Call sheets are a film production document that almost everyone on set- from the production assistant to the executive producer- interacts with on a daily basis. While it may not sound as exciting as a “storyboard” or a “shot list,” the call sheet is vital to keeping a set functioning smoothly, and understanding it is an important part of being a good crew member, actor, director, or producer.
This article will explain how to read a call sheet, answer some frequently asked questions about call sheets, and show you how you can easily make one for your next project.
What is a Call Sheet?
A call sheet is a document that outlines key logistical information for a shooting day. It is typically sent to all cast and crew, typically the day before a shoot, and contains important information such as when cast and crew need to arrive on set (a.k.a. their “call times”), the set’s location, parking information, a shooting schedule, meal times, and more.
Why is a call sheet usually sent the night before a shoot? Well, because production details are always in flux. While productions almost always have an overall schedule that lays out each day’s shooting plan well in advance, countless factors can impact what happens on a given day. Weather conditions, travel complications, financial concerns, and talent scheduling changes, are among the many reasons why production detail may change up until the night before a shoot- or even the morning of a shoot.
Why is a Call Sheet Important?
The purpose of a call sheet is to provide the most up-to-date version of all the essential production logistics information that cast and crew need to know for a given day, so that everyone is on the same page about what the day is going to look like. Without call sheets, crews would waste a massive amount of time communicating about every individual production logistics detail that may have changed since the initial production planning stage.
Sets are fast-paced, complex environments that often operate on a tight schedule and even tighter budget, so even small miscommunications can result in costly errors. This is why call sheets, when created and distributed properly, are such an essential tool for a well-functioning set.
What Does a Call Sheet Look Like?
Here is an example of a real call sheet (pages 1 and 2) from one of Prodigium’s past productions. Note that some info is redacted to protect cast and crew privacy.
Follow the green arrows to learn where key info is listed on the sheet:
How to Read a Call Sheet
Below is a section-by section breakdown of 10 key pieces of information you can expect to find on a Call Sheet:
Crew Call Time
The crew call time is prominently displayed near the top of the call sheet. This refers to the time the crew is expected to arrive on set. Note that other sections of the call sheet usually contain specific call times for individual cast and crew members that may differ from the general crew call time.
Set Location and Parking Instructions
The call sheet contains the set location, parking details, and usually a “basecamp” location (a.k.a. a location where cast & some crew members are held while they are not physically needed on set). The production manager will oftentimes include a map with demarcations and a key along with the call sheet to show crew parking.
A good call sheet should contain the address of the nearest hospital with an emergency room, as well as emergency medical, law enforcement and fire department numbers if the shoot is taking place somewhere where the 911 emergency number is not applicable.
Hopefully your crew will never need this information, but accidents can happen, people can have unexpected emergencies, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
This section (or multiple sections) contains the names and contact info for key production contacts. The 1st Assistant Director, Production Manager, and Production Coordinator are usually the main contacts for everyday logistics on set.
The project name is displayed at the top of the call sheet. Note that if the name of the project is highly confidential, the producers may use an abbreviated title, or an alternate working title in case anyone outside of the cast & crew gets ahold of the call sheet.
Date and Day of Shooting
In the upper right-hand corner, you’ll usually find a box containing the date of the shoot, as well as the shoot day number, formatted “Day __ of __.” For example, if the shoot is 3 days in total, and the current call sheet is for day 2 for shooting, the call sheet would say “Day 2 of 3.”
Anticipated weather conditions are an extremely important consideration for both on-set safety and the look of the final product. The weather conditions section includes not only the temperature and likelihood of precipitation, it also includes sunrise and sunset times so the production doesn’t accidentally schedule a daytime shoot after sundown or vice versa. Not only are weather conditions important for outdoor shoots, they are important for indoor shoots, as weather can heavily affect transportation to and from set, as well as complicate sound recording (your dialogue may not sound very clear if there’s a thunderstorm just outside the window!).
Shooting Breakdown by Scene
This section lists the scenes that are being shot that day, the page number(s) of each scene in the script, a short description of each scene, and the location where each scene is being shot. This breakdown also includes which cast members are in each scene, listed by ID number (which we will explain in the next section).
Individual Cast and Crew Member Info
The cast information section lists all cast member needed on set that day, their respective roles, their work status (the abbreviations for which we will explain in the abbreviations section below), their individual call times (accounting for prep time needed for hair, makeup, etc.), when they are needed on set, their cast ID number (usually the cast members with more prominent roles in the project are listed first), and any special instructions.
Call sheets usually contain a second page with crew information broken down by department. This second page typically lists each crew member by name, their job on set, and their individual call time (usually the same as the crew call time, but it can vary).
12-hour shoot days usually provide one meal to the cast and crew (in addition to snacks a.k.a. “crafty” throughout the day). Meal times are important to note on the call sheet because the director needs to anticipate when they’ll have to stop shooting and break for lunch or dinner. Whoever is organizing the meals (usually a caterer or a production assistant who has been entrusted to pick up the food) also needs to make sure the food is ready in time for the designated meal time. If a set runs too long without a meal break, the set may actually violate union or OSHA rules, leading to fines, potential legal action and a rightfully irritated crew.
Call Sheet Abbreviations and Terminology
Call sheets (and almost all production documents, for that matter) need to communicate a lot of information in a small amount of space. For this reason, productions often use abbreviations and industry-specific terms to communicate key info on call sheets and other production documents.
Common Call Sheet Terminology
The following are some of the most common terms you may encounter on a call sheet.
Everyone working on a set who does not appear on camera. Note that while Directors and Producers are technically part of the “crew,” they are often not referred to as “crew” given their status on the project.
Where a scene is being shot (usually given as a full address).
Set & Description
A section on the call sheet that outlines the setting of each scene being shot that day (ex. “EXT. Jeff’s backyard” or “INT. Spaceship”) and a description of the scene (ex. “Jeff confronts Tammy” or “Spaceship crew prepares for battle”). Note that sometimes people on set may also refer to the setting of a scene as a “location,” so always make sure to ask for clarification if you are not sure what type of “location” someone is referring to!
The day a scene takes place within the chronology of a film or TV episode’s narrative.
Someone who appears on camera. “Talent” usually refers to an actor, but can refer to a host, interviewee, or other on-camera personality.
The length of an actor (or other on-camera talent’) job on a project, usually marked as SW (Start Work), W (Work), WF (Work Finish), or SWF (Start Work Finish). See definitions below.
Call Sheet Abbreviations
The following are some of the most common abbreviations you may encounter on a call sheet.
- SW = Start Work, used to indicate that an actor (or other on-camera talent) is starting their work on set that day
- W = Work, used to indicate that an actor (or other on-camera talent) is working today, but it is not their first or last day on set.
- WF = Work Finish, used to indicate that it is an actor (or other on-camera talent’s) last day working on set.
- SWF = Start Work Finish, used to indicate that it is an actor’s only day of shooting for this project.
- O/C = On Call, used to indicate that a person or department who is working on the shoot that day, but does not have to be present on the actual filming set.
- N/C = No Call, means that the person in question is not working that day.
- PU = Pick Up. “PU” accompanied by a time indicates the time an actor needs to be ready to be picked up and taken to set. Note that sometimes actors arrange their own transportation to set.
- H/M/W = Hair/Makeup/Wardrobe, note that “HMU” can also refer to “hair and makeup,” and a “MUA” is short for a “makeup artist.” “WD” can also be used to abbreviate “wardrobe.”
- BG = Background, meaning background actors (a.k.a. “extras”) who appear in, but are not the focus of a scene.
- 1/8 (or 2/8, 11/8, etc.) = the amount of pages in the script covered by a scene that’s being shot. Script pages are divided into 8ths because 1/8th of a page corresponds to about 1 inch, so it’s an easy increment to eyeball.
- D/N = Day/Night, indicating whether a scene takes place at day or night. Note that sometimes scenes will be shot “day for night,” meaning the scene will be shot during the day, but the lighting will be set up (and edits will be made in post-production) to make the scene look like it was shot at night.
- I/E or Int./Ext. = Interior/Exterior, indicating whether a scene takes place in an interior or exterior location.
- RTS = Ready to serve, meaning the time that a meal will be ready to serve.
While it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with common call sheet abbreviations, sometimes sets will use less common abbreviations or their own production team’s shorthand. Make sure you always ask someone on the production team for clarification if you ever come across an expression you’re unfamiliar with (particularly if the info is relevant to a task you or your team is assigned!).
How to Make a Call Sheet
The best way to go about creating a call sheet is by using a call sheet template. Templates are useful because they come with pre-labeled sections that outline all the necessary info you need to fill in.
While there are many pdf or word doc call sheet templates available online, we recommend using a smart call sheet that automatically transfers up-to-date information from your production spreadsheets, shooting schedule, etc. right onto your call sheet. These smart call sheets not only save you time, but help you minimize human errors that can occur when manually entering data.
Our team at Prodigium actually created a free smart call sheet called G-Casper. G-Casper is a cloud-based, live-synchronized Call Sheet (plus Cast & Crew Lists, Production Reports, Exhibit Gs and more) that places all the key production info you need in one single Google Sheet with automated tabs that “talk” to each other via algorithms.
G-Casper also has automated error warnings that give you a heads up if something seems off. Even small miscommunications on the call sheet can end up costing you a lot of money and time on set, so accuracy is very important.
Plus, with G-Casper, everyone on your production team can access your most updated logistical info at all times. So, for example, if a producer wants to make a change to your production schedule, your 1st Assistant Director automatically sees that request reflected on all necessary documents and vice versa.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about call sheets:
Do small sets still need call sheets?
Yes, we recommend that even small film sets, including student film sets, create a call sheet. No matter the scale of your project, you need to clearly communicate logistical information, such as locations and start times, to everyone on set.
Individually communicating this information to everyone working on your shoot often leads to miscommunications, travel errors, and other mistakes that cost both time and money. Call sheets help minimize these errors, make your job less stressful, and ensure that everyone on your set is on the same page.
When should I send out a call sheet?
Call sheets are usually sent out the evening before a shoot. However, you should try to let your cast & crew know about logistical details like locations and call times as far in advance as you can, and let them know which of these details may be subject to change.
How do I get all of the information I need to make a call sheet?
Before making your call sheet, your production team will have to communicate with the director, assistant director, location manager, and other relevant department heads to make sure that everyone agrees on what the shooting day will look like. Ideally, your team should lay out these plans well in advance, to minimize the number of last-minute changes you have to make.
Who makes the call sheet?
A member of the production team, like an assistant director, production manager or production coordinator, usually makes and sends out the call sheet. On a larger set, the 2nd assistant director will usually make the call sheets and have it approved by the 1st assistant director & production team.
What other documents are used to keep track of on-set logistics?
Logistical information is usually organized ahead of time in shooting schedules and other pre-production documents (like a Day Out Of Days for multi-day shoots) but you should always be mindful of any unexpected changes that occur while production is in process. Film sets are fast-paced, complex environments, and good communication between producers, cast, and crew is key to running a successful production!
Should I include crew contact info on a call sheet?
Some call sheets include contact info like phone numbers and email addresses, but you should always ask each cast or crew member before including their contact info on the call sheet. Many sets also use a separate contact sheet that only some production team members have access to.
What does it mean to be first on the call sheet?
“First on the call sheet” is a term used to describe the first actor listed in the “cast” section of the call sheet. The first actor listed in this section is typically the lead role in a project, or the most prominently featured role on a given shoot day.
What is a dramatic day on a call sheet?
The “dramatic day” refers to the day a scene takes place within the chronology of a film or TV episode’s narrative. These days are listed on the call sheet because they’re important for hair, makeup, wardrobe, props, set dressing, etc.
What does 1/8 (or 2/8, 11/8, etc.) mean on a call sheet?
The “pages” a scene covers, marked in 8ths, refers to the amount of pages in the script the scene covers. Script pages are divided into 8ths because 1/8 of a page corresponds to about 1 inch, so this increment is easy to eyeball.
What does talent mean on a call sheet?
“Talent” refers to a cast member, or anyone who appears on camera. On unscripted projects (like documentaries, reality shows, or game shows) “talent” could refer to a host or contestant. For documentaries or interview segments, the talent is sometimes referred to as the “subject” or
What does talent status mean on a call sheet?
"Talent status" refers to the length of the talent’s job on a project. Usually marked as SW (start work), W (work), SWF (Start Work Finish), or WF (work finish). “Start Work” means that the talent is starting their work on set that day, “Work” means that the talent is working that day, but it is not their first or last day on the job, “SWF” means that it is the talent will start and finish their work on set that day, and “Work Finish” means that the talent will finish their work on set that day.
What does O/C mean on a call sheet?
An abbreviation indicating that a person or department who is working on the shoot that day, but does not have to be present on the actual filming set. One of the most common jobs you will see listed as “O/C” is the costume/wardrobe department.
What does N/C mean on a call sheet?
“No Call,” meaning that the person in question is not working that day.
What does H/M/U mean on a call sheet?
H/M/U means “hair/makeup/wardrobe.”
What does I/E mean on a call sheet?
I/E means “Interior/Exterior,” respectively. “I” or “E” indicates whether a scene takes place in an interior (indoor) or exterior (outdoor) location.
What does D/N mean on a call sheet?
D/N means “Day/Night,” respectively. “D” or “N” indicates whether a scene takes place during the daytime or nighttime.
What does BG mean on a call sheet?
BG refers to a background actor, also known as an “extra.”
What does PU mean on a call sheet?
PU means “pick up,” referring to the time someone (usually talent) needs to be picked up and taken to set.
What does RTS mean on a call sheet?
RTS means “ready to serve,” indicating a time a meal should be ready to be served.
Learn More About Film Production
Learning the ins and outs of film production can be daunting, but resources like this article are a great start. Call sheets paint an overall picture of how a film set functions, and understanding them is a key part of being a good cast or crew member.
If you want to learn more about how we approach TV & film production as a social impact entertainment company, check out examples of our work, including our HBO Max docuseries “Gaming Wall Street” and our marketing videos for organizations like the NAACP, or contact us directly if you are looking for a collaborator on your next social impact entertainment project.