Making a movie is like prosecuting a war. Or, perhaps
more appropriately, launching a space ship.
There are a million details that must be kept track of and communicated and acted upon
at their own proper times, all in the proper sequence. And while some slippage is
inevitable, if events dont generally proceed according to the plan everyone knows
that there will soon be hell to play.
Thats the message should you read Notes, Eleanor Coppolas book
about the making of Apocalypse Now, or see Heart of Darkness, the
documentary that was released a few years ago about the same subject. Apocalypse Now
standing as one of the most egregious examples of a runaway production.
And thats the message if you listen through the clenched teeth or penetrate
behind the cheerful eyes of Elizabeth, Eddy, Joe or Jon. Or if you listen to any of the production folks on
location or back at the office, all of whom are in some way responsible for making sure
the picture is shot in its allotted 33 days.
With this in mind it becomes easy to understand how it is that a group has been
assembled in which everyone speaks clearly and directly to one another. Speaking precisely
is an important part of their job descriptions, and so there is, somehow, in their
collective rhetoric an incredible grasp of an incredible range of details, and a
remarkable ability to present facts and contingencies in a clear and straightforward way.
You couldnt otherwise make a movie on time and on budget .
This would perhaps be less remarkable if the crew consisted of seasoned hands who had
each been doing their particular jobs for ten or fifteen years. But that isnt really
the case here. As Jon has put it, many of the Keys on Cherry are "stepping
up." These are talented people who have in many cases taken on bigger jobs than those
theyve done before. That is part of the attraction of independent filmmaking. It
gives people a chance to stretch and advance and move up in ways that would be much more
difficult to do in regimented and hierarchical Hollywood.
And it gives producers a way to make a film more cheaply, by swapping opportunity for a
lower wage scale.
And perhaps thats why everyone is so clear on being clear. As aware as they are
about the opportunities the picture presents, they are as aware of what can happen when a
production gets away, and they are making sure to do everything they can so that
doesnt happen--on their collective watch.
All of which serves as an introduction to The Call Sheet, the daily newspaper of a film
production. Id reprint the Call Sheet here, but Ive been asked not to. There
is too much personal information on it, and even with all the personal information that
cant be released whited out there is the possibility that sensitive info might slip
And it might. And actually, apart from the amazing detail of the information, and its
compact presentation on both sides of an 8 ½ x 14 piece of paper, there isnt much
to see. Especially with white outs. The point isn't that the call sheet is pretty.
What it is, however, is the essential communications organ on a film, and it very
efficiently contains all the information everyone working on the film needs to know each
What sort of information is that?
Pertinent phone numbers and addresses, from the set beeper to the
production office to the 2nd AD to the nearest hospital, heaven forbid.
The call time, which is when most everyone is expected to start work.
There is also the "shooting call," which is the expected time the first shot of
the day will commence.
There is the weather report, and the time of sunrise and
sunset, so that everyone has a consistent source of information. The production
will also contract with a weather service to get highly specific localized reports. This
service can tell where rain is, down to the block, and in what direction its
heading. Rain matters, even when youre shooting indoors, because of the lights and
crew arrayed in the street.
There are one-line descriptions of each of the scenes scheduled to be
shot on this particular day, and in a separate listing of actors
necessary for those scenes, what parts they play, when they should report to Hair and
Makeup and what time they are expected on set. There is also the time they are to be
picked up at their home or hotel. On the first day of shooting Cherry Shalom was picked up at 5:30 AM. So much for the glamour of
There is also a listing of stand ins and extras scheduled for the day,
along with information necessary for ensuring they arrive in the right place at the right
There is a section devoted to special needs for the day: a list of props,
special wardrobe items, makeup and hair notes, and special shooting notes. While
all of these details have been discussed at production meetings, and each department has a
list of them in its own records and planning notebooks, the call sheet is a final reminder
to everyone of all that must be done. It is the final rejoinder to the argument: "I
The front of the Call Sheet concludes with the one-line scene listings for the
next two days, which detail the scenes that are to be shot and when, making it an
easy reference to what's coming up.
And at the bottom of the page, just above the initials of Eddy, Liz and Elizabeth, indicating theyve read and approved
the call sheet, there is a worthwhile "thought for the day."
Which for Opening Day was: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Certainly a worthwhile thought, particularly if youve never read a Chinese
On the back of the call sheet is a list of all the picture departments, and all
the people in each department, and details the time they are expected on set.
This can vary, and some people, especially in wardrobe, hair and makeup, may have to get
to work before the official call to work on the actors.
And finally, there is a listing of transportation, which is a listing
of when passenger vans are leaving particular locations in the city, and who is expected
to be on each. There is also a listing of the times those who are being picked up by
drivers at their homes can expect that driver to arrive.
Making a movie is an incredible enterprise and relies on the efforts of a great many
people, all of whom I hope get their due in these pages before were through, at
which point Cherry will have progressed from an idea to an enterprise to a series
of lights flashed on the wall in succession. Which is what is ultimately amazing: All this
work for a bit of magic. Really.
And just so you dont get the idea that this mobilization is totally regimented
and military in its precision, there is a final note on the final line of the second page
of the call sheet, which perhaps indicates some small difference:
"Breakfast will be ready @ 6A. Come early if you want to eat."