-based scheduling solutions. But as it turns out, that’s just fine by the developer, who describes his app as being perfect for planning smaller shoots in detail. I agree completely.
The newest scheduling app to materialize in the App Store is Shot Lister. If apps were judged purely on their letter count, Shot Lister would be exactly two letters better (or worse) than ShotList. As it turns out, this is not necessarily the most accurate way to compare apps, so let’s look a little deeper.
Although you will recognize a few similarities to the previous two apps, Shot Lister takes an extremely different approach to scheduling. Most notably, it’s the only app in the bunch that breaks things down to the shot level. In other words, if you plan on shooting eight distinct shots for a particular scene, Shot Lister lets you organize those shots into a desired shooting order within any given shoot day. It even lets you schedule those shots across multiple shoot days! That feature alone is worth the price of admission. Although the iPhone and iPad versions don’t look or operate exactly alike, both versions perform equally well.
To schedule a film, begin by adding a new project and giving it a name. Then add a scene by tapping in the upper-right corner and entering all the vital information (scene name, scene description, location, time of day, scene number, script page count, and so on). Add a shot to your new scene by tapping the familiar and entering the shot’s name, a description, its size (close-up, medium, wide, and so on), and more. Repeat this for every shot in your scene (FIGURE 4.18). When you’re done, return to your scene list, and create your next scene. This continues until all your scenes have been added.
Figure 4.18. Shot Lister’s Scene view displays every shot that makes up a scene. The app comes with a sample schedule that really helps reduce the learning curve.
Ready to schedule? Tapping the Shoot Day tab at the bottom of the screen brings up a list of all your scheduled shoot days, of which you currently have none. Add one by tapping and assigning it a date and a nickname (which will make it easy to quickly identify later), as well as call, lunch, and wrap times. Your new shoot day will be added to the list. On a side note, when using Shot Lister on an iPad, you can switch between list and calendar views by rotating the tablet between portrait and landscape orientations.
Tap your new shoot day, and you’ll be brought to that day’s schedule. From here you can add shots by once again tapping and picking any of the scenes you created earlier that now appear in a pop-up list. Once a scene is added, all of the shots associated with that scene will appear on the day’s schedule. Now you can reorder them as necessary, giving each an estimated duration for completion. You can add notes with their own durations, perfect for scheduling setup times, lunch breaks, and company moves (FIGURE 4.19).
Figure 4.19. Shot Lister helps you schedule each shoot day, shot by shot, and then informs you when you’re running behind or ahead of schedule.
After you’ve structured the schedule, the real fun begins. On the day of your shoot, switch Shot Lister into Live Production mode, and you’ll be staring at an attractive but unrelenting shot clock that will let you know if you’re on time, ahead of schedule, or falling behind. Armed with this knowledge, you can make quick decisions and reorganize the rest of your day if necessary. Sick!
Shot Lister’s amazing hour-by-hour control comes at a small cost. It’s a brilliant tool for planning individual shoot days, but it’s not ideal when structuring “the big picture”...at least, not yet. When crafting a master schedule, full scenes are constantly being shifted between days. That’s why a strip board presentation is so popular—it allows you to see many days at once and easily slide scene strips between them. Shot Lister does not provide a multiday strip board view. Therefore, it’s not as easy to move scenes from one day to another. Is this a deal-breaker? Absolutely not! While Shot Lister may not be the perfect app for an assistant director who is preparing to schedule an entire film, it’s the perfect app for keeping directors informed and on track, which typically translates into highly productive shoot days.