Knowing what time you have to be on set helps run a smooth production, whether your role is in front of or behind the camera. One way to ensure you don’t get a reputation for tardiness or get fired from a gig is to be able to read a call sheet and know your call time.
- The “call” for receiving the daily call sheet: “Call time” hearkens back to the studio era, when everyone involved in a production had to report to work at 9 a.m.—their “call” for receiving the daily call sheet.
- The scheduled start of a production day: Today, call time is a specific designated time when those involved in a production should be on set and ready to work, which can vary depending on their role. Crew members typically have earlier call times than cast do. They need to set up for the day so the cameras are ready to start shooting when actors are called to set.
- Set in advance: The general crew call time as set by the first assistant director (1st AD) or production coordinator creates the schedule for the rest of the production. Each department head calculates how long shots will take to set up and shoot, and this shooting schedule informs the call time for each department.
- A budgetary measure: Call time helps the production stay on schedule, in order to remain on budget rather than wasting money on having the crew around for too long or not long enough.
The call time dictates when actors should be on set and ready to step in front of the camera. This means being in full costume and makeup with all blocking, hydration, and warmups completed. Knowing how to schedule these elements ahead of time adds to set efficiency and reduces delays.
All cast and crew use call times as a sort of social contract. If everyone abides by their call time, then everyone benefits. However, if even just one person misses their call time, it threatens to waylay the entire production schedule. This is particularly true for actors, whose on-camera presence cannot be easily substituted.
You can find every call time on the call sheet emailed to you the night before a shoot. The top of the call sheet indicates the general crew call time. Each department has its own call time assigned regardless of whether it matches the general crew call time.
Actors’ specific call times can be found by the number they are given (e.g., number 1 is typically the lead), name, and character name. Any transportation arrangements will also be listed.
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The call sheet is a scheduling tool showing where everyone involved in a production should be and when. It’s essentially a blueprint or game plan for the day ahead that doubles as a daily briefing. Everything from weather projections to how many locations there are for that particular shooting day will be carefully detailed. This ensures that everyone, from the director to production assistants, is on the same page, allowing for an effective and efficient working environment.
A call sheet is usually organized as follows:
Top of the call sheet:
- Name of the production and date of the shoot
- General crew call time
- Contact information for heads of production
- Sunrise/sunset times and weather and temperature forecast
- Driving/parking instructions
- Address of the nearest hospital
- Set location address(es)
- Schedule for the day, including lunch and estimated wrap times
Bottom of the call sheet:
- Scenes to be shot and the locations
- Who is in the specific scenes
- Crew list and equipment
- Walkie talkie channels
- General notes
- Additional notes
- Advanced schedule
Familiarity with the call sheet and all its components helps ensure that you’re ready for the shoot, even if you’re a newcomer or have limited experience. Knowing your call time and being able to read the call sheet is a way to—literally—stay on the same page with the rest of the production.