‘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.


Wrap Time is Sacred

A gaffer once said those exact words to me and they’ve stuck with me ever since. I had to break the news to the crew that we would be going over wrap time by one hour and check that everyone was alright to stay late.  It had been a long and tough day as it was and we had some tricky days ahead.  The gaffer looked at me with dark puppy dog eyes, the disappointment apparent in his face and simply said quietly ‘Wrap time is sacred.’

He is of course correct. Working on small shoots no one is getting paid over time, it’s a fixed rate for the day, the week or the whole project – if they’re getting anything beyond glorified expenses that is.  The first shoot I worked on where people were being paid anything close to a proper daily rate I was shocked to be presented with a breakdown of what it cost to go over by one hour – and for the first time I really understood why for financial reasons wrap time really is sacred.

But let’s look at the all too common scenario of paying the crew peanuts and then expecting to own them for the duration of the shoot.  There is a common viewpoint from a lot of indie producers and directors who feel that if a crew are working below the standard daily rate, then the production itself can exist outside accepted standards of practice. By which I mean, for example, pushing for less than a twelve hour gap between wrap and call times, ignoring the six hour maximum between meal breaks, trying to pass a turn-around day as a day off, and in short, treating the crew like cattle. Financial penalties don’t exist in this world, so as an AD you’re generally seen to be causing trouble needlessly if you flag up these things.  If people are working on a lower than acceptable rate, it’s even more important to maintain standards.  To recognize that the crew aren’t getting as much out of the project as they should be, and to make sure they’re getting a fair deal in terms of working conditions.  They work really hard and deserve to be treated with respect.

I have upon occasion gone over the wrap time – there’s no way around that sometimes.  However, the most common reason for going over the wrap time is a time wasting director. A director who hasn’t put together a story board, who’s not terribly clear on his shotlist and is constantly changing everything.  Watch this space for a full blog post on this one as it’s one of the single most destructive things anyone could do on a film set and it’s a pet bug bear.

If there will be no financial penalty, it will not span into an unacceptable turnaround time and everyone has been working hard and maintained a good focus; I will be comfortable in running to another hour.  Usually in this situation most people would rather get the shots right than rush them through and not short change themselves on the film’s quality.  If the crew have worked hard and the director has been pissing about, I am very reticent to push the wrap time because I feel the crew aren’t getting anything out of it and are being penalized for someone else’s lack of preparation.

The reality is however, that you often don’t get a choice as a disorganized director usually realizes they are contributing to the problem, which makes them overly emotional and if there’s going to be a tantrum at any point it’s going to be now. Which doesn’t help anyone and generally beats the entire crew into silent submission for the next forty minutes.  So next time you’re asked to stay late with little financial gain, think of that brown eyed gaffer with such sadness in his eyes, trust me he feels your pain and so do I.