‘I Didn’t Get the Call Sheet’

The call sheet is perhaps the most important document issued throughout the production period.  Circulated daily, the call sheet outlines ­­the following day’s schedule, informing everyone where they need to be at any given time, issuing departmental notes and reiterating prep for the next shoot day.  Everyone due on location, plus one or two others for reference, needs a copy.  There is the occasional, rare day where a cast or crew member rocks up late to set – or worse still, calls in from home – saying they ‘didn’t get the call sheet’. It’s terrifying when this happens and it invariably sends the 2nd AD in a frenzied run to the production office to check their outbox, while the 1st paces backwards and forwards on set like an expectant dad, mentally preparing for the worst and doing a quick schedule rejig in their head.

First of all it happens.  There are technical glitches; not enough bandwidth when it got sent, a full inbox at the other end or any range of reasons involving pushed emails/pop emails, servers being down and whatever else. Or it could be due to human error – someone was missed off due to tiredness, or the email address was typed in wrong.  Bottom line is it doesn’t really matter why they didn’t get the call sheet, they didn’t and it’s happened. It needs to be worked out promptly and decisively, taking every precaution that it won’t happen again.

There is however a rather extraordinary phenomenon that exists around someone who ‘didn’t get the call sheet’.  By an exceptionally cruel twist of fate, or some remarkable type of coincidence, the non-recipient is usually someone who’s been the focus of a few problems on set within the last day or two.  Often it’s a disgruntled actor who’s fallen out with the director – typically the very vocal one who tries to direct each scene themselves, or the older actor who isn’t very happy with their career trajectory (often this is one and the same).  I once heard this astounding coincidence likened to scatolia, a very sad but common phenomenon in nursing homes and something of the original form of ‘dirty protest’. ‘I didn’t get the call sheet’ seems to be the best form of protest there is – no one can be angry at someone for not being in the right place at the right time if they are not given the information.

Except that actually you can and should. While it is ultimately the 2nd AD’s job to send out the call sheet and ensure all relevant people get a copy, cast and crew do know their working days well ahead (often with advance copies sent out) and if a call sheet hasn’t arrived it is their responsibility to follow it up. I worked on a production where an actor suddenly announced that at no point in the three week shoot had he received a single call sheet and he’d simply relied on having the information text to him from another cast member. The truth of the matter was never ascertained but if it was true, it was his responsibility to inform the 2nd AD the moment he realised someone else had got it and he hadn’t.      

The most important thing is to minimise the potential for someone ‘not getting the call sheet’. There are a few sure fire ways of doing this, the most simple being to press a printed call sheet in troublesome cast/crew members hand the day before.  This should be standard practice anyway but isn’t always possible as so called ‘guerrilla’ film making means you often have to do without absolute basics such as adequate production offices and therefore printing facilities. If this is the case, the best thing to do is to casually catch them before they leave and let them know their call time, the location and how long until they should receive the call sheet.

After a while, a good deal of ADing starts to be about reading people, about seeing familiar patterns and putting suitable precautions in place to prevent future problems.  When the spider-senses start tingling that someone ‘isn’t going to get the call sheet’ it’s not a bad idea to email the call sheet just to them, BCC-ing two other people into it, say the 1st/Producer – although there really is a fine line between taking precautions and being antagonising.  An ‘I didn’t get the call sheet’ incident can cost someone their job, and it means the 2nd AD can have something to present to an angry producer. At the start of a project, the best thing you could possibly do is send your introductory email to everyone with a request that they email back to confirm their email address. Anyone you don’t hear back from do a quick ring round.

Essentially, a great deal of care needs to be taken to ensure everyone gets the call sheet and to keep a constant flow of information running throughout the cast and crew. On the rare occasion that someone doesn’t receive it and has not followed it up promptly, it’s worth taking a look at working conditions and improving potential morale problems as that could be where the problem really lies.

The Actress and The AD

Recently I found myself in a particularly unusual situation on set.  I came on board a project very late and while the crew were exceptionally welcoming, I experienced an unusually high level of hostility from the lead actress.  Now and then it happens that you just don’t click with someone and you just have to make the best of it, in this instance it wasn’t even that.   I actually got on fairly well with said actress on a personal level, but now and then she would come out with a very aggressive and snide dig.

On the most basic level she objected to me putting pressure on the wardrobe and make up departments to get the cast on set sooner.  The actress objected to this so strongly that she accused me of picking on the costume girl and using deliberately belittling tactics. Like every AD in the world, occasionally I’ve been accused of being abrupt, or rude or overly pushy – but I’ve never in my life being accused of singling anyone out.  Generally I’m told that I’m pretty fair on set and treat everyone equally.

Most cast at a certain level reach the same conclusion ‘They have a certain amount of my footage in the can so they can’t fire me without costly reshoots.  I can say and do what I want and no one is going to intervene.’  Cast need to maintain good working relations with the director, so it’s not wise to vent frustrations to them.  Taking it out on a runner, gaffer, sound recordist etc. is equally as problematic as the 1st AD may be forced to have a quiet chat. The best person to use as a human punch bag is the 1st AD themselves – the only person left to turn to is the producer and asking them to intervene could be extremely negative to cast performances.

It’s easy to see why cast can get frustrated, they have a really rough ride sometimes, especially on low budget indie projects.  It’s not an easy job and they’re pulled around the set like dolls at times, occasionally treated as little more than a walking prop.  Actresses often wear skimpy dresses for night shoots in sub-zero conditions, and no matter how many warm coats you wrap them in the moment you cut, it doesn’t take away from the inside-out chill that only a hot soak can ever really get out of your system.   It doesn’t help when the DP can’t find the shot and is casually sipping herbal tea in their layers of thermals and their North Face ‘I-work-in-film-don’t-ya-know’ jacket.  Cast regularly hang about because you’re running a ‘little late’ and often don’t even have adequate green room facilities.  I’ve seen costume changes in public loos, the kit truck, in a runner’s car, behind a bush, in the street, you name it.  Cast have to maintain their figure to maintain their livelihood, yet on set catering on a budget is usually pure stodge. Carbs carbs carbs.  They’re cold, uncomfortable, badly fed, rushed and they’re expected to maintain a calm focus and character for The Shot. Let’s not forget The Shot, which is after all the point of the whole endeavour. Working conditions shouldn’t be like this, but the reality is that making a film on a shoe string budget dictates these things. Without a doubt, acting is tough.

So is ADing. Put simply, the role is to deliver the project on time and in budget awkwardly straddling the line between the director and producer.  It wasn’t until the next day that I realised the actress in question only half understood the job.  In one of her little gripes she said she would never presume to pick someone up on their ‘professional  failings, or supposed failings’ and of course we would finish on time that night because ‘that’s your job’.  I suddenly understood why she felt I was picking on the costume and makeup departments.   The actress believed the role of the 1st AD was to stand with a watch saying ‘It’s five o’clock guys! Lets speed things up a bit here’.  It’s not.

The role of the 1st AD is extremely complex and broad and I could talk about it for days.  In order to deliver the project on time you have to manage the crew and run the set so the director can focus solely on the artistic aspects of the production and work with the cast. You plan every moment of the shoot day in advance and make sure everyone is moving towards the same goal. The 1st AD will order the shot list to best utilise the time, reducing the number of setups needed to achieve the shots.  Any changes throughout the day need to be immediately communicated to the cast and crew.  You have to know at every moment what every department is doing and make sure they’re prepping for the next setups. This is achieved by managing the crew, knowing what they need to be doing for the next scene, getting them started and focused on it.  It’s about keeping the energy up, the morale high, playing the peace maker, the disciplinarian, being the protector for cast and crew and being the fall guy when things go wrong.

When I put time pressure on the wardrobe department the lead actress, whose background is predominantly theatre, understood that to be telling them how to do their job.  To be overstepping my mark and in short, she understood my job to be to stand in a corner and simply chime the quarter hours on a loudspeaker.   While it’s true that cast are unlikely to be fired or even reprimanded during the course of a shoot, and the AD department are seen as fairly expendable, it won’t help an actress get cast again. Nothing is more miserable than an entire crew who feel a performer is taking the piss and they have little power to do anything about it.  Directors and producers notice it as much as anyone.