This article was adapted from a Learning Session with professional touring lighting director, designer, programmer and technician Jenny Bass. Throughout her career, Jenny has worked with a variety of touring acts including Lea Michele, The Avalanches, Mary Mack, Rae Sremmurd, Tinashe, and Earth, Wind & Fire.
When you’re working as a lighting designer or production manager, you often need to share information with others, whether it’s design details, crew sheets, timelines or budgets. The paperwork you create with this information is incredibly important to the overall production. In order to put on a great show, you need clear paperwork that anyone can read and comprehend, like local crews or venue staff.
This blog will outline tips and tricks to take your paperwork to the next level. We’ll discuss the best practices for creating paperwork templates, styling your paperwork and sharing it with others.
Templates are helpful when creating paperwork because they save time and help you collect all necessary information in a clear and convenient way. If you’re working on similar types of shows, you can save time by reusing templates instead of starting from scratch. In addition, the template can work as a checklist, so no information is forgotten and to help you remember what information to ask for, including:
- Stage dimensions
- Power availability
- Contact info
- Number of follow spots needed
It’s best to create a template for different types of shows, especially if you find yourself frequently modifying your existing template. For example, you may want different templates for a large dance show and a community event since they have very different needs.
Likewise, make sure you stick to using your templates and don’t edit old show files. There may be changes in the old show file you don’t remember, which could cause problems like calculation errors. It’s best to start with a fresh template every time and cross reference an old show file instead.
Remember, it’s always faster to take away information rather than add information. If you have all the options you might need in a template, you can always delete or hide what you don’t use.
When creating your template, try to organize things in the order of your workflow. Your template is a tool to help you share information, so it should fit your needs and workflow. Likewise, you should make changes any time you think of a way to improve your workflow. Your templates can and should change over time to reflect how you work. Shows will evolve in different ways depending on the needs of the event. Aim to have your paperwork do most of the work for you.
It’s helpful to know quick keys when creating your paperwork. If there is something you find yourself doing often, like duplicating or copying, learn the quick key in the program you’re using. This will save you a lot of time. If there isn’t a quick key for what you need, you can usually make one. And if you can’t make a quick key, you can usually create a macro instead.
Spreadsheet programs like Microsoft Excel are very helpful when creating your paperwork because they can do all of the math for you. This is extremely useful when you’re creating budgets and payroll. Nevertheless, you should always make sure all the calculations in your template are done properly before you use it. It can be helpful to create separate columns and calculations for totals, which give you a chance to cross-reference your calculations.
Reference Cells + Auto Populate
You can save a lot of time by using reference cells in your templates. Reference cells allow you to enter information once, and then plug that information into other cells of your choosing. This can be especially helpful for pay rates, so you don’t have to constantly type in each rate into a formula.
It’s best to create a separate rate sheet and then have the formulas reference the rate sheet. When you put the rates on a separate sheet, you can easily reference them, so you don’t have to look within the formulas each time. Likewise, it gives you the ability to lock the rates and prevent them from changing.
Similar to using reference cells, you can also use Excel to auto-populate information throughout your sheet. For example, if you are booking stagehands and making call sheets, you can have the number of stagehands in your budget sheet auto-populate the call sheet.
It’s important to have the version and date on every sheet of your paperwork. You don’t want an old version getting circulated, as this could cause confusion. When labeling your paperwork, it’s best to save it as version A, B, C or 1, 2, 3, etc. Likewise, you can use the formula =TODAY() in Excel, which will put the current date into your paperwork automatically.
Things can change a lot when you’re working on shows, so creating a new version helps to capture changes. Likewise, sometimes the production may want to go back to a previous version, so it’s helpful to have it saved.
Styling Your Paperwork
Styling your paperwork is important to ensure readability. Oftentimes, your paperwork is what you’re judged on before people have a chance to meet you. If something is difficult to read or wrong, that’s the impression you are leaving. It can be helpful to have a coworker look over your paperwork with fresh eyes to make sure they can easily understand the information.
You should think about printing your paperwork from the start because most people will see your paperwork as a print-out or as a PDF. When you create your first template layout, set your print areas. If additional columns or rows need to be added, adjust the print area as you make changes.
You want to make sure everything is legible when it’s printed out. If you have too many columns and rows, your font may end up being too small when you print. If this occurs, you should adjust your print area to separate your information into different pages, which will allow for larger text. Additionally, make sure the rows fit the whole page. When you do this, your document will look clean and professional.
When creating the tone of your paperwork, be sure to keep your audience in mind. You should think about the skill sets of the people that will be looking at the paperwork. Some of your paperwork might be for the entire production team, while other paperwork might be just for the stage manager or tour accountant. Keep this in mind when you’re creating your paperwork, so you use language that your audience will understand. Likewise, be careful not to use language that is confusing or could be taken as offensive. For example, using ‘singers’ instead of ‘musicians’ may upset the singers if they consider themselves musicians as well.
Adding spaces and separation can make the document clearer and information easier to find. You should be able to find what you’re looking for at a glance. It’s helpful to have a cover sheet with big picture items and then additional sheets with more specific breakdowns. For example, if you’re creating a budget, you would put all the totals on the cover sheet and then have further cost breakdowns on other sheets. You may need to defend why things cost what they do, so having this information readily available will make the costs easier to find and defend.
Adding color to your paperwork can make it easier to read and skim in many instances. It can be helpful to assign colors to different setups or bands to make load-in easier. However, if you decide to use color, you should be careful with your color selections. People with colorblindness may have difficulty if certain colors are next to each other. Likewise, bright colors may not be easy to read. In addition, using color is not always possible, especially in television where each draft is printed on a different colored page. While color can be helpful, it’s important that your paperwork is easy to understand in black and white.
You may want to add a key to your paperwork if you are frequently using abbreviations, symbols or colors. The key can spell out frequent abbreviations or explain what certain symbols or colors mean. If you use a key, make sure it is clearly visible in your paperwork. If you get a lot of questions about what things mean in your paperwork, the information is not clear, and you should rework it.
To make your paperwork stand out, you can add a show header or watermark. These things will make the paperwork look more official and more difficult to copy. Likewise, for certain events, you may need a confidential watermark on your paperwork.
Sharing Your Paperwork
After you’ve created and checked over your paperwork, it’s time to share it with others working on the production. There are multiple ways to share your paperwork with others, like email, file management programs and web applications.
In some instances, you may need to save your paperwork to a shared folder or drive, so everyone on the team has access to your files. Save your work on your computer or hard drive, so you always have a copy. Make sure your files have the version number and date. It can also be helpful to spell out what kind of document it is – like a budget – to make file management easier.
File Management Programs
There are many file management programs that allow you to share information, like Dropbox, Google Drive, Asana, and Trello. While some of these programs are just for uploading and sharing files, programs such as Asana and Trello provide additional benefits that allow you to:
- Assign tasks
- Update the team on the project’s progress
- Send alerts for uploads and changes
- Lock files
- Set deadlines
- Create a checklist
- View changes over time
These programs make it easy to work with large teams and keep all of your information in one place. This is helpful if you need to pass off your role to another person, like a touring lighting director.
It’s best to find tutorials and videos to help you better understand these file management programs as well as Excel. If your employer offers training, you should always take the opportunity to learn more. Likewise, if you’re having trouble with a program, search online for the answers. There are many resources out there such as videos and forums that will help you get a better understanding of the program.
While the live events industry can be hectic with details changing every day, having resources like paperwork templates and file management programs will make your job much easier in the long run. As long as you make your paperwork work for you, you’ll have a great show every time.
I hope you enjoyed this blog, but I also invite you to view the video version of this presentation by watching my Martin Learning Session webinar video replay: ‘Paperwork: from Production Management to Lighting Design’.