Is there a checklist or cheat sheet you go over before you start shooting to make sure production goes smoothly?

I’m shooting my first short in 12 days, and I’ve been stressing that I’m going to mess something up. The last thing I want is to delay the shooting process and rack up unnecessary expenses.

–Carrie, Charlotte NC

I’ve been directing a long time, and in the long nights before that first shooting day, it’s still hard to sleep. Even though I’ve planned my shots (see how to make detailed shot lists), there are a lot of things I have to remember that aren’t about where to put the camera. Questions I have to ask my assistant director about the next day’s schedule. Something I wanted to say to an actor about her performance. A better way to handle a sensitive issue I know is going to come up with the art director, because it did the last time I worked with him. None of these things fit on a typical shot list, but they all keep me up at night, running the possibilities in my head.
In addition to the shotlist, it makes senes to keep a more personal checklist– one that may help you sleep better. I made myself a list of questions as a blank template that lives in as a word file on my computer. The day before a complicated shoot (or when I wake up at 2am the night before) I pull it out and fill in the key things I need to do a great job the next morning.
Here are some thought starters from my “Not-The-Shot-List” checklist that may work for you– ignore the ones that don’t and add your own!
Personal Growth Items: How do you want to be a better director today? What do you want to be sure to remember? If you’re someone who needs to remember to praise others, add it to your checklist. If you need your producer to prod you to move along to the next shot, “Ask Caroline if she thinks we’re done” should be on every shot list as a reminder. If you need to breathe more, smile more, or feel confident, add them to list in places where you think you’ll need to remember.
Opening Speech Checklist: Make a quick list of “start of the day” items– the stuff you want to announce to your whole team at the start of the day. This might be an overview of the plan for the day, a reminder to drink lots of water, praise for particularly hard workers, or a thought about why you’re doing the work. You can update people on ideas you had in the middle of the night that change things just a bit, so they’re not surprised. You might introduce key department heads, and invite others to introduce themselves to each other. Doing this helps you set a professional tone for the day. People like to work for people who are thoughtful and good communicators (and vice versa!)
Safety Concerns: Is there anything tricky going on that you want the Assistant Director to bring up at the all-crew safety meeting in the morning?
Department Head Specifics: What do you have today for your DP or your props department that they don’t know about yet? What did you want to ask them early, so they have time to prepare?
Rehearsal Checklist: Review your scenes for the day. Are there any tricky parts you want to be sure to rehearse– or not rehearse? How do the ways your actors like to work affect your shooting plan? Think about blocking, lens choices, lighting ideas, prop use. What are you forgetting?
Shot List: Calling this a “Not the Shot List” checklist assumes you already did a shot list. You did, right?

Some people keep their checklists on a laptop, iPad or phone, but I prefer to print them on old-fashioned 3-hole paper and stick them in a binder. The act of physically crossing things off is very satisfying and uses a part of our brain we don’t always tap into. It’s also easier to write last minute notes in the margins of a full size script sheet or checklist page than it is on a 6″ screen. Plus when you use your phone all the time, people sometimes think you’re texting and not paying attention– the opposite of what you want on a film set.

Bonus Reason to Use Paper: For some reason, people are less willing to interrupt you if you’re writing in a binder than tapping into your phone. Not sure why, but it totally works.

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