Small Business & Startups and Technology

They are the behind-the-scenes film stars

Michigan-based call-sheet app startup coming next year.

December 18, 2015
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SetHero is a cloud-based app that tracks schedules for everyone involved in a film's production. Courtesy SetHero LLC

Almost every industry has a tedious, thankless task that makes anyone stuck doing it dream of inventing a better way.

For Luke DeBoer, that task was making call sheets on film sets. Anyone who’s worked in film knows how call sheets, the schedule for a shooting day, can be a pain in the neck. Now, however, the call sheet is getting a digital makeover, thanks to DeBoer and a group of “heroes” in the form of West Michigan entrepreneurs.

Meet SetHero, an app that sends cast and crewmembers texts with an email link to a personalized mobile call sheet on which they can confirm their call time.

“SetHero is a cloud-based application that helps filmmakers easily create, share and track their call sheets. Through drag-and-drop call sheet creation, individual call time texts, and intuitive, mobile-friendly design, we’ve built SetHero to make the whole process of scheduling a film shoot simpler and smarter,” said DeBoer, co-founder and CEO of SetHero.

“SetHero is officially a Michigan LLC. We all work remotely at this point, but our team is mostly located in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.”

SetHero came out of DeBoer’s experience working on a number of independent feature films. His job was to create the shooting schedule for each day. He would spend hours in Excel copying and pasting data from different breakdowns and fixing broken formulas to create the call sheets.

In the past, call sheets were printed out and distributed on set, but given the hectic and unpredictable work of filmmaking, information might change on the fly, leading to miscommunication and hassles. Having to do that tedious work turned DeBoer into an entrepreneur with an idea.

“Once the schedule was made, my next job was to make sure everyone read and understood it. I would pass out printed call sheets, send out group emails, and manually follow up with calls and texts. It was a struggle just to keep everyone on the same page, and when the plan changed, which it often did, I’d have to start the process all over again,” he said.

“These industry processes were tedious and inefficient, resulting in production delays and, ultimately, over-budget productions. After a couple years of suffering due to the lack of a better tool, I decided I’d had enough — someone had to make this better. That’s when SetHero was born.”

Both DeBoer and Leslie Naugle, the other co-founder and the COO of SetHero, have backgrounds in filmmaking. They grew up in Kalamazoo and have known each other from a young age, working together on various film projects over the years.

Naugle has a degree in business administration from Kalamazoo Valley Community College and has directed and produced her own work, including directing the independent feature film “Beyond Acceptance.” She also has worked as a production manager, production coordinator, second assistant director and art director.

DeBoer also has directed and produced his own work, and has held positions as a first and second assistant director, as well as having served as a post-production visual effects coordinator for the 2015 Christian historical action-adventure film “Beyond the Mask.”

In May 2014, DeBoer approached Naugle about co-founding SetHero. From there, they brought on developer Lars Hoffbeck and designer Grace Bolzman, and the idea began to take shape.

Earlier this year, SetHero was selected for a $5,000 investment from Start Garden, after which it entered the Emerge Xcelerate process in May.

“We were selected as a Start Garden $5K experiment in February of 2015. That was the first big ‘moment’ for us where this all started coming together. I still remember seeing the Twitter post announcing that we had won and calling Leslie right away. We were ecstatic,” DeBoer said.

“After our $5K experiment, Start Garden chose not to fund us further at the time. However, just a few days later, we found out we had been accepted into the very first Emerge Xcelerate cohort, which is a six-month accelerator program in Grand Rapids.

“That program was formational for us and served as a huge stepping-stone in connecting with the Grand Rapids startup scene. The people at Emerge continue to be good friends and mentors to us. Having graduated from that program in September, we are now focusing on growing the business as fast as we can while still paying our heat bills.”

The SetHero app is still under active development, although the staff plans to have it publicly available in spring 2016. DeBoer and Naugle currently are doing beta testing; they are focusing on creating the app as a web-based platform, although they eventually hope to expand to mobile and desktop versions. Pricing will be based on the length of the shoot and the size of the crew.

“What many people don’t realize is how much work goes into making just one movie. A film set is a complex infrastructure, with many departments and hierarchies as well as logistical challenges, such as travel, food, housing and equipment rental,” DeBoer said.

“Our goals with SetHero extend far beyond just call sheets. We aim to be part of the central workflow on set, so that all the information a crew needs to know — shot lists, breakdowns, sound logs, etc. — is never further away from them than their very own pocket.

“Ultimately, our mission is to rescue filmmakers from the stress of production, freeing them to tell the stories that inspire them. Together, we can make the experience behind the camera as enjoyable as the one on the big screen.”

Michigan has had its film industry setbacks this year, particularly when it was announced that the state government would cut film incentives. But entrepreneurs like DeBoer and Naugle are showing that, even without the state government’s support, film professionals are still active and working hard.

“It is vital that the Michigan community continue to support and foster the film and video industry,” DeBoer said. “The demand for visual media is growing in today’s world, and in order to keep pace, Michigan must be a place that not just permits filmmaking but champions it.”

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