The Complete Guide to Call Sheets (FREE Call Sheet Template Included)
Call sheets are the ultimate communication tool for production. The quality and the design of the call sheet matters to how well the production runs. Every delay and error in communication can lead to major confusion, delay, and disaster on set.
Luckily for you, we are here to help.
The goal of this guide is to give you all the best-practices when it comes to call sheets. These battle-tested practices will help you avoid commonly-made mistakes. No matter whether you are working on a feature film production or a commercial production, this guide is here to help you create the best call sheets possible. By the end of this guide, you will be ready to create professional call sheets for your productions.
Table of Contents
I. Breaking Down the Call Sheet
II. Preparing the Call Sheet
III. Readying the Call Sheet
IV. Distribution the Call Sheet
V. Confirmation for the Call Sheet
Breaking Down the Call Sheet
The Components of a Call Sheet
Call sheets are the quintessential tool to distribute vital bits of data to the members of your production. It helps answer the 5Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why.
Key Crew Contact Information, Cast List, Crew List ("Who")
The top of the call sheet has the contact information for key crew members of the shoot. It usually includes:
- 1st AD (First Assistant Director)
- 2nd AD (Second Assistant Director)
- UPM (Unit Production Manager)
Your cast members should be on the front of the call sheets. They should have these fields all filled out:
- Workday status
- Call times (pickup, makeup, report to set, etc.)
The crew list should be grouped by departments. The order of the departments and positions matter. Follow the correct hierarchies based on the needs of your set. It should include the following:
- Call time
Production Title ("What")
Every call sheet should quickly tell you what project you are working on today. Crew members might be working on different productions during the different days of the week. Keep this in mind so that they can know how to prepare for the day.
Date, Crew Call Times, Day of Shooting, Weather & Schedule ("When")
Call sheets should communicate when you are expecting the cast and crew to be on-set. Call times may vary day-to-day based on the needs of the production.
Maybe the wardrobe department needs to show up early. Maybe the art department needs to set something up earlier. Or maybe a specific actor does not need to show up until later in the day. A call sheet needs to be adaptable for unique call times as well.
A call sheet will need to have a day out of days shooting. For example, if you have a 30-day shoot and you are on day 2, you will see Day 2 of 30.
It should include weather forecasts, such as:
- High/low temperatures
- Chance of precipitation
Feature film call sheets will have a schedule for the day, like:
- Shooting call time
- Meal breaks
- Estimated wrap time
Set Location, Nearest Hospital, Parking Details ("Where")
The set location is where you will be shooting for the day. If you have multiple locations, label each one with a number (e.g. "Location 1"). You will want to put the address for your base camp, rather than the shoot location, or studio and stage.
Emergencies may happen on set. You will need to have the nearest hospital information available on the call sheet so you don't waste precious seconds figuring it out.
Parking information is important to include. You should layout where people can park. There are a lot of things to think about when planning for crew parking. For trucks and trailers, their parking is also different. You may need to make arrangements with the city to block off zones to make loading and unloading easier to stay on schedule.
Shooting Schedules ("Why")
The shooting schedule breaks down the scenes being shot for the day. A schedule should include:
- Scene numbers
- Scene number
- Cast members in the scene
Your schedule can handle other details like:
- Meal breaks
- Load-in times
- Additional details
Preparing the Call Sheet
Starting With a Call Sheet Template
Let's face it: creating a call sheet is extremely repetitive. There are better uses for your time when you are in the middle of a busy production. Updates to the call sheet should be automatically communicated to the cast and crew. That's why you should consider using Topsheet for creating your call sheets and managing payroll.
For anyone using an Excel call sheet template, here are some tips that might help:
- Create a master version of your call sheet template for production
- Most details on a call sheet don't change. Set the defaults like logo, production title, and key cast and crew.
- Spin-off a variant of your master call sheet for every day of the shoot and add all the additional details
Organizing Your Folders
Don't let disorganization destroy your workflow. You can easily spend way too much time on managing call sheets if you get disorganized. When you are late in sending out call sheets, or worse, sending out the wrong version of your call sheet, people will stop taking you seriously. For these reasons, you should start and end your workflow with the best practices.
Set up the correct folder structure
Follow these general rules:
- Create a folder for your production, e.g. "Jungle Book"
- Create a dedicated folder for all your call sheets. You can simply name it "Call Sheets"
- Create a dedicated folder for every shoot day. For example, if you have 20 days of shoot, create a folder for each day (01, 02, 03, 20, etc.)
- Put your respective call sheet with all the additional materials and store them within reach of the daily folders.
- You should also include the master template, a file name MASTER_TEMPLATE, in the "Call Sheets" directory
Naming call sheet files
You should name your files in this format:
DAY OF SHOOT_TITLE_VERSION_DATETIME_.xls
So if you are creating the second version of Jungle Book's call sheet for day 4 of the shoot on September 5th, 2023 at 5:23 PM, it should look like this:
The underscores are important to help keep your file names clean and searchable. Once you get into the flow, you will be able to stay extremely organized while creating daily call sheets.
By following these tactics, you will be able to stay organized for your days of the shoot. This will help you stay organized like a champ when you are in the midst of the busy production.
Backing up Call Sheets
It's never a bad idea to have a backup for all your production documents. Use an external hard drive, backup your computer regularly, and look into these cloud storage providers:
You do not want to be up at the 11th hour trying to back-up your computer. Have a plan for how you will protect your data. Then take action to keep all your information backed up safely.
Readying the Call Sheet
Making it Mobile Friendly
Today, most people walk around with a computer in their pockets. Make your PDF call sheets easy to view on smartphones. Add real URLs on your call sheets:
- Link your set location to Maps, so they can click and get driving instructions
- Link the nearest hospital address to Maps
- Make emails and phone numbers clickable for the key crew members so they can be easily contacted.
People like convenience. The easier you make it for them, the better they will enjoy the work.
Topsheet is completely mobile friendly and makes all the linking convenient for you and your crew. Never worry about adding weather, nearest hospital, or creating redundant call sheets again. Start today.
Proofreading Your Call Sheet
Things change all the time on productions. Your first draft of a call sheet will have some errors.
Don't try to do everything perfectly on the first try. But you will need to make sure you catch the errors before you distribute it.
Here are some tips to help you catch some common mistakes:
- Walk around. Take a break. Come back to it in 10 minutes.
- Print it out. It might be easier to catch errors on paper.
- Use the finger trick: read as you follow your fingers through the critical parts of the call sheet.
Here are some things you should double-check before finalizing your call sheet:
- Call times
Accuracy matters. When you make a mistake, it's going to cost you money. If you give someone the wrong call times, people won't arrive when you need them to. When the weather is wrong, the conditions may affect your shoot. If you give the wrong location, people will go to the wrong place. Be attentive and make sure you have the right data before sending it out to your cast and crew.
Export Proper File Format
Always send your call sheet out as a PDF. Don't send it out as an Excel spreadsheet. You don't want people to get their hands on your master template. Also, people will not be able to view your files if not sent correctly.
Distribution the Call Sheet
Adding Notes from Crew Chiefs
Once you are happy with your call sheet, think about who needs to approve it first.
If you are working with busy people, think about how to do this without being disruptive.
This step is important because things change all the time on-set. For example, if you are shooting Scene 3, 4, and 5 but you don't have the right prop, you will need to rearrange the schedule.
This will change the call times for your talent and crew. By understanding what is going on in the production, you will be able to prevent large messes from occurring. These fixes are not simple, but they are necessary.
A call sheet is not simply about communication, but it's about planning and creating an amazing film.
Getting Call Sheet Approved
The 1st and 2nd AD work together to make sure the call sheets get made correctly, generally. Since the UPM handles the money on a set, they will need to approve the call sheet as well.
If you are in charge of creating the first draft of the call sheet, you will need to talk to the department heads to get the final notes. Then you will need to send it to the 1st AD for approval.
The 1st AD will then work with the UPM and director to make the final changes. When the call sheet is approved, the main stakeholders will sign off on the call sheet.
It is now ready for distribution.
Distributing the Call Sheet
You only want to send one call sheet per day. This will prevent:
- Information overload
- Lack of confusion
If you send too many production call sheets, it'll lead to confusion and cost you money at the end of the day.
A distribution list is a list of all the people that need to receive it for each day of the shoot. It should include the following information about each person:
- Position, Title, Character Name
- Phone Number
- Email Address
- Their schedule
The more we know about each person, the easier it is for us to stay organized. For example, knowing a crew member's schedule helps you know when to send them a call sheet.
There are also stakeholders who will need to stay informed even if they are not on the call sheet. For example, the client who is paying for the job will need to receive the call sheet. Also, agents may request a copy of the call sheets for the days their client is working.
The distribution list is a living document. It is constantly changing. The schedule changes. Personnel changes. The more you do to keep this list organized, the easier it will be to run your production.
Emailing the Call Sheet
Always BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) all the people on your distribution list. You do NOT want personal information to get leaked.
Only add your own email in the To box. Just avoid using the To box for anyone else to protect confidentiality.
Formatting the Crew Email
Format your email with the following information:
- Project Title
- Shoot Day
- Call Time
- Parking Location
- Shooting Location
- Special instructions
Include the PDF of your call sheet with the email. Make sure you ask for replies to confirm receipt.
You will want to send out the final call sheet about 12-14 hours before the shoot.
You may also send it out earlier to give a sense of the shoot date. Make sure you mark the call sheet as “preliminary” so your team is aware that things will change.
Call sheet details are changing all the time. You will want to send out updates in a way that doesn't send too many emails or cause confusion.
Formatting the Cast Email
You could use the same email for both the crew and cast, in most instances. This is true if everyone is coming in at the general call time.
Sometimes, cast (talent) will have a unique call time. You may want to send a different email to specify when you need them on set.
Confirmation for the Call Sheet
Confirming Call Sheets were Received
Make sure you tell people to confirm receipt. However, people often won't do it. If someone doesn't show up at the right time, it could cause a major cost. It's the production unit's job to know that everyone got the call sheet.
The traditional way is to text, email, or call each person to make sure they got the call sheet.
However, if you have huge production, this is not a scalable solution. You do not want to spend your time making sure people have received their call sheets.
Topsheet handles confirmation by detecting who has viewed the call sheet. You can scan your list to see who has or has not viewed the call sheet. Try today!
Call Sheet Templates
Do you need a call sheet template to get started? Here is our free template for you:
Working on production is a lot of work. It can be long-days and high-stress. But the end result is a thing of beauty if you are willing to put in the work. If you are sick of doing the leg work on sending out call sheets, let us help. Topsheet is here to help make filmmaking easier for you. Stop living in the past. Let us propel you into the future with technology. Try us out today.