2011 Feature Film shot in Camden, ME
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5 Days! (I’m counting today)

I swear this process only gets more interesting all the time.

We are scheduled for 24 shooting days, and today was a reckoning with our schedule as we updated it today with the newest draft of the script using Movie Magic, which was completely worth the investment. The mere suggestion that people used to do this by hand (and still do!) is scoff-able. If you know what this entails, skip this next section. If you don’t (for friends, family, and film novices following the process) here’s what that entails:

1. The script is numbered by scene, and each scene has a slug-line which will read something like: INT – CUZZY’S BAR – NIGHT. Each scene has a length that’s measured in 8ths of a page. Each 8th of a page is assigned an amount of time we have to shoot it using the following math: number of shoot days x hours per shoot day divided by the number of pages in script, which you then divide by 8. That gives you the number of minutes you have to shoot an eighth of a page.

2. Each scene is assigned a script day, meaning the day in the life of the script in which the scene occurs.

3. Using this information, each scene gets it’s own breakdown sheet which includes among other things scene number, script day, how long the scene should take to shoot (based on above math), a one-line synopsis, characters that appear, their wardrobe, props, special effects (if any) set dressing, and any other elements of the scene that need to be coordinated.

4. Once each scene has been assigned a breakdown sheet, the program MAGICally generates strips that correspond to each scene, and are small and easily moved around like puzzle pieces. That’s where the fun begins.

5. Based on availability of locations, actors, weather, time of day, and a host of other factors you start moving the pieces around trying to figure out the most efficient way to shoot your script.

Scheduling is largely dictated by location and time of day. The logic is to shoot exteriors first (for weather contingencies) and move to interior, and to shoot daytime at the beginning of the week and nighttime at the end of the week. (This is so you don’t end a night shoot at 6am and have to start a day shoot at 9am. The unions, thankfully, have made that illegal.) Anyone who lives in New York has seen, however, many sets shooting overnights blasting huge lights through a window to make it look like daytime at night, or giant cloaks in the daytime to do the oppsite. That can be for noise, location availability, blah blah blah, but can also provide some flexibility.

A micro-budget means that we don’t have a huge art department to come in and re-create large elaborate scenes day after day, so we have to think really carefully about the way scenes build on each other, literally. We have the room in our schedule after today to be really mindful of the greatest efficiency for our budget, which in our case means shooting some days in a slightly wonky order (according to the rules above) because we don’t have lights that can make it daytime at night, for example, and those set ups would require a lot of hands on deck.

We have to schedule in order to make do with what we have so far north: 15 hours of daylight, 2.5 hours of “golden hour,” and about 7 hours of actual night.

Mother Nature has made some creative decisions for us. We can only hope she’s kindly with the weather.

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