Digital Toolkit for Indie Assistant Directors

Assistant Directing has always been one of the most tough and stress-ridden jobs on set, but if you function better with a computer chip in your hands like me, then there are a couple of ways to make your life easier. Here are 4 digital tools you can strap into your AD'ing arsenal.

Shot Lister (iOS, Android, Windows)

The way it counts down your shoot day's time minute to minute is pure bliss.

Shot Lister is a lifesaver on set, and the only way I can wrap my head around an ever-changing shot schedule. It's a shot listing app that not only allows you to breakdown all of your shots and order your day, but its Live Mode is a really powerful way to track your time. On the day, it will let you know when you're running over or making up for time, how long you've allocated for a shot, how much of your day you have left, and will keep track of the schedule for your entire shoot.

If you decide to fork out for the Pro mode, you then get access to features like storyboards, best take circling, script importing (which can automatically populate a scene breakdown from a Celtx or Final Draft file) and crew sync - so everyone with access to your Shot Lister file can watch as you update it live.

The video's a little bit cheesy, but it's a great overview as to what you can do to power your shoot. I feel like he's got bigger problems than his shot list if everything's on fire...

Make your pesky crew be where they're supposed to be.

StudioBinder is a new call sheet start-up that launched last year which really impressed me out of the gate. Rather than making you spend hours trapped in InDesign or Word templates in order to perfect your call sheet (that, let's be real, not everyone bothers to read), it moves it all online in a unified way that generates them digitally. Not only that, when you send it out, you can get an up-to-date look at who's seen it, and who's confirmed it. I used it while filming a location shoot earlier this year, and it allowed me to spend more time focusing on the job instead of hunched over a laptop (which was a blessing because I didn't have the luxury of a 2nd AD).

You can add in all your crew contact information, add in your schedule, and it'll auto-fill in all the other stuff you normally have to look up like weather/nearest hospital. Once it's sent out, people have to manually confirm they've read it, which helps you chase down the specific crew that need important information rather than the entire team. It's great for smaller indie productions when you need that little extra push of accountability.

They have several pricing models which introduce things such as the ability to work on more projects, more file attachment space, and pre-production call sheets. If you're completely no-budget though, even the free version gives you enough of an idea of how this could really make your life easier in the long run. The pricing is pretty reasonable for smaller production studios as well.

The team is constantly upgrading and adding more features, and are very responsive on their support system and social media. They've just released a feature film template to their premium templates section, which introduces a lot of the necessities lacking in older versions such as advanced schedules, extras, and special instructions. Watch as these guys grow and get even better.

SUN SURVEYOR (IOS & ANDROID)

Sun Surveyor is a tool that's particularly useful on recces and location scouts. When you need to plan where the sun will be facing at any given point in the day, this app lets you use your phone's camera to point at any spot in the sky and see an overlay of where the sun will be. It tracks the line the sun will follow throughout the day, and you can even set the date you're looking for months in advance so you can adjust to seasonal rotation. In addition, it gives you an amazing amount of sunrise/sunset/golden hour/blue hour information. Show this to your DP and he'll love you forever.

This app is really good for scheduling shots that rely on manipulating natural lighting or figuring out when you'll get those beautiful strips of sunlight that your director is oh-so-eager for. They offer a Lite version, but the paid version is really affordable on either platform and will give you an edge when planning out your shoots in pre.

Movie Magic Scheduling (PC, Mac)

This is the big one. Bear in mind, it's not cheap.

HOWEVER, if you want to produce call sheets, scene breakdowns, stripboards, calendars, or schedules at an industry standard level, this is the software being used in Hollywood. If you move up to higher level productions, you'll need to understand how to use this from the ground up. Its workflow is designed to start in pre and take you all the way through to wrap.

You can enter all your information one time, and you'll get breakdowns and schedules for anything you can want them for. If you play around with it for a bit, you can even make your own custom call sheets, though it requires a lot of finicking.

The UI can be a bit intimidating, as it does look like accounting software, however it sacrifices sexiness for complete power and reliability. If you want it bundled with the very integrated Movie Magic Budgeting (which your producer will love you for), then you're starting at $788USD (or get it standalone for $489USD). Students can get their hands on the academic version which is significantly cheaper and may be the best option.

Just as a small side note, I've never used it, but if you're really stretched for budget and need a solution that's similar to Movie Magic, I've heard that Gorilla Scheduling is a good alternative, coming in at only $249.