Interview with Shot Lister Pro Developer Zach Lipovsky

This one is a real treat for the filmmakers out there. If you haven’t heard of the app Shot Lister Pro, you should be ashamed of yourself. I wrote a review about it way back in August of last year, calling it one of the best apps I’ve ever used on set.

From that article, the app’s owner Zach Lipovsky reached out to me, and we’ve been in sporadic communication since. It’s been occasional and very rushed, because in addition to developing the app, Zach is a filmmaker who, like all of us, rarely gets a break.

But now, Zach is taking care of a much-bemoaned aspect of the app—namely, that it isn’t available on Android devices, only on iOS devices. Now, for Apple fanboys like me, this is not a problem. But for a large portion of the world, no Android version of the app means no Shot Lister Pro, period.

To put out the Android version of the app is going to take a lot more time and mulah than the iOS version—Android’s app development culture is hampered by having to cater to the lowest common denominator among dozens of devices. So to take care of it, Zach has decided to run a Kickstarter campaign (which you can find here). In recognition of the Kickstarter campaign launch, Zach agreed to an interview about the app and why he’s taking this new level of development to crowdfunding.

Tell us about the development of Shot Lister. How did it come about?

It all started when I was planning my first feature film. The high brow syfy classic Tasmanian Devils. The film was shot in 16 days and I knew that meant I had to be as prepared as possible. I shot list everything I do, but on a commercial or short that wasn’t such a big task. On a feature I quickly became daunted by the logistics of shot listing and planning shots for an entire film. The only option available was to make a spreadsheet in excel, but I average about 15 shots per page. So with a 100 page script you’re quickly looking at 1500 shots in a spreadsheet! And in excel? No thank you. In desperation I built a rough prototype of Shot Lister in File Maker. I used that on set and so many people kept saying, wow.. lots of people would like to have that. So I borrowed some money from my mother and we got started on building the app.

How long had you worked in film before you made the app? How did you know exactly what to include and exclude in it?

I started acting in movies and TV shows when I was a kid, and have been making movies for almost just as long. It was a way of getting out of writing essays or reports at school – the teachers often let me make a video instead. At the same time I’ve always been really into computers and tech, so it grew together naturally from there. I mostly built the app to the specs of what I would want in the field, and since then the Shot Lister community has been very vocal about what they want or don’t want. So mostly I built it for myself, and have used other users to guide what to add and change.

What was “the world’s” reaction to Shot Lister when you released it?

It’s been very interesting hearing from users from around the world. We’ve sold in over a hundred countries, and they all make movies differently. Funnily enough the biggest non-English country is Germany. We’re huge in Germany but everyone seems to really like the app no matter where they are, I guess being behind schedule on set is a universal truth of filmmaking. The biggest challenge is that different countries use different shot numbering systems and it’s a bit of a balancing act to make an app that satisfies everyone’s specific tastes and routine.

What’s your development history? How the heck did you design an app in the first place? You’re a programmer and a filmmaker?

I have some basic programming skills, but not in iOS. I hired a developer to do all the coding which has been great. To design the app I downloaded iOS photoshop templates, and just build it to look how I wanted everything to work. I pass those images to the developer, and he builds it and sends it back to me. Then I test it and work with him to get it ready. It’s challenging balancing the time it takes to do both the designing and my filmmaking, but thankfully the sales of the app sustain paying the developer, so I don’t have to slave away writing millions of lines of code.

Now that you’ve made the app, are you sitting pretty in retirement on iTunes sales, or are you still out there in the field using the app?

I use beta versions of the app on all my shoots to make sure they are as bug free as possible before making them public. It’s very cool to use something you’ve designed to make your job a lot easier. It’s also very gratifying when someone looks over my shoulder and asks what that cool app is, and I can say yeah it is cool and I designed it. There has been a great response from filmmakers around the world and we do have steady sales.  On the flip side updating the app is very expensive. 70-80% percent of the gross each month goes right back into improving and updating the app. The remaining piece of the pie is nice but by no means a full meal. Sales are getting better every month, but it’s mostly a labour of love. I recently introduced a subscription model called Shot Lister Pro for more professional features, and that was directly inspired by the fact that users want more and more updates, yet of course only pay once for the app. So instead of relying on new users to pay for the updates for existing users, I’m hoping the subscription model helps the app grow faster.

Can you name any major productions that you are aware of that used the app? (Aside from my own stellar films?)

It’s mostly driven by the director, so it depends on where they are working. I know of lots of indie movies, shorts and commercials that use it. It’s starting to be used on more TV shows now like the Haunting Hour and Spartacus.

What are your other favourite iPad apps for film organization? What can you recommend, and what do you find works well in conjunction with Shot Lister?

My lifeline for everything in my life is Evernote. I use it every day to keep everything in my life organized and synced. It’s the single most game changing software around. Another great app is Shot Designer, it really makes building overhead maps for you shoots very easy and fun, I hope to have native support for that app built into Shot Lister soon. I also use Magic Plan and Photosynth on locations scouts and Cut Notes during post. One day I hope to have a totally paperless production.

So now you’re developing the app for Android, right? Tell us why. I’ve heard Android has a much steeper learning curve. Is it worth the bother?

I get emails ranging from grovelling to outraged that an Android version of Shot Lister doesn’t exist. The simple reason is that it’s basically like starting from scratch, and is a lot more difficult because of how open the platform is. There are a lot more devices, with lots of sizes and operating systems. I was on Ryan Connely’s show Film Riot and he asked the same question. I noticed in the comments section of the post that a lot of his followers said Kickstarter might be a good solution.

Why a Kickstarter for the Android version? What’s it going to take to develop this thing?

It’s going to cost $45K to build the app, so the suggestion was to pre-sell the app on Kickstarter. If enough people pre-order it then I’ll be able to build it. Android is also a lot more popular in the eastern side of the world, Eastern Europe and Asia are almost all Android from what I’ve been told by users. So I’m hoping the Kickstarter is successful and if enough Android users get together we can do it!

What’s next for Shot Lister? Do you have future plans for other apps you know people need? How about a script lining app? (Please?)

The next two biggies for Shot Lister is crew wide sync, so everyone knows the plan live no matter where they are in the world. After that an Apple Desktop version would be great. But along the way I’m going to keep updating both iOS and Android with features based on requests and my own ideas. I do have a new secret project that I really want to get off the ground, I use 3 different pieces of software to regularly do something that is pretty simple, and I’d love to combine them into a one click solution. Stay tuned for more on that.

Thanks a lot, Zach!

If you wonderful people have ANY heart at all or ever want to make a film in your life, please go give a few bucks to Zach’s Kickstarter. I’m not kidding when I say that this might be the most useful filmmaking app of all time. You should really contribute to the future happiness, success and sanity of indie filmmakers everywhere by helping Zach out.

Once again, you can find the Kickstarter campaign here.

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at garrettbrobinson.com.

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