What is a call sheet? What is the call sheet’s meaning?
If you’re new to the production world, perhaps you’ve never heard of the term before. But if you’ve ever been anywhere near a set or production before, you’ll know that a call sheet is the lifeblood of a production and the nucleus of every single shooting day.
Put simply, call sheets are given to your cast and crew in advance of a day’s shoot and they tell each crew member everything they need to know about a given shooting day, including location details, scenes to be shot, crew member phone numbers, times, necessary props or special effects, weather details, and more.
Think of it as the recipe or instructions you give to the cast and crew so they know where to be, what to bring, and what to do on a shooting day.
Call sheets are normally sent out the night before a shooting day, usually because they’re being changed or updated at the very last minute based on work being completed that day. Without a call sheet, no one knows where to be, when to be there, or what to do. With it, your entire crew is unified under a single list of shooting directives and with all supporting details they need.
The creation and distribution of the daily call sheet are two of the biggest responsibilities of a 1st Assistant Director (1st AD) or Production Coordinator. If this responsibility falls on your shoulders and you’re wondering where to start, you’ve come to the right place!
From a traditional call sheet layout to common terminology, downloadable templates to all the pertinent pieces they need to contain, this call sheet deep-dive will make you a pro in not time.
Call Sheet Meaning and Importance
In its most basic terms, a call sheet’s meaning is to include all necessary production information for a single shooting day in one comprehensive document. Its importance lies in that they serve as daily briefings for your cast and crew.
In other words, they let people know where they need to be, when, they need to be there, what to expect, and what to prepare for. Properly managed and distributed call sheets are vital to ensuring your shoot runs as smoothly as possible.
Every Producer’s worst nightmare is getting calls from 100 crew members at 6am because they can’t find parking. Or the Costume Designer freaking out because they didn’t know the scene with the red dress was being filmed today. Or the Special Effects Supervisor not knowing he needed to blow up a car today.
A call sheet keeps everyone honest, accountable, and unified. Every production, whether it’s the latest blockbuster or just a local web series, requires a dizzying amount of logistical coordination and a myriad of simultaneously moving parts to come together. Without an organized document for everyone to reference, nothing would ever get done.
Think of it as the sheet music the whole symphony orchestra is reading from. With it, dozens or people with different roles, instruments, and specialties are able to come together to create something cohesive and harmonious. Without it, you’d be making a whole lot of noise for nothing.
Call sheets tell every crew member exactly what time they need to be on set, information about transportation and parking, weather details, lunch times, nearby hospital information, and every granular piece of production information about the scenes being filmed that day.
Its purpose is to proactively answer crew members’ questions and to prevent any challenges, setbacks, or delays on the day. Again, there are far too many moving parts on an active set for anything productive to happen without a predetermined and unified plan for the day.
They are always distributed the day before their shooting day, which is one of the biggest daily responsibilities of the Production Office.
Elements of a Call Sheet
So if all the information on a call sheet is comprehensive, what exactly does that include? What are the pieces of information that every crew member needs to know ahead of a shooting day?
Simply put, what exactly goes on a call sheet?
There are a lot of different call sheet templates out there, and each one for each production looks a little bit different in its organization and layout. Although they may look slightly varied in design, however, every single one of them will feature the below critical call sheet elements:
- Title of Project and Company Name. Maybe this one is a bit obvious, but the first piece of information you need are all the main details of the production: the name or title of the commercial/episode/film and the name of the production company managing the project.
- Crew Contact Information. Certain cast and crew members may need to report to different locations at different times. Usually the entire back half of the call sheet is a sheet of names, titles, “call times,” and locations for each person to report to. This makes up a significant portion of the entire document.
- Date and Time of Shoot. Perhaps the most important piece of information on the call sheet: the day and time of the production! Not only is it critical for your crew to know when to be where, it’s also very important for subsequent paperwork and record-keeping by the producers. Later on, it will serve as a historical representation of work completed that day.
- Key Personnel and Contact Information. Should any issues arise, people need to know who to call. Usually contact numbers for the leaders of the production — Producer(s), Production Managers, and Assistant Directors — are available at the top of the call sheet, and contact information for other department heads and leadership can be found on the back.
- Production Office Information. The Production Office is the logistical epicenter of any production, so information about its location and phone numbers is readily available on a call sheet at all times.
- Weather Forecast. Rain on the forecast for tomorrow? That could be a serious issue for the exterior shoot. A lot hinges on the weather forecast; cloud cover, wind, and temperatures can all have a dramatic effect on your personnel and equipment, not to mention how the scene looks on-screen. Your crew needs to know what to expect . . . or anticipate.
- Driving/Parking Details and Instructions. The phrase “dummy-proof” probably isn’t the best to use, but from the Producers point of view, you need to give people as few excuses as possible to be lot. Including within, or sometimes alongside, the call sheet are extensive transportation details (often with maps) that give step by step instructions for commute times, parking locations, and any necessary transfers.
- Daily Shooting Schedule. A large part of a call sheet’s first page is dedicated to a condensed breakdown of the scenes being filmed that day. This short overview will detail scene breakdowns, meal breaks, “company moves” to a different shooting location, scene numbers, character names and cast members, and more. No matter the medium — film, TV, video game, photo shoot — every call sheet includes a condensed daily schedule.
- Nearby Hospital. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. And should the worst happen, precious time cannot be wasted trying to locate the nearest hospital. That’s why the name, address, and phone number of the nearest hospital to the shooting location is always included at the top of the call sheet.
- Contact Information for Location Personnel. The responsibility falls on the Location Manager to serve as liaison between the production and the property owner/manager of the location they’re using. Should anyone need to contact the property owner/manager of the location directly (ex. The owner of a restaurant or a house), their name and details are included on the call sheet.
- Production Elements. Alongside the daily shooting schedule is a high-level list of the major department needs for that shooting day: Props, Costumes, Special Effects, Visual Effects, etc.
- Cast List. Within the main body of the call sheet alongside the shooting schedule will be a short list of the main cast members included in the day’s scenes.
- Preview of Next Shooting Day. Slightly less common is to include a short preview of what’s being planned for the next shooting day. This often changes, as do many elements of a call sheet right up until the end, but it’s at least a way to give your crew a small heads-up about what to expect the next working day.
- Walkie Talkie Channels. Nearly every production, at least above a certain size, will include walkie talkies for the entire crew to use. To avoid hundreds of people talking over each other at once, call sheets often include a list of departments and channels for crew members to stick to.
- Additional Notes. It’s important to leave empty space for any additional notes at the bottom of your call sheet. These could include anything from extra time for special equipment to shuttle transportation during a company move. Any miscellaneous information that doesn’t fit into another defined category can live right here.
Common Call Sheet Abbreviations
- SW: Start Work
- W: Work
- WF: Work Finish
- SWF: Start Work Finish
- PU: Pick Up
- H/M/W: Hair/Makeup/Wardrobe
- BG: Background
- D/N: Day/Night
- I/E: Interior/Exterior
Common Call Sheet Terminology
Call sheets use a variety of standard terms and abbreviations to save space. Here’s a guide to make sure you’re reading your sheet correctly.
The time the crew needs to be ready on set. Typically, crew will arrive earlier to unpack and prepare gear, eat breakfast, and so on.
The time an actor has to be on set, in makeup and wardrobe, finished blocking, and ready for filming.
The talent status column will be marked as SW, W, or WF.
- SW means “Start Work”—it’s the actor’s first day on the job.
- W means “Work”—the actor is in the middle of their work on the production.
- WF means “Work Finish”—it’s the actor’s last day.
- SWF means “Start Work Finish”—this day will be the actor’s fist, last, and only day on set.
The talent chart has headings for different times when an actor should be at a certain place. They are:
- PU: Pickup time. If the production has arranged for a driver to take the actor to set, this is the time the actor needs to be ready.
- H: Hairstylists begin work on the actor’s hair.
- M: The time the actor needs to be in Makeup.
- W: The time the actor reports to the Wardrobe department.
- C: Costume; this is an alternate abbreviation for Wardrobe.
- H/M, M/C, H/MW, etc…: Most productions use the same time slot for hair, makeup, and wardrobe and group them together on the call sheet.
BG, for “Background,” refers to background actors (sometimes referred to as “extras”), who will appear in, but not be the focus of, the day’s scenes.
Refers to if a scene takes place indoors (interior) or outdoors (exterior). Interior scenes are much less dependent on weather and daylight conditions, which means they can be scheduled with more flexibility. This column also serves as a guide to the cast and crew to determine how much of the day they will spend in ambient weather conditions; this is important especially when it’s cold or stormy.
This column header means “Day/Night” and refers to the ambient lighting conditions that must be set up for each scene.
1/8 (or 2/8, 11/8, etc.)
In the Pages column of the shooting schedule, the amount of script covered is conventionally given in eighths of a page. The industry uses eighths because they’re easy to eyeball—an eighth is almost exactly 1 inch, and contains 6 lines of text. Eighths are a generalized shorthand for how long a scene should take to shoot, but this is highly dependant on the script content.
Dramatic days are refer to the internal chronology of the film narrative. These days are listed in the call sheet because they’re important for hair, makeup, wardrobe, props, set dressing, and more. For example, characters shouldn’t be wearing the same clothes every day (unless it’s a scenario in which the clothes should at least get more dirty and worn). Assigning dramatic days will allow wardrobe to associate specific outfits with specific scenes.
Call Sheet Tips
There are a lot of “best practices” for call sheets that Producers, AD’s, and Coordinators need to keep in mind. If you’ve never created a call sheet before, these are some of the most fundamental tips to keep in mind.
As you’re creating your daily call sheets, make sure to use a consistent file name and to regularly create backups should the worst happen. Make sure to proofread and copy edit multiple times so nothing is missed.
This is even more important given that you can only send one call sheet per day. Sending multiple call sheets for multiple days at once is a recipe for confusion, and sending multiple versions, revisions, or iterations of a single day’s call sheet will create chaos. You only get one shot at a daily call sheet distribution, so make sure all of your ducks are in a row!
Check weather repeatedly and until the last minute so that you can include all of the most up-to-date information. And pay special attention to formatting your call sheet template for mobile phones since that’s where a vast majority of crew members will ultimately view and access.
Call Sheet Templates
You deserve so much more than Excel! Don’t waste your time creating a template from scratch when there are so many tried and true layouts that have already been standardized.
Call sheets come in all shapes and sizes, and their layouts and level of detail will be dependent on the size and medium of the production. That’s why it’s best to have use a production software tool that allows you the versatility and control to adjust things to the needs of your production.
Celtx is happy to offer an excellent and industry-standard call sheet template for you to get started. This includes an intuitive layout for crew members to digest all the details they need to, and the appropriate space for all of the elements outlined above.
If this is your first call sheet, or you just need an easier document to build on, this template is the perfect place to start!
A call sheet is to a production what a playbook is to an athletic team: a comprehensive outline of how you’ll apply your skills, talents, and assets to accomplish your goals. A one-stop-shop for crew members to get all the information they need to about a day of work.
For those of your who have worked on sets before, you understand that they are kinetic, often-chaotic environments where seemingly a hundred people are doing a hundred different things. There would be no hope of organizing them or accomplishing any collective goals without a document keeping everyone honest and in-line.
Want to hear more about how to be as production-ready as possible? Take a look at our other blogs and learn more about everything you need to make your mark in entertainment.
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Commonly Asked Questions About Call Sheets
What Does it Mean to be First on the Call Sheet?
If you’re the first actor listed on a call sheet, congratulations – you’re a star. You are the highest-billed actor for the day’s shoot, and various people will refer to the sheet to make sure you’re on schedule, such as:
- your driver
- makeup and costume personnel
- the director / A.D.s (in case they want to talk to you in advance of a scene).
Everyone will count on you being where you’re supposed to be. As a consequence, you need to keep your call sheet on you at all times and follow it religiously.
Why Are Call Sheets So Important?
Call sheets are so important because they provide a daily game plan for for your cast and crew. A call sheet is a blueprint for a given shooting day: the who, what, when, and where. Their importance cannot be understated: without call sheets, film productions would simply not function.
Because at the end of they day, a call sheets’ purpose is to ensure that everyone is where they need to be at the right time. To accomplish this, they include not only timings for cast and crew, but also:
- the daily shooting schedule
- information covering shooting locations
- important contact information for key personnel
- travel schedules, radio frequencies, and more!
How to Use a Call Sheet
Call sheets are organized so that general information that is applicable to everyone is near the top, while information for specific cast members is near the middle. This convention makes it easier for everyone to find the information they need quickly.
What is Call Time?
Call time is the time that a person has to be ready to work. For the crew, that means being on set, punched in, and geared up. For the cast, it means being in costume and makeup, warmed up, hydrated, and ready to step in front of a camera.
The amount of prep an actor needs varies. To help them out, call sheets usually include additional time markers, such as:
- Pick-up: if an actor is being driven to the set, this is the time they need to be ready to get in the car.
- Makeup: the time actors need to be at the makeup station.
- Costume: the time actors should begin getting in costume.
Bonus Content: 4 Famous Call Sheet Examples
Call sheets are sensitive information that can be used as strategic intel by competitors. Worse, it can give your audience spoilers! They are kept under tight scrutiny, which means, naturally, that leaks happen all the time.
1. Spider-Man: Homecoming
One of the most high-profile Marvel leaks was the call sheet for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which confirmed that Zendaya was playing Mary Jane and revealed the movie’s third villain.
Lost was a famously mysterious show that drew tons of fan speculation. As such, it was a tempting target for leak publishers. In a particularly major leak, a call sheet revealed most of the plot of the Season 2 finale.
J.J. Abrams’ breakout movie was spoiled by the leak of a call sheet for the grim final scene.
4. Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones was notable for being a high-profile show where not one call sheet ever leaked. The GoT team accomplished this by printing scene details in a changing code that only some cast and crew were taught how to decipher.