A guide to making an Extras Breakdown Sheet

You’re the 2nd Assistant Director on a Movie or TV Show and you are faced with the daunting task of organizing and managing extras. Are you ready? Do you a plan of action to coordinate the task in front of you? Maybe its time to update your extras breakdown sheet or get some new ideas so you can improve the sheet you currently use.
Below we have outlined some helpful tips to get you thinking…

Use this FREE extras breakdown sheet to customize for your particular show!

  1. Use a solid template. We have attached one in this blog post (with dummy data as an example)…but if you don’t have a template you are proud of don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow AD staff (or an AD you trust) who may have one tucked away in a dropbox folder somewhere.
  2. Make sure the BG DOOD is accurate. Before you start transferring data from the BG DOOD to the Extras Breakdown its important to check with the 1st AD and assess how accurate this breakdown really is. Often times a 1st AD will sit with the Director and go over the exact numbers with the Director and then get approval from a UPM or Line Producer.
  3. Be as detailed as possible. If you have a funeral don’t just list 100 funeral patrons. Do there need to be family members or friends of certain ethnicity and race? What about minors and their ages? If the breakdown is generic don’t be afraid to approach the 1st AD or Director to get this information so that you are providing the very best information to those who receive the list.
  4. Don’t start too soon. If you start creating your BG sheet right away you will most likely have to change it a dozen times. Wait till you are in a position during prep where the 1st AD feels pretty good about the schedule.
  5. Use colors and various font treatments. Highlighting various things in colors such as locations, featured BG or special notes will make the document easier to read.
  6. Create a Distro List for this document. Every show is slightly different but in general you will want to make sure that various depts receive a copy of the list including (Props, Transpo, Locations, Hair, Makeup, Costumes and essential individuals such as the UPM). You don’t want to send this to the entire crew because the third grip really doesn’t need to know.
  7. Include ADD’L AD and PA staff in the breakdown. If you are going to have a certain amount of Extras you will probably want to schedule and budget additional days for AD’s and PAs on this document. Depending on the complexity of the scene will help you determine how to figure this out. If you have 100 students in bleachers the whole time it will be easier to direct and manage than 100 students crossing in the hallways.
  8. Don’t forget to update when the schedule changes. Changes are the one-liner will change many times during the course of production unless its a relatively short amount of days. When it does change…don’t forget to update this document and distort immediately. Various depts will rely on this info to make sure they are prepared on the day and aren’t surprised by the sudden change.
  9. Save and Label properly. Make sure this document is exported as a .PDF and labeled in a way that shows the current date and version. example MOVIE_NAME_BG_BREAKDOWN_1_1_2020.pdf.
  10. Make it your own. There are no exact rules to a breakdown so make it your own and the very best it can be. Take pride in making this breakdown the very best it can be for that particular show you are on.

Need software to manage Extras?

Consider using the RABS App to digitally check in and wrap Extras in an efficient and secure style.

Episode 14 – Jason Waggenspack – Running a studio and making thing happen

Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

In this episode we talk with Jason Waggenspack about running a studio and making things happen.

Jason is the founder and CEO of Neutral Ground Films and The Ranch Film Studios. He has recently produced “The True Don Quixote” with Tim Blake Nelson and Jacob Batalon as well as “Arceneaux” with Lance Nichols and is currently directing the medicinal cannabis documentary called “Abby’s Joy”. He has played an integral part in landing several major motion pictures to the state of Louisiana for over a decade. He is the Treasure of the Louisiana Film Entertainment Association (LFEA) and is the 2018 Champions Of Tourism Award Winner by the Lt. Governor.

How to run an effective production meeting

A production meeting often called a page-turn is one of the most important meetings any film or tv show can have prior to shooting. These meetings can vary depending on the size and scope of the project, however in general they look very similar. Below are some ideas for running a mtg for a typical low budget project.

  1. Schedule the Meeting. Inform the people attending the meeting a few weeks out and be sure to collect RSVPs. This assures that you will have the right people attending and can answer as many questions as possible. Make sure your crew are aware of how long the meeting will last ie…6 hours etc.. If shooting on location you may want to wait till you have a majority of the Depts on the ground to have the meeting…so generally one or two weeks before filming. If filming a larger movie or tv-show there may be multiple meetings early on. In general its ideal if you can have this meeting the day after a tech-scout because the Dept Heads have seen the locations and this will inform the meeting greatly.
  2. Decide who will and who will not attend. Generally this meeting is reserved for department heads and certain above the line folk, however certain productions may call for various personal. Depending on the size of your meeting space you may also be limited in space on who you can actually fit in the meeting. Suggestions for who to include are the following (Producer(s), Director, Line Producer, UPM, Production Supervisor, AUPM, Script Supervisor, DOP, Gaffer, Key Grip, Production Designer, Art Director, Prop Master, Set Decorator, Costume Designer, Costume Supervisor, Construction Coordinator, Location Manager, Assistant Location Manager, 1st AD, 2nd AD, Stunt Coordinator, SPFX Coordinator, VFX Producer, Transportation Coordinator, Sound Mixer, Key Makeup Artist, Key Hair Stylist, Editor and Post Producer)
  3. Have updated scripts. Send out an email a few days before the meeting and get a count of who will need a physical script. Encourage laptop/iPad use to save the forest and to avoid over-printing scripts. Scripts should be hole-punched and fastened with brads. Coordinate with the writer and director to make sure the latest edits are in this draft.
  4. Offer drinks and food. Its a good idea to offer a breakfast / lunch and have crafty type foods and drinks throughout the meeting. This will make your staff feel taken care of and allow everyone to be focused on the meeting and not their hunger pains.
  5. Setup the meeting room in advance. You may have a dozen people with laptops and electronic devices so make sure there is enough power outlets and strips for people to work effectively. Print out the wifi/password and have listed in the room. In addition to having a supply of scripts you may want to have additional materials such as one-liners, crew lists etc at the meeting.
  6. Do intros at the beginning of the meeting. For some shows this may be the first time that some of the crew members are meeting each other. Take a minute to allow everyone to introduce themself by saying their name and title. In some cases it may be great to place name-tags with titles for where each person should sit.`
  7. Consider using a TV Monitor for visual support. If you have a scene(s) that need details explaining it can be helpful to have visual aids such as story-boards etc.. This can be especially helpful if the movie is very vfx/stunt heavy and you want to talk about certain action sequences.
  8. Setup how the meeting will run at the beginning of the meeting. Typically the 1st AD will run the meeting, talk about how much time they have allotted and keep everyone on track. Normally the 1st AD will go scene by scene in script order and will read or paraphrase the descriptions of each scene. After the 1st AD talks about each scene it is a good time to ask questions or point out problems from various departments. If there is an issue that takes longer than a few minutes to solve in the meeting it is a good idea to say “sidebar” and discuss after with the pertinent people it pertains to.
  9. Take Notes. Consider having someone take notes on their computer throughout the meeting and keep track of side-bars. This person can then email the notes after the meeting to everyone who attended.
  10. Come up with Solutions. Its important to come up with solutions and action-steps at this meeting and not just address problems or concerns. Make sure that at the end of the meeting everyone has a clear idea of what problems remain and who is the person appointed to solve these problems.

What to include in your speech to Background Actors

Whenever you have a day in your production that involves Background Actors or “BG” one of the things the AD staff may handle is giving a speech to this group of people. Typically this speech is given by a 2nd 2nd AD or Background PA and is helpful so that things run smoothly and the BG know what to expect and where to go.

Below I have listed 10 things to include in your speech to Background Actors:

  1. Read or Summarize the scene(s) that the BG will be involved in. Background Actors are there to “ACT” and while they may not need the sides/script knowing the motivation of the main characters around them can be helpful on certain occasions. Let the BG know if and when they should react or respond to the main action.
  2. Explain continuity and starting positions. If you have a long complicated scene that involves a lot of coverage this will be especially important. Stress the importance of going back to your one when the ADs say back to one when a scene has cut. There may be occasions that BG need to start or stop their action by the cue of an AD or by listening/watching the action in front of them.
  3. Explain how to pantomime. Believe it or not most beginning BG will not get this right off the bat. Explain that whispering can be picked up by the sound mixer and it is not the same thing. Watermelon, Watermelon, Watermelon…. always does the trick for realistic pantomiming.
  4. Discuss any safety concerns. Remind the BG that they are on a film set and there is lots of heavy equipment spread throughout. If someone says points they should pay attention and watch their head. If there is a stunt sequence or road work this is a good opportunity to stress where they can and can not stand and how important that is to their safety.
  5. Discuss noise levels. If your BG are working close to set or the set is inside its good to remind them to keep their talking to a minimal and silent when rolling.
  6. Explain where things are. Show the BG where crafty, bathrooms, holding and set are. Be careful to use film terms such as the technical names of the trailers as that may confuse some. Stress the importance of remaining in holding and not wondering off.
  7. Talk about crafty. Once you have shown the BG where crafty is its a good idea to lay some ground rules….especially if they are sharing crafty with the cast/crew. They should not be filling their pockets to take stuff home and be respectful of the area.
  8. Give instructions regarding paperwork. Remind the BG that they may need to give their payroll sheet sometimes called a skin to another dept if they are borrowing wardrobe or props. This is a way to make sure these items are returned to the proper dept. Explain to the BG that they need to sign out with a designated AD or PA with that paperwork. This is especially helpful for new BG who may not understand the drill just yet.
  9. Discuss meals. Depending on when the BG arrived and how long they are planning to be shot will be part of the determining factors if and when your production plans to feed them. It is a good idea to let the BG know the approx time they will eat, that they will eat after the crew and where they can sit. While the breakfast or first meal may be available to the crew are you going to allow BG to participate?
  10. Talk about set etiquette. There may be occasions where the actors on set are famous. This will be a good time to talk about the importance of BG to not talk to the Actors or ask for a picture or autograph.

10 things every Production Assistant should know:

When I first started working in the film industry I was working on very very small productions….the kind that didn’t pay or only paid $50 a day. I was still NEW to the industry at the time so I was essentially “paying my dues” as most people would say. I believed that this type of work was temporary but I didn’t necessarily know how I would get onto bigger and higher paying projects.  Below I have outlined a few KEY tips to getting that next big job.

  1. Realize that every job is an interview.

You may have landed your first job as a PA but have you landed your next one? What about the one after that? While you are working on set KNOW that almost anyone in the film crew can recommend a PA to the AD staff, Coordinators or Producers. If you work super hard, show people kindness and go above and beyond people will notice….and those “people” will recommend you on future projects.

2. Always show up on time.

Yes it can be hard to make it to set sometimes….especially if your call time is 4:30AM, you only got 5 hours of sleep the night before and you have an hour drive ahead of you. Don’t let excuses or your lack of motivation get to you. Do WHATEVER you have to do to be on time. Lay out your clothes the night before, set three alarm clocks and take a hot shower if you have to. Being on time is super critical in this industry and in some instances can get you fired if you walk in casually late. Always budget contingency time (10-15 minutes) should there be a wreck on the freeway or your car decides not to start.

3. Come Prepared.

Before you head to set STOP and ask yourself if you have everything you possibly need for that particular day. If you are shooting overnight do you have a flashlight? If you will be out in the desert do you have a hat and sunscreen. Even though it only takes a few minutes to hook up my walkie surveillance on set I like to do this at home so the minute I land on set I’m ready to go. Make sure your phone is charged and you bring a charger brick fully charged. Remember you could be in the elements for 12-14 hours so you don’t want to forget that ONE thing that will make your day less comfortable.

4. Read the Call Sheet and Sides.

Take a few minutes when you receive the call sheet and sides to actually see what is happening and who is working. You never know when a crew or cast person may need information about the day that can be found on this very important piece of paper. This is your opportunity to save the day by knowing where things are and what is happening.

5. Carry Hot Bricks.

Hot Bricks are the industry term for “charged walkie batteries.”  The minute a crew person has a “Dead Brick” your job should be to zip in and replace it flawlessly. In addition to carrying hot bricks it is a good idea to setup a charging station at each location to keep charging the “Dead Bricks”.

6. Anticipate the needs of the SET.

There will be times when you are on a SET where you may find yourself standing around waiting to be told what to do by an AD. In general there will always be something to do in addition to lock-ups whether that’s throwing trash away, offering the crew water, setting up lunch, moving directors chairs…etc. When in doubt don’t be afraid to ask one of the ADs if there is something you can do.

7. Echo the ADs

One of the main responsibilities of a Production Assistant is echoing rolls. If you are doing a lock-up on SET and the 1st AD says rolling, cut, new deal, pictures up, background action it is expected of all the SET PAs to echo “YELL” one of the before-mentioned words. Don’t be timid. You want to echo so loud that the entire neighborhood hears you….well that is except for certain occasions when you need to be discreet like inside a working office building. Be loud and proud about these echoes because it assures the rest of the crew what is going on and they will know when to be quiet so that a take is not ruined.

8. Dress the part.

Consider wearing good tennis shoes that will be conducive to standing for 12-14 hours. Wear comfortable clothes but make sure they are useful and can hold a belt. Avoid being too casual like showing up in basketball shorts or sweat pants.  In many instances its helpful to dress in darker colors (black/grey) so that your bright yellow shirt is not seen as reflection on camera.

9. Learn proper Walkie Etiquette.

Now for many individuals that have never been on a set before this can be one of the most intimidating things to learn. If you aren’t sure how to use a walkie properly ask one of the ADs to show you.

Here are a few examples….

Instead of saying on walkie…does anyone know where John is? You might say does anyone have a “20” on John?

If someone asks where you are refrain from saying general terms like I’m right here. Be specific and say I’m next to the crafty truck.

10. Stay in your lane.

Yes you may have graduated film school and been a DP on numerous short films but if you are working as a PA for whatever set you are hired….make sure you are focusing on the duties and tasks that refer to PAs. Don’t touch equipment or help other departments without prior approval. Depending on the budget of the film will depend on what types of tasks you may or may not be able to help with.

7 ideas to manage the pre-production process as a UPM / Line Producer

Managing the pre-production process can vary for each type of production, however many of the same issues and problems you will face as a Unit Production Manager or Line Producer will most likely remain the same. Below I have listed 7 ideas to manage the pre-production process as a UPM / Line Producer.

1. Figure out what’s urgent and important

Often I will start prepping a movie and come up with a list of 100 things on the to-do list. Its important to figure out from that list what things need to be accomplished today or this week and which things can wait a bit. I typically like to assign certain tasks to the various weeks of pre-production knowing that many of these tasks will be on-going and overlap.

Example if prepping a low budget movie for 4 weeks:

WEEK 1: setup production office, hire essential production staff, publish crew postings, setup accounting system, secure hotels or housing for out-of-town crew/cast, cast day players

WEEK 2:
hire crew, background actors casting, finalize budget/schedule, secure missing locations, vendor quotes

WEEK 3: 
secure vendors, finalize travel for cast/crew, finalize signatory paperwork, secure basecamp/parking for each location,

WEEK 4:
tech scout, production meeting, organize pick-ups, schedule cast fittings/rehearsals, finalize missing crew members

2. Keep the crew and cast Informed

As you get going there can be a lot of changes and updates that will be pertinent to the cast and crew. Its a good idea to routinely send out updated scripts/schedules on a weekly and sometime bi-weekly basis. I generally prefer to not send out updated scripts too often as it becomes cumbersome for everyone involved. One thing I like to do when I hire crew members is to send them a link to the google calendar that they can subscribe to that has important information (tech scout, production meeting, cast fittings, flights etc) along with a 411 info guide (if shooting out of town) with pertinent information. I also create a secret Facebook group that I use to share location photos, 360 photos and videos of the locations so that the DP, PD, Art Director, Set Decorator, Gaffer, Key Grip etc can all be in the loop prior to the official tech scout.

3. Figure out the needs from the department heads early on

To avoid surprises on Day 1 of principal it is a good idea to talk with all department heads and ask them about their needs in terms of crew, supplies and budget. I typically like to have these talks as early as possible so I can avoid last-minute problems.

Example when talking with your sound mixer…I might ask the following questions:

Do you anticipate needing a 2nd Boom Op or Utility on any days during the shoot?
What does your sound package include?  Do we need to rent any additional lavs, comtechs etc?
How many batteries do you generally go through? We have X amount slated for the budget…will this work?
When it comes to sound reports what is your typical work flow?
How do you feel about wiring all the actors? Is there ever a time that this is problematic?

4. Be creative with the budget and look for ways to save money

In an effort to bring the film in on time and under budget you want to be able to be in a good place financially before you begin principle photography. When getting quotes for vendors I generally like to get at least three different quotes for each big ticket rental ie… (camera, g&e package, vehicles, hotels etc). Having at least three different quotes will give me the ability to compare numbers before I go back to the vendor and ask for that big discount or deal. Many times vendors will cut their prices to a number you might never think they would simply because they want the gear to work.  I have occasionally found that renting equipment (especially smaller jobs) from individuals on SHAREGRID can be more cost effective than renting from a big rental house.  Its possible that many of your crew members will own gear…so consider renting their gear at a discounted rate that will be a win-win for both sides.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you stay under budget
-Adjust prep days on all crew members…eliminating unnecessary prep
-Reduce dept size and consider day-playing crew members on more difficult days. ie…adding more electrics on night exteriors
-If hiring non-union crew consider which crew members rates you might have to reduce

5. Keep the ship moving with an on-going to-do list and daily prep meetings

During pre-production I like to have a brief prep meeting at the beginning of each day to talk about the tasks for each day. Having this meeting gives clarity on who is doing what and also gives accountability so no balls are dropped. I like to use a whiteboard so that the tasks are visible to everyone and also document these in an online program like todosit, asana or google docs.

6. Think with the end in mind

Don’t wait to create the credit list till the end of the shoot or you may hate yourself. Begin this document as soon as possible with a separate special thanks section. I also discuss with the producers what the delivery requirements will be in terms of stills, video and social media. Depending on the project you may be allowed to post social media before and during the shoot….although many shows will want this to be off the grid until a distributor is brought on board.

7. Find ways to build relationships and develop the team

It can be easy to get caught up with tasks, to-do lists and paperwork that you neglect the people who are making all this possible. Consider scheduling times where departments can hang out and have fun prior to the shoot. These will be key moments that the cast/crew will not forget and will be essential to maintaining a positive atmosphere throughout the film.