Storyboarding: a shot-by-shot visual aid for your film. I’d like to share how I create my storyboards in preparation for my films, but first I want to explain why they are so important to you and your crew.
DPs love storyboards because they immediately can see for themselves what the director is going for visually, and they can see it early. This gives them time to think about it, make suggestions, adjust, and perfect the director’s vision by adding their own creative touch to it. They also may have to add their practical touch as well: sometimes locations force shots to be adjusted to fit the space, and these are just a few of the things they now can start thinking about in advance. This is a great thing! Now almost everything can be hammered out in pre-production, which means it doesn’t have to be hammered out on set! Time on set is valuable and expensive, so by the time you’re in production, you want just about everything firing on all cylinders before you begin.
Preparation is the main ingredient to a smooth and relaxed set, and storyboards provide a ton of information for a ton of people you can’t get from anywhere else. The 1st assistant directors love them, as it helps them properly plan the whole day of your shoot by working out the most efficient order to organize scenes, angles, the tightness of the shot, and predicting all the lightning setups needed in a day. Now they can provide the most well prepared shooting schedule and shot list order possible. The storyboard also draws a map for your script supervisor as he or she is getting familiar with continuity and the script. Another department that will benefit is the art department. They’ll use it to properly prepare themselves for what props and set decoration they’ll need to bring into each shot. My point is, in my experience I’ve found that crews absolutely love storyboards. I haven’t had a complaint yet.
That said, I know a lot of people who don’t like to draw storyboards. I get it: it’s a lot of work and not everyone’s comfortable doing it. For me personally, it’s actually one of my favorite parts of prep. It’s probably because I’ve doing it my whole life.
As much fun as school is for a 9 year old (sarcasm off), I did tend to get bored in class, and my mind would soon wander into daydreaming. I’d usually draw stories in my notebook instead of listening and I got in trouble all the time for it! My first form of creative writing basically looked like horribly drawn comic books filled with talking heads and bubbled dialogue. They spoke, threw punches, jumped buildings, flew into the sky, and got the girl… I just kept the story going, and going, until they became “sequels.” Then they became “issues,” then “double-sized special editions”… I’m not kidding. When I look back and read these, they actually look a lot more like storyboards than comic books. In high school these stories took the form of prose, then in college progressed into screenplays (at least for me). If you’re a filmmaker or writer you may have a similar story.
It’s only part of what you’re eventually going to shoot. You have to capture everything mainly because in the final edit, who knows what’s truly going to be off-screen? What you picture can be changed based on performances, camera work, coverage, mixing takes, and so much else.
Anyway, I honestly have no idea if other people do it my way because I have always done my own storyboards, but the method I’m about to explain really works for me. Hopefully it can help you too. I don’t storyboard an eventual completed version of what I plan to see as a final product. Instead, I account for all my options and shots I’ll use, including reaction shots and alternate angles. OK, that may have not made much sense. Basically, my storyboards tend to line up better with a shot list than a linear story. I'll explain…
First, a quick disclaimer: I am not an artist at all, and my drawings look almost the same as they did when I was 9 years old. That’s the best way I can prep you. It’s a type. It’s a style. People on set were “amazed” and “fascinated” by my storyboards. I’m still not sure if I was being complimented or insulted! Either way, IT’S HOW I DRAW! So without further ado, here’s an example of my chicken scratch/brilliance:
I think ahead and try to save time later, so I do my shot list and storyboard simultaneously. Therefore, I storyboard each shot for every scene. Here’s an example of a typical two shot with coverage for two characters from “The Fortune Maker.” Also note that I put the starting and finishing dialogue in the description, along with some basic shot and movement info.
I now clearly recognize that my handwriting is near impossible to read (ha, and I was mentally preparing you for the artwork) but this is all part of one scene. MS means “medium shot,” MCU means “medium close-up,” and the dialogue begins with Tabitha saying “I have another story…” and then ends with Madame Renee saying “…four cards left.” Everything that happens in between is what these panels represent.
Still referring to the example above, I don’t think a lot of people do this, but I number these scenes (or partial scenes) and add letters based on its variations. So #1A is a two shot of Tabitha and Madame Renee. 1B is Tabitha’s coverage, and 1C is Madame Renee’s coverage. Sometimes opportunities I like to call “money shots” present themselves. For example, if I want to do a creative shot of someone dropping their coffee as an extreme low angle shot, such as Rod did in “Lust Potion Number Who Cares,” I’d create a “money-shot” and call it “1D.”
And finally, we also can’t forget “inserts.” Let’s say I want a close-up of my character picking up his cup of coffee. Then I’d add that as another letter to the shot list, “1E.”
Maybe I need even more shots here, and if I do, it just continues. This may drive some people mad on set, but once explained, I think it works really well. The good news? I’ve never gotten even close to “Z.”
The best thing about this is you can easily correlate the shot from the storyboard to the shot list. This method may take some extra time in prep, but I find it saves even more time on set when I need it most.
Again, don’t forget to include your “money shots!" There isn’t one I put in the storyboard that didn’t make The Hunter’s Anthology; these are the shots that make your film interesting visually. Without it, the work comes out pretty predictable and ordinary.
Storyboarding has been a very important tool for me when prepping for a shoot. It helps the entire process on set go smoother and keeps everyone (not just the DP) in the know. I can’t imagine directing without it.