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Crafting A Film Schedule

Production management is all of the administrative planning that will yield artistic freedom during production, because you’ve made sure that everyone will have what they need to make your movie.

Time is a limited resource. Organisation is key

Time management on set starts from pre-production. You will need to breakdown the script into its various elements and create a robust schedule.

Here are some crew members that will need the schedule to do their job

  1. Unit Production Manager (UPM) locates resources and makes deals.

  2. Line Producer oversees the budget and schedule.

  3. Assistant Director (AD) oversees the schedule – on behalf of the director, working with the line producer and unit production manager.

Once the schedule is ready, you will need to get the blessing of the director and producer.

The Process

The process follows three steps, breaking down your script, which identifies each resource, then scheduling them.

  1. Script Breakdown

  2. Schedule

These will serve as the foundation of your production and will help you organize all of your resources, which saves money and time. The process also can help you create and maintain a system, ensuring that everything in the script makes it into the film.

Script Breakdown

Your script breakdown begins with having a script you are happy with. Before you do a script breakdown, you need to get it ready by completing the following steps.

1. Number Each Scene – Once you lock your screenplay, you should then go through the script and number each scene. You do this by placing a number next to each slug line.

2. Highlight Each Element – Speaking of elements, you will want to go through the script and highlight each element, for each scene. All of these elements cost money. You’re breaking down the script so you can put the elements in your budget. These elements include actors, extras (background people), props, wardrobe or special costumes, sets and locations, special effects, picture vehicles, animals, special equipment, special makeup, optical effects etc

Have a plan. It’s shocking how many people show up on set without thinking things through

Breaking Into Breakdown Sheets

A breakdown sheet contains separate drawn category boxes to add the elements you’ve highlighted in the script.

Each breakdown sheet should be numbered so that you can go back and reference it if you need to. Every character in the script is also given a reference number, usually starting with the number 1 for your lead actor. This saves space so that you don’t have to keep writing the characters’ names

A breakdown sheet also has a header that includes the following details:

  1. Scene number

  2. Script page

  3. Page count (length of scene divided into eighths — 1-1/2 pages would be 1-4/8)

  4. Location/setting

  5. Synopsis of scene (one sentence)

  6. Exterior or interior

  7. Day or night

  8. Script day (for example, third day in the story when Mary arrives at the plantation)

  9. Breakdown sheet number


Figure 1: A breakdown sheet 

It is disrespectful to waste people’s time, so start your production with a solid plan

Whether it’s too demanding or just plain long, a poorly crafted shooting schedule can cast a shadow over your entire production, resulting in less-than-ideal outcomes.

Organizing Resources

Organizing your resources is the heart of the scheduling process. Scheduling is done in 3 steps:

  1. Transfer of information into schedule

  2. Grouping of similar elements (priority should be placed on locations or characters)

  3. Arrange for maximum efficiency.

Consider equipment used such track, crane or steadicam. Some give you room for faster setups. These factors can significantly affect your production, therefore, they should be fully considered.

  1. Health & Safety

  2. Unit moves

  3. Child actors

  4. Animals

  5. Emotions – Crying

  6. Performance

  7. Lighting setups

  8. Time of the year, weather changes, time period changes, geography of locations

Many motion picture professionals make a living just breaking down scripts, scheduling and budgeting movies.

Checklist for Creating the Schedule

  1. Your actors may only be available on certain days, make sure to gather all of the timing of your talent.

  2. Schedule people, not scenes. As you work through the production schedule, ask yourself the following three questions for each scene:

  1. Who’s working hardest in this scene?

  2. Who needs a break after the last scene?

  3. Who hasn’t been busy for a while?

  1. Make sure to be aware of the weather. Try not to plan any outdoor shooting in bad weather. It will make the shoot more difficult and potentially dangerous.

  2. Location moves can be a huge time waster so if it is possible, schedule locations that are close to each other on the same day.

  3. Try to shoot out a location entirely, meaning don’t shoot there one day and then go back few days later.

  4. Schedule exterior shoots at the beginning of your schedule, if the weather is unfavourable it will be easier to reschedule exterior shoots for later in the day. If it is at the end of the day and it rains, you might need to add more days.

  5. Make sure you know all of the restrictions and limitations of a location and schedule your days to fit these requirements.

  6. Map out locations and include travel time for shoot days with multiple locations.

  7. Know how much time each department needs to set up each scene, and set earlier call times when necessary.

  8. Be mindful of your actors emotional swings. If your cast has to shoot an emotional scene, don’t schedule a very happy scene right after it.

  9. Think things through and use common sense when scheduling your days; don’t make things difficult for yourself or your crew. Remember to schedule enough time for meals and breaks as well as travel and set up. Each shoot will have special requirements that will have an impact on your schedule. Use these tips as a guideline and adjust your schedule to what makes sense for you.

Know your burn rate. This is the amount of money required to keep your crew operating for an additional hour or day.


  1. Create the schedule around the availability of actors and locations.

  2. Give yourself deadlines.

  3. Have a pre-production schedule.

  4. Have a technical recce, this invariably saves time.

  5. Crew need the call times, lunch time and wrap times.

  6. Feed your crew well, it improves morale.

  7. Start light on the first day and ramp things up quickly. Make sure your first shooting day is easy enough that production will wrap the day successfully. This will build momentum and optimism going into the rest of the shoot. However, don’t make  so easy that everyone becomes complacent.

  8. Block the scene at the beginning of the day with your crew, so everyone knows what is happening next and can move faster.

  9. Have a backup plan and a secret schedule.

  10. Under-schedule your days just a little bit every day, but have a secret shooting schedule of scenes you plan to pickup when you’re ahead of schedule. Share the secret schedule with the director, AD and only key personnel.

  11. Shoot chronologically whenever possible. This keeps continuity simpler and helps actors transition naturally between scenes.

  12. Be prepared to cut shots. While you should try to shoot scenes from multiple angles wherever possible to give you options in the editing suite, always be on the lookout for things that can be sacrificed.

  13. Be aware of everyone’s creative energy and give breaks if needed.

  14. Towards the end of the day, pick up your inserts, exteriors, reaction shots, cutaway, and the other little bits and pieces that will make the story shine.

  15. Set milestones. Punctuate your production with the potentially complex scenes that might involve stunts, explosions, special effects. This gets everyone ready and when it goes well, gives the cast and crew pride and confidence for the remaining production.

  16. Don’t create an unrealistic schedule, this can lead to disgruntled cast and crew and lots of overtime fees.

  17. Avoid burnout – If your team reaches burnout, it’s most likely your fault. Avoid 6-day and 7-day weeks whenever possible.

Numerous software packages exist such as Gorilla, MovieMagic Scheduling and StudioBinder help with creating schedules faster.

Hope For The Best, Plan For The Worst

While putting in all your pre-production prep work helps keep cast and crew on the same page and on-time, there’s always the potential for setbacks. Part of pre-production is preparing for any number of things that can go wrong on set for any number of reasons: equipment failures, foul weather, illness, accidents, and good old-fashioned bad luck. A tight schedule is important, but you should always try to give your production a little breathing room.

And Murphy’s Law applies.

Got The Picture?

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