I recently wrapped on the third season of Madam Secretary here in NYC, where I stand in regularly for Téa Leoni. This past season, a new tool was provided to the crew — digital sides that you can read on your smartphone. (“Sides” are the printed scenes of the script that are being shot that day).
At wrap, it’s standard in the industry for productions to send out the callsheet for the next day via email. Madam Secretary prides itself on being a green set, and the whole crew pitches in to reduce waste. To further this effort, our production began emailing the crew digital sides in a PDF format for the next day’s work along with the callsheet.
This article summarizes my thoughts about digital sides after using this new tool for over eight months.
More Time to Review
The biggest advantage of receiving digital sides the night before the next day’s work is that you have more time to review them and prepare.
A callsheet will tell you what scenes are up the next day, how long they are, and which actors are in them. But the sides tell you what happens in the scene and how much your actor is involved in it. I like to be familiar with the lines before watching the marking rehearsal of the scene so I can focus more on the actor’s blocking. So having the sides the night before gives me more time to review the scenes (ideally during my commute on the subway).
That way, I don’t have to wait to be handed them in the morning when I arrive to set and risk not having enough time to read them before the first marking rehearsal is up.
Ability to Read in the Dark
If you are working on a stage, it’s likely you may have to stand by set in an area that is not well lit. This can make reading paper sides difficult. You may have to step away further from set than you’d like in order to find light to read your sides.
But with digital sides, you can read them on your phone in the dark. In this sense, digital sides are more convenient than paper sides.
Ability to Zoom
Assuming you have a smartphone, you should be able to zoom in on the text when you are reading digital sides on your phone.
This is a huge plus. Paper sides tend to be printed in a small font and are difficult for some people to read. On your phone, you can simply zoom in on the section you are reading to make it easier.
One Less Thing to Carry
Many people on set tend to already carry their phone in their pocket regularly. Therefore, if you have the digital sides on your phone, you will have a copy on you at all times.
And you could choose not to carry the paper sides with you. This will be one less thing you’d have to carry, and you wouldn’t have to worry about leaving the paper sides behind.
You Won’t Lose Them
Have you ever left your paper sides somewhere else, but you are on set and can’t leave to retrieve them? Has someone ever asked you if they can borrow your paper sides, and then they don’t return them?
This can be very frustrating because you’ll have to hunt down another copy. But with digital sides, you’ll always have a copy with you.
Reduces Paper Waste
Another great pro of digital sides is that they don’t use paper.
There are many crew members who don’t need to reference the sides often, so a digital copy will suffice for them. This reduces the number of sets of sides that production has to print out, and that in turn saves paper.
You May Not Be Able to Open Them
The purpose of digital sides is to be able to open and read them on a smartphone. However, your smartphone may not be advanced enough to open and view PDFs properly.
Or you may not own a smartphone at all. Either way, you would not be able to use digital sides.
You Can’t Make Written Notes
One of the biggest disadvantages of digital sides is that you can’t easily make notes.
Many stand-ins watch the marking rehearsal of a scene and write notes on their sides about the actor’s blocking. This is not feasible to do with digital sides.
They Appear Smaller on Your Phone
In general, digital sides as a whole appear smaller on your phone than the paper sides (depending on the size of your phone). Paper sides let you see the whole page in front of you at once.
You may have the ability to zoom in on the digital sides on your phone, but this may cause you to have to scroll more and you could lose your place more easily.
They Use Up Your Phone’s Battery
Sometimes it can be a challenge on set to find a place to charge your phone, so you may try to conserve your phone’s battery.
Using your phone more often to reference digital sides can cause your phone battery to drain faster.
Not as Readily Accessible
When you need to reference the sides, it may be easier to pull the paper sides out of your pocket and look at those.
To find the digital sides on your phone, you may have to unlock your phone, pull up your email app, find the email, scroll to the bottom, and click on the digital sides document. This takes longer and is not ideal if you need to find something quickly.
To make the digital sides more easily accessible on your phone, copy them to another application such as Adobe Acrobat Reader (available in iTunes and Google Play). That way, you can keep them open in that app and simply click on the icon for that app when you need to access the sides.
Only Available to the Regular Crew
Most production documents are emailed only to the regular crew. If you only work periodically on a production as a stand-in, or are a regular stand-in but aren’t on the crew email distribution list, you won’t receive digital sides.
However, you could ask the background PA if you could be sent a copy of the day’s digital sides, and they may be able to help you get them.
In conclusion, the digital sides have been a huge asset to me as a stand-in. I am on the crew email distribution list for my production, so I automatically received digital sides once production began sending them out.
It was great to have access to the digital sides at all times. I found I could quickly get to the sides on my phone by keeping them open in Adobe Acrobat Reader. I was able to zoom in enough to see most of the page and still be able to read them easily without having to scroll a lot. I tend to be good at conserving my phone battery overall, so I don’t feel that using the digital sides was a significant drain on my phone battery. And being able to read them in the dark was very important, as I often find myself standing by in a dark area on the stage.
On days when my actor didn’t have a lot of dialogue or when I didn’t feel as if I needed a paper copy, I helped reduce waste. I don’t often take notes on paper sides, so I didn’t feel I needed a paper copy all the time. And the biggest plus of all was being able to review them the night before or the morning of during my commute. That way I was prepared when I came to set, and I could relax and have breakfast before I began work for the day.
Although there are some downsides to digital sides, I believe the pros far outweigh the cons. I can imagine more productions using them in the future. And I hope digital sides will be an asset to you as a stand-in!
Have you worked on a production that uses digital sides? What did you like about digital sides? What did you dislike? Please comment below!