Production Issues

Film Commissioners are well served to understand the complexity of putting together the puzzle that is known as the shooting schedule. When schedule changes occur, an inexperienced person might not understand that it is difficult to shoot on a different day, over a weekend, or at night instead of day (or vice versa). Once one has delved into a shooting schedule as well as a ‘Day Out Of Days’, they begin to see how moving one piece of the puzzle can upset the entire schedule. The Day Out Of Days is a separate, detailed document that shows which actors work which days, tracking the contractual agreements for each, availability, etc.

John Johnson Example

Actor John Johnson is available for two weeks in December except for Friday of the second week. Johnson is needed for scenes that require night shooting. The production starts off each week on a 7AM to 9PM shoot schedule. Per the Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA agreements, actors must have 12 consecutive hours off between shoot days. Due to this agreement, when actors are finished at 9PM, they cannot start the next day until 9AM (if the actor is called earlier than 9AM, they are on ‘Forced Call’ which involves a significant increase in pay.) On Tuesday, the production starts at 9AM and finishes at 12 midnight. Wednesday, the production starts at noon and finishes at 3AM. This continues until the company is working on what are called ‘splits’ – part day, part night shoot.

Some of Johnson’s work involves a lengthy night scene that will take a full night of shooting. There are only so many hours of light, but there are also only so many hours of darkness. Therefore, only that first Friday is a possibility for this night shoot.

This is when the Film Commissioner gets a panicked call from the Production Manager. The night scene with Johnson taking place at City Hall is suddenly in flux. The City double-booked itself and there is a cultural event at City Hall the first Friday night as well.

There are any number of possible solutions to explore:
The City reschedules or moves its event. Can’t move date, invites have gone out.
The production looks for another location. Director is adamant that nothing else will do.
The production looks at pushing their calls so that by Thursday, the company is working full nights. Thursday’s work is at a sports arena that is only ‘dark’ on this day and no other days during Johnson’s contracted period.
The production extends the contract on Johnson. Johnson is contracted for reshoots of his previous film that day.        The production works partially “Day for Night,” by blacking out the windows of the City Hall for the interior scenes, and then comes outside after dark for the night scenes. This might work, but will cost the production: extra grips to rig the blacks over the windows, condor rentals for reaching the proper height, permits for equipment on the street for two days, not to mention the hassle for City Hall to have crew working when their employees are working.
The City moves the cultural event to the far end of the building where it will not be seen or heard by the production. The City has to erect a tent to accommodate the overflow of the event, but the production is willing to pay for it. The City is amenable to this, since the problem was created on their end. This may be the best solution, and cost the production the least amount of money. Most importantly, it is a compromise that both parties can live with and will not create permanent ill-will.

The point of the example above is: There has to be a solution to every production issue, so something HAS to and WILL be worked out. It may take money, it will take effort, and the goal should always be that both parties are open to the compromise. Secondly, the example shows how one piece of the puzzle brings on complications that can affect the entire film.

While this is a fictional example, these situations have occurred countless times on film sets, as well as countless others, such as:
o The production has to shoot out all of the scenes with an actress before she shaves her head for later scenes, and the director is adamant that this not be simulated.
o A director has it in his contract that the film is shot sequentially (each scene in order). In this scenario, moving the schedule around is next to impossible.
o A location has to be completed before moving the company to a stage for the remainder of the film. Once on stage, it is extremely costly to go back on location. This can also have to do with eminent changes of seasons.

Producers and directors need to become as familiar with the schedule as the first AD, since it will dictate the tempo and rhythm of each filming day, as well as the period of principal photography as a whole. The two elements beyond the control of any filmmaker is weather and an accident or illness, but it is the well-prepared producer with complete knowledge of the scheduling possibilities who will be less disrupted than the production that is just winging it.

The real genius in scheduling, however, comes with figuring the most economic and strategic way in which to shoot a picture. Many directors and actors would prefer to shoot in sequence, or exactly as the script is written, since it helps the performances build and can lead to a natural flow in the storytelling.

The luxury that affords sequential shooting is rare in this era of location filming, because it always most economical to ‘shoot out’ a location, rather than film there for one period, go away and have to return to finish the movie. There is also the question of exterior shooting and weather issues, and the potential cover of interiors or stage work to substitute for work postponed or delayed by bad weather. (All production should have one or more ‘cover sets’ prepared, in case of weather. These are either sets that are built and on hold until the end of production, or an easy location that can be dressed quickly and is easy to access on a moment’s notice).

The first AD must take all these factors into consideration when making out the schedule, including the availability of actors. Common practice dictates that actors be carried for as little time as possible on a show, because under their deals they are paid on either a daily or weekly basis. Holding an actor for several weeks waiting for a scene to be shot can prove expensive, and in a large cast this potential problem can present itself several times over.