Shot List and Storyboards

I’ve done enough whining in my recent posts.  Time to get back to filmmaking.  With the start of production exactly four weeks from today, it’s time to get down to business.  I’ve been spending this week working on my shot list and storyboards.  Both are essential tools to facilitate the shoot.

Most people are familiar with storyboards.  They’re drawings laid out in panels like a comic strip, depicting the shot by shot action of a scene.  They are vital in designing action scenes that contain stunts.  My film, a romantic comedy, has no heavy action.  Nevertheless, my editor has requested I do storyboards.  They will be very helpful in giving him an idea of how he will put the film together and in making sure we get the necessary footage.

It’s funny because although I am a multitalented person, drawing is not among those skills.  Productions with more money hire professional artists who draw beautiful, detailed storyboards.  We don’t have the budget for that, so it’s me scratching out stick figures. They look terrible, but they are effective in picturing what the scene will look like and how we need to set up the camera.

A shot list is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a list of each shot we will capture in a scene, the type i.e. wide, medium, close up, etc., angle, any pans, zooms or moves and a description of the action.  When you watch a film,  you see a serious of individual shots that were put together by an editor.  In a good movie, they cut together so smoothly, you don’t notice.  That’s the number one sign of good editing.  There are many shots and each one is planned ahead of time by the director.  It’s a big job.

The reason is that the shots are not arbitrarily chosen.  There is what is known as “standard coverage”.  For example, in a dialogue scene, you would shoot a two shot of both actors, and then an “over the shoulder” shot or close up of each one.  It could then be cut together showing either both actors, or either one speaking or reacting.  It’s effective, but boring and lacks creativity.  The way to do it is to analyze each scene in minute detail, finding the moment to moment essence, the subtext, what each character is really doing.  Then, the shots are designed to convey that information to the audience.  The most important information has to be made crystal clear, even if it’s on a subconscious level.  That is the challenge the director faces.  Choosing the individual shots and then putting them together to tell the story in a coherent manner.

It’s going well.  I watch films over and over, studying and analyzing scenes in great detail.  It’s a terrific way to learn techniques.  I also have the ability to visualize what my film will look like.  I’ve already seen it in my mind.  Now, I’ve got to get it on the screen.  I intend to be fully prepared but open to any inspirations that may occur once on set.

I’ve already visited my main location twice and my movie theater once.  I’ve got dozens of photos of my sets to aid me in the process.  Something that I find fascinating is how my idol, Woody Allen works.  He never looks at his sets ahead of time and does not make a shot list or storyboards.  He shows up without a single preplanned idea of what he will shoot or how he will shoot it.

This is very rare among directors.  Even the very best tend to prepare.  It’s really amazing that he can work that way.  It’s something I think would be cool to try someday as an experiment.  But not now.  The fact that I’m directing at all is a big enough experiment.  I’ll wait until I have a considerable amount of experience before I think about trying to do it Woody’s way.

Well, back to work for me.  I’ve got stick figures to draw.