The art of the callsheet

Imagine a theoretical job where you’ve got to coordinate yourself, two client representatives, three business executives who will be photographed, your assistant, a makeup artist and a homeowner whose home you’ll be shooting in. Oh, and you’ll have five minutes of your subjects’ time, the shoot is outdoors and subject to weather whims, and the subjects and the clients all come from the staid, yet much beat up, financial industry. Sounds like fun. Enter the call sheet.

A callsheet is a transfer from the film industry. It basically lays out who needs to be where when and for how long. I also like to put contact info on my call sheets as well so if anyone is late, or if there’s a last minute change we’re able to contact those involved while on location.

A sample call sheet…

2:45 – Kristen M (asst.) arrive at photo studio; cell 410-555-1221

2:45-3:15 – Kristen and Steve B (photog) pack equipment; cell 410-555-1212

3:15-3:45 – Kristen and Steve travel to location (123 Main Street, Annapolis, MD); Homeowner Bob 410-555-1222

3:45-4:00 – Kristen and Steve unpack and begin initial gear setup

3:45 – Monica (MUA) arrives; cell 410-555-1213

4:00 – Debbie and Laurie (clients) arrive on location; Debbie 410-555-1224, Laurie 410-555-1225

4:00-4:45 – Continued lighting and shot setup

4:30 – Manny, Moe and Jack (subjects) arrive; Manny 410-555-1226, Moe 410-555-1227, Jack 410-555-1228

4:30-4:45 – Subjects in makeup

4:45-5:00 – Subjects on set

5:00 – Subjects and clients released

5:00 – Strike set

5:15 – Makeup released

5:30 – Kristen and Steve depart location

5:30-6:00 – Kristen and Steve return to studio

6:00-6:15 – Kristen and Steve unpack gear

6:15 – Kristen released

6:30 – Steve enjoys IPA (Sierra Nevada)

Ok so I won’t put that last item on the sheet, but you get the idea. The callsheet gets distributed to everyone on the shoot the day before. If I don’t have email addresses for everyone I make sure it gets to them somehow. I don’t mind the client seeing the front and back end of the work like packing and unpacking. Many clients assume that if they show up for a shoot and it only takes 15 minutes to get the shot that it’s easy. Letting them see the work that goes into putting everything together blunts the objection that says “Hey, it only took 15 minutes, why are we paying this much?”

Second, it reminds everyone that there are lots of other people relying on them to make this happen. We’re all busy, and often we’re dealing with real people as subjects for our photos. If a bank president is running late and he only thinks he’s holding up the photographer and his assistant it’s not a big deal. But if he’s running late and he sees that he’s holding up the photographer, his assistant, the makeup artist, two other bank officers, two people from the ad agency and a homeowner, he might hustle things a little. Finally it sets you, the photographer, up as the one in command. After all, it’s your reputation and fee that goes away if something gets screwed up. The fact that it wasn’t your fault is irrelevant.

I’ve said many times before that this business is great because it’s creative, it’s fun and it’s continually changing. But it’s a business. Business is all about communication. A callsheet helps everyone stay on the same page (sorry about the pun) and can move things along smoothly.

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