Apparently The Film Industry Is Stuck In The 90s

So, I’ve been working since the end of October in the production office of a feature film. We’re talking an independent production here, not financed by a big studio or anything. And through my work experience arrangement with SF School of Digital Filmmaking, I was assigned to work as the Assistant Production Office Coordinator, affectionately abbreviated to “APOC”, but not the character from The Matrix.

As part of that, I was told I would be “doing the daily sides” for cast and crew to have for the shooting day. Yippee, I thought to myself.

Well, no, I didn’t think that. Mostly what I thought were, “WTF, audition sides for the actors when they’re shooting?” But for anyone who has worked on a longer film project shot over several days and with a large crew, the “sides” we’re talking about are basically the pages from the script that are on the call sheet for the day. What’s more interesting is that it’s literally only the scenes that are being shot — the other scenes on the page get a big-ass X or Z drawn over them to indicate, “no, dumbass, not this scene!”

Additionally, rumor has it that the First Assistant Director (basically, the dude or dudette in charge of running the set for the director) or “1st AD” is the person for whom the sides can be something to fuss over. Most everyone else on set doesn’t care, but the 1st AD apparently can get bent completely out of shape if they’re not done just so. Mercifully, on this shoot, our 1st AD was no problem at all.

So, what’s curious about sides is that these script excerpts are miniaturized. They get shrunk down to half of a letter-sized page (8.5″ long by 5.5″ wide) and the call sheet for that day is usually the cover page and it all gets stapled together. Why they get shrunk, I don’t know. I guess they fit into back pockets better. And I will admit that when done well, they look just a little bit cute. So far so good.

Back to the dark ages.

But here’s where the story goes back in time to the 1990’s, or even the 1980’s: apparently, most production offices use an enormous business copier/printer (we used a gigantic Sharp AR-M550N; seriously, production offices go through a ridiculous amount of paper) and use a complicated dance of shrinking pages from an actual printed copy of the script that have been marked up by hand with X’s or Z’s over the scenes not being shot. I’m not kidding. Here’s an approximate workflow using this 1980’s technology:

  • Make sure you have a printed version of the script for the current revision
  • Pull the pages for the scenes that are on tomorrow’s call sheet
  • Copy the pages at full size
  • Mark up the pages by drawing X’s or Z’s over the scenes on the pulled pages that are not on the call sheet
  • Optically shrink the pages by about 77% so that they fit sideways on half of a letter-sized page
  • Duplicate the page a second time so that you have two on a page
  • Repeat for every other page needed for tomorrow’s sides

As you might think, I saw this procedure and was horrified. What if you screwed up a page? Back to step 2 and recopying. To think that film production offices think they’re being clever using copier tricks that I learned when I was in college (gulp, showing my age here) and that apparently nobody had come up with a clever, paperless way to do this immediately got me thinking.

What you talking ’bout?

What I came up with was a fully electronic version of doing the daily sides. It is faster, cleaner, greener (just about minimal paper wasted on this), can be done without special software (at least on Mac OS X) and apparently makes you look good to the production management. That’s the upside.

The downside (if you don’t roll with Apple) is that this workflow is only cheap on a Mac. I suppose there is a list of PDF editing software out there and you could find something that works for your Windows or Chrome OS or whatever. I’m still drinking the Mac Kool-Aid, so the technique I’ll show uses the built-in Preview application.

Ahem. So where’s the tutorial?

Once I wrote to this point, I fully expected I would just do the instructions and leave them as a blog post. But I’ve changed my mind and will put up a fixed page with the instructions instead. That way, if I need to change it, I’m not going back in the blog archive to fix something.

So go have a look and comment here or on the page (assuming I let you) and we’ll take it from there.