Filmmaker Prep - Creating a Shoot Schedule


A while back I wrote a post about some of the preparation routines I perform the night before a video shoot. (Camera Builds / Night Before) I figured in this post I would share a bit more about some of my pre-production process. Today we will talk about creating a shoot schedule. 

Before we get to far, let's define what I mean by pre-production. In filmmaking and video production ā€“ whether it be a tv commercial, a documentary, feature, or anything else ā€“ pre-production is any work that takes place before the cameras roll. This can include scripting, storyboard, scouting locations, gear lists, budgets, test shots, hiring crew and talent...the list goes on.

A key element in a video production of any size is creating a shoot schedule. Sometimes this can be an in-depth process covering the roles of dozens or even hundreds of people: call-times, locations, etc. At other times it is as simple as looking over a short commercial script and numbering what order you intend* to film the shots. (*I use the word "intend" because we all know that things can change quickly on set!).

The Basics

A basic shoot schedule should contain the following information at a minimum:

  • Time of arrival for all crew and talent (call-time)
  • Blocks of time designated to each task. Examples include load in and setup, filming exteriors, filming master shots, filming scene#xxx, load out, and so on. Tasks will vary depending upon the project, but I try to include at least a high-level description of each major item.
  • Crew and talent needed for each task. This is a key to efficiency. Crew and talent are expensive, and if you can arrange your shoot schedule to maximize the use of their time you will be all the better for it. This also let's the individuals in production know when they can expect to be needed, or when they will potentially have a break. 
  • Gear or props needed for each task or setup. Do you need the generator all day? What about the overhead scrims? Specifying when certain gear is needed can save time and money.
  • Contact information for key personnel. The day of the shoot is not the time to be searching for someone's phone number in an email buried deep in your phone. I like to have the contact info for all major members of the crew. Your crew should have contact info for anyone on their team as well.

Having a Plan

The primary goal of creating a shoot schedule is to have a plan. Does this mean you are bound to it come hell or highwater? No. But any good director walks onto set with a plan. I'm always open to flexibility and spontaneity the day of a shoot, but I also always have a plan. Having a clear roadmap enables you to get the job done, look professional, and stay on task.

Getting the job done means getting every shot needed to bring the script to life in editing. Without a clear plan, you may miss a much needed shot. My shoot schedules often have a column for checking off the shots and making notes as we go. A quick look can tell me what we have left to do, and what kind of progress we are making.

Having a plan is not just key to looking professional - it IS professional. The client or producer hired you, your job is to be the professional they hired. Professionals are organized, and can set clear expectations - then deliver on those expectations.

If you want to have an effective shoot, you need to stay on task. The schedule helps everyone know what we are doing and when we are doing it. Sometimes you may feel like a task-master making everyone hustle to stay on schedule. You may even feel like a jerk. I can tell you this, you will be much more respected by your crew and talent by getting the shoot done on-time so they can go home at the end of the day, than by being the "cool nice guy" that ran 3 hours late. Your budget will also be all the better for it.


I believe the one of the biggest reasons to use a shoot schedule is efficiency. Efficiency of time and efficiency of resources. Time and resources means all of your people, gear, locations, light (including the sun) are maximized. Time = money and the longer the shoot takes the more money you use from your budget, or worse: you go over budget.

I can't stress how important it is to be effective stewards of the time we have on set. From the personnel cost (both monetary and in terms of energy / morale) and the hard costs associated with a shoot. Being efficient in these areas will help you be successful, and it all starts with a well-organized and thoroughly thought-out schedule.

Staying On-time and On-budget

In addition to the cost of time and resources, efficiency has the glorious benefit of helping you finish on-time or in some cases ahead of schedule! A chief complaint I hear from so many people that work with filmmakers and producers is that they are always behind schedule and over budget. If you can reign in your projects in those two areas you will please a lot of clients!

Occasionally the problem of coming in over budget or behind schedule is one of not estimating the cost or time well...that is something to address in a future post. However, I would say that often filmmakers fall behind schedule or over budget because they lack some simple tools that will help them with their delivery and efficiency.

For video producers working on a flat rate for projects, being efficient means increasing your profits. The more quickly you accomplish tasks, the more work you can accomplish. This equates to the opportunity to take on a larger work-load or to simply free up time for other tasks.

Using tools like a shoot schedule will improve your professional results, efficiency and help give you a head start to delivering projects on-time and on-budget.

What do you do? 

Iā€™m interested to hear your thoughts. How do you prepare for a shoot?