Call Sheets: What They Are and Why You Need Them

Call Sheets: What They Are and Why You Need Them

Whether you're shooting for a client or just creating something for your portfolio, working with a team of people can be one of the most difficult and intricate parts of the job. Don't worry, because there is a simple piece of paper that can make your life a whole lot easier; it's called a Call Sheet, and I'm going to tell you why you need one.

Call sheets are classically used in film to disseminate information to the cast and crew to make sure everyone is prepared and on schedule. This handy little piece of paper can also be a lifesaver for any photographer who is leading a large production because, let's face it, it's hard to get people to do what you need them to do when you need them to do it.

When planning and executing a large shoot, the photographer often becomes the production director and will find themselves in charge of managing talent, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and assistants in order to ensure quality work gets created on a deadline. At this point, it becomes imperative that the photographer be able to communicate a large amount of information to their crew in the simplest manner possible. Bring in the call sheets!

When I'm creating a call sheet for a shoot, I want to give my crew all the information they need to show up to the right place, on the right date, at the right time, with the right equipment, and knowing exactly what their duties will be. This allows the shoot to run smoothly, because everyone is prepared and knows their responsibilities. It also allows me freedom during the shoot because if my crew has any questions about the schedule, wrap time, or where the location of the next scene is, they can check the call sheet. My assistant can stay ahead of the game by prepping everything for the next change, because everything is spelled out on the call sheet.

If you're thinking a Call Sheet sounds good right about now, I don't blame you. Since you probably want call sheets for yourself, I'll tell you exactly what I include in mine and give you a few tips about how you can personalize your own.

  1. Who
    This should include not just who the client is and who is running the shoot, but a list of the talent and crew along with their titles. This lets the team know who they're working with, and who they'll be working for, in advance. It also lets to you keep track of who should be on set.
  2. What 
    Each production has a purpose of it's own, and it's hard for a crew to keep on task if they don't know what the purpose is. The crew and talent need to know what the shoot is about in as much detail as necessary to be sure that everyone understands the goal of the final images.
  3. When 
    This one is pretty self-explanatory. What is the time and date of the production? The call sheet is pointless if you forget this part.
  4. Where
    Another crucial point; don't leave out the address. In fact, a strip map is a great addition to a call sheet if the location is difficult to get to. Be sure to include the address of each location you will be using,
  5. Contact Information
    The reason I include the contact information is so that we can keep track of everyone, even when they're not on set. Sometimes people get lost on their way to locations, or have to go pick something up and, as the photographer and production director, I'm often too busy to track down a single team member. At other times, we might be in a place where cellular coverage isn't universal, and a team member with a different provider might be able to get a text or call out when I can't.
  6. Emergency Phone Numbers and Addresses
    Anything can, and often does, happen on set. Knowing where the closest emergency room is located can be a literal life saver if something bad happens.
  7. Schedule
    Letting your team know the schedule gives you the best chance of keeping everyone on time. 
  8. Additional Responsibilities
    I find this handy because, while everyone should already know their jobs, there are times when certain people will be responsible for more than their regular job, such as picking up a crew member, calling in lunch, or bringing a set piece. This is handy for when models are responsible for parts of their own wardrobe.

Handy things to include

  • Personal Branding
    This is your production. Give yourself some credit and include your website, phone number, etc.

  • Allergy Reports
    If makeup or food will be on set, it's good to remind people to report any allergy concerns so you can keep them safe. Latex, dairy, and nuts are common ones to watch out for.

  • Prep List
    Certain shoots require specific details to be in line if you want them to run smoothly. This is a great place to remind models of what to bring, and what to avoid (spray tans come to mind). 

Here is an example of what a simple Call Sheet might look like

A simple call sheet should include all information pertinent to the shoot

Take these tips and create a call sheet that will work for you. Each shoot will have variables, and the more often you use a call sheet, the more you'll learn how to anticipate those variables and account for them to keep your crew and talent prepared. Change and adjust your call sheet as needed, and you'll have document tailored to your shoot that gives your talent and crew a road map to a (mostly) stress free production.

Nicole York's picture

Nicole York is a professional photographer and educator based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. When she's not shooting extraordinary people or mentoring growing photographers, she's out climbing in the New Mexico back country or writing and reading novels.

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I'm just starting to organize a regular studio meetup group. This is great. Thanks.

You're very welcome, I hope it comes in handy!

Great breakdown Nicole! StudioBinder's call sheet template for photographers is pretty slick too

Looks like a great product!

I can't stress how important it is to include Dress Code. The number of times crew have turned up unsuitably attired for shoots...

great point Ansel. I had once very bad experience with assistant, pretending they are on a basketball match not on a campaign shoot for major real estate developer in my country.

Great point for sure! Becomes especially important when you're working for a client. Thanks for sharing!

Great article with very useful information. Thanks for sharing.