Shooting days tend to begin the same way, with everyone moving slowly, wiping the sleep out of their eyes, chatting at the crafty table, and savoring their morning coffee. But by hour twelve everyone is usually scrambling frantically, trying to squeeze in a few more shots before they pack it in for the day. It always seems like you have plenty of time… until you don’t.

That’s why scheduling your shoot days is so critical to your film’s success. The best First ADs can make it look easy, but don’t be fooled. Scheduling is a complex process involving a ton of moving parts; it’s more alchemy than science, and a few mistakes can derail your entire production. While we don’t claim a mastery of these dark arts, we do have five great tips for scheduling an efficient shoot.

1. Know the script

Having a good breakdown and being organized with the scenes is essential in time management. Your first step though, should be to thoroughly read your script. Done? Ok. Now read it again.

You need to know the script backwards and forwards to have any hope of sorting the specific demands of every scene into your calendar. And you never want to say, “What happens in this next scene again?” After your initial read through, do another pass, combing through each shot to get a better idea of what is needed logistically.

Software like Movie Magic Scheduling can be invaluable in breaking down your script and plotting out your shooting days.

2. Consider the content

Always take into consideration the nature of the scenes you’re filming and schedule accordingly. A big, emotional moment will take longer to shoot than a brief expositional exchange. Close-ups generally require more takes than masters. Complex blocking and long, unbroken shots also need more time.

Avoid scheduling a particularly demanding or emotional scene at the beginning or end of the day. Like athletes, your performers need time to warm up; and like everyone else on set, they can become fatigued after a long day of shooting.

Also take into account the pace of your crew. Is your director used to big budget commercial shoots where the can spend four days on a 60 second spot? Or do they have an indie, run and gun mindset, ready to knock out 30+ setups in a day? Are your G&E team experienced professionals or enthusiastic friends? Your personnel will dictate your pace.

3. Do a walkthrough

Whenever possible, do a walk through before production. Inexperienced filmmakers often underestimate the amount of time it takes to set up, not to mention getting the cast and crew familiar with the location. Instead of wasting valuable time on the day, bring your department heads on set early so they can test power supplies, take light-meter readings, and discuss production design. This is often done on a “tech scout,” a pre-production day when all department heads travel to every shooting location.

If a full tech scout isn’t possible, definitely make an effort to visit each new location a day in advance. Decide where video village, wardrobe, makeup, crafty, and other departments will be set up before the shoot. If the location is secure, load in your equipment the night before. The more time you spend prepping your location beforehand, the more shooting you’ll be able to do on the actual shoot day!

4. Give yourself wiggle room

Bad weather, equipment failure, and illness are just a few of the unexpected ways your shoot can be delayed. It’s important to allow flexibility in your schedule to compensate for these unavoidable problems. Also, this gives you more room for creativity within the scene. This is especially helpful in comedies or if you’re working with improvisers.

Plus having a little extra schedule padding will lower the stress level throughout the crew. If people are constantly worried about a time crunch, they are more prone to exhaustion and mistakes. Having a relaxed vibe on set can really improve the quality of everyone’s work. So always plan for more time than you need. Worse case scenario? You wrap early and look like the hero!

5. Communicate

Probably the single most important tip for any production schedule is COMMUNICATION! This goes beyond having an accurate and thorough call sheet and DOODs. As the schedule changes during shooting (and it will!) make sure all your department heads have input. You won’t please everyone, but making your expectations crystal clear and being upfront about adjustments (no matter how last minute) will allow everyone to do their best work.

Touching base with everyone at the beginning of each shoot day will allow you to gauge where they are mentally and physically. Over lunch talk to your department heads about the following day, anticipating potential problems and addressing them preemptively. If you communicate, when the inevitable surprises come up, you’ll be prepared to handle the situation… and handle it quickly.