Shot Lister: A Digital Solution to a Classic Filmmaking Challenge

An interview with Zach Lipovsky, the creator of the successful Shot Lister app which helps filmmakers to “build, organize, schedule and share shot lists”.

Some of the best ideas come from moments of sudden inspiration… or while sleeping on your mom’s floor. In Zach Lipovsky’s case, it was both. This filmmaker from Vancouver and his mother, Sharon Bliss, worked in television production for years. The concept behind the Shot Lister app came to Lipovsky one night when he was sleeping at his mother’s house the day before a film shooting.

“I built a little prototype [of the app] and everyone on the film was like ‘This is amazing! You’ve got to make something out of this.’”

Before Shot Lister, directors printed out their shot lists. Changes were made throughout the day through handwritten notes, and it was hard to keep the rest of the crew up to date with the changes. With the app, filmmakers prepare, track and alter their shot lists on their computers or mobile devices.

“The thing that happens, on most films, is that the times change immediately when you’re on set and so you have this piece of paper and you’re doing math in the margins,” explains Lipovsky.

The Shot Lister app does all of that work for you, meaning filmmakers save time (and money) in the process.

Developing the app

After experiencing how much easier the app made film production, Lipovsky and Bliss decided to work together to adapt it for the mass market. Lipovsky handles the development and project management within the company, whereas Bliss runs the company and takes care of marketing.

The first months were spent creating the app for iOS which launched for iPhone and iPad devices in June 2012. The timing was right as more and more people in the film industry were beginning to use iPads on set.

Still, there were many people at that time who were using laptop or desktop computers during filming, especially when it came to larger scale productions. Lipvosky and Bliss knew that they had to make their app available for other platforms, and fast. Luckily, Microsoft approached them with the idea of developing a PC version and provided funding and marketing for its creation.

The big break

With a PC version under their belt, Lipovsky and Bliss still had one major hurdle to overcome. Many filmmakers were demanding a macOS version of the app available (it’s the number one platform used in film production). It wouldn’t be an easy undertaking—or a cheap one for that matter—so it became necessary to find additional funding from other sources. In 2014, The Canada Media Fund stepped in and granted $221,000 to Lipovsky and Bliss through its Experimental Stream.

“Whenever you create something new, you always worry some big company is going to come out on top of you and wipe you off the map, so we knew we had to expand the platforms to maintain our position,” says Bliss.

“Without the CMF, it is quite likely that someone else would have come along and created a macOS version, which was really crucial for us for our growth.”

The iOS version of the app took a few months to develop, but, the macOS version conversely proved to be the hardest mountain to climb for the young company. It was well worth the effort, and the immediate response following its launch was overwhelming.

“We get emails from filmmakers all over the world, including countries you didn’t even realize needed an app to schedule films. Most people who use the app, and I’ve had the same experience, say ‘I don’t know how I could have filmed before this,’” adds Lipovsky.

The success of the macOS launch allowed the company to hire its own freelance developers rather than outsourcing to other firms. There are four to five workers who specialize in their own area of expertise, whether it be macOS coding or quality assurance.

Moving on to big league films

At its initial launch, the app was primarily used for small film productions, such as short films and music videos. Making it available on a larger array of platforms, especially macOS, has meant larger productions are using it on their sets. Lipovsky believes it can be really useful on large film sets that employ thousands of people. Organizing that many people can be chaotic and now changes can be conveyed to everyone with a simple click.

“You have a tool you can actually lay out and change and you can trust that the information is right. It gives you much more ability to get the info that matters because you don’t actually waste time on set,” adds Lipovsky.

The app’s monetization strategy combines two models: pay per download and subscriptions. By paying a one-time download fee, users have access to basic options. However, if they want to use the added features, such as synching their project with the entire crew, they can also sign up for a yearly subscription. This allows short-time users, like set workers hired for a single day, to access the Shot Lister app in exchange for a one-time fee.

Next steps for Shot Lister

While the Shot Lister app is available to all kinds of users, Zach Lipovsky would like to add additional features to it.

So far, the company has relied primarily on organic marketing such as word of mouth. After completing an online marketing study, Lipovsky and Bliss would now like to expand the company’s active marketing campaign.

Lipovsky’s goal is to see this app become the standard that all filmmakers rely on for small- and large-scale productions. “As the adaptation of the app has taken off, we’re getting pretty close to that.”

The Canada Media Fund awards nearly $350 million to support Canadian television and digital media projects. To learn more about our programs, please visit our corporate website.

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