Anyone who has ever heard me speak in public or wax eloquent in private about the way we make movies here at Grooters has heard me pontificate about the absolute essentiality of efficiency. Efficiency is really our only weapon in the battle against time and money. And in our business, time on set equals lots of money spent.
Most every filmmaker I’ve ever met regularly bangs their head against the wall of a limited budget. Maybe one day we will all be able to simply spend some mega-studio’s unlimited budget on some tentpole superhero movie… but I doubt it. In the meantime, we all want every dime and then some to appear on the screen. I believe that production values add to the impact and longevity of our films. So – we strive for better everything: better equipment, better talent, better sets, better costumes, better SFX… better everything. Most of that stuff simply costs what it costs, and we can either take it or leave it. But the one thing we do have some degree of control over is our schedule. The producer I most often work with (who is also my wife, Judy) will often say to me, “Yes, you can have that (fill in the blank here with one of the infinite number of things I want on the shoot). To pay for it we will just have to shave a day off the production schedule. Producers set the budget and know the most expensive ticket on that budget is usually the capital burn of a production day. Imagine the cost of hosting a wedding and having to house, transport, and feed – but in this case also add costume, hair, and make-up, for what is often hundreds of people. Perhaps that is why God recommends only getting married once. Just economics.
So let me get to the topic of this post – The Stripboard. If you’re not in the business of pre-production, you might not recognize the term or understand the significance of the stripboard. It is merely the organization chart of what you are going to shoot on what day. That’s it. And it sounds so simple. Until you try and put one together.
The ideal stripboard is one that makes maximum use of everyone’s time and travel. It takes into consideration geography, talent availability, weather projections, crew and grip availability, location availability, and proximities. It is like a puzzle with hundreds of moving pieces – and if you put it together improperly you will cost yourself a lot of time and money. A typical stripboard comes out looking like this:
It tells you exactly how many pages of the script you intend to cover in that day – or that night – and each day lines up above and below all the other days in the order of the shoot. If you notice that your stripboard is moving from day shoot to night shoot and back again to day shoot – you can just call your doctor right now – cuz that kind of schedule will surely kill you. But the magic in all this, and what I’m really proud of, is a simple little invention Judy came up with that we call “Strip Bubbles.” Now, maybe this isn’t unique in all the world – but I’ve never seen anything like it before. It looks like this:
Basically, each scene gets a series of variables wrapped onto it and then you can put all the bubbles in groups based on their similar variables. You do this and, voila! You have your stripboard organized quickly and efficiently. I can’t tell you anymore because I’d be breaking copywrite, patent, intellectual property, and international law (none of which we actually have). So, in summary – the Stripboard is an underappreciated piece of gold. It is a foundation upon which you get the most out of your budget, and it is a vital and underappreciated rock upon which your movie stands.