Often I am asked what is the difference between a shot list and a storyboard. A Storyboard is a list of pictures that describe the shots that are listed for the scene. A storyboard artist will draw the shot using storyboard artistry to describe the shot in a picture. The pictures are all placed on a board so that the crew can see what shots will be shot that day. As the shots are shot, the pictures are ticked.
The old adage is true for shot lists. A picture tells a thousand words. However, many directors have only shot lists and do not bother with storyboards. Storyboards are more necessary when there is a very big crew and there needs to be more communication on what is happening.
Let’s start with three of the common mistakes made when creating a shot list.
Cock-up 1. Winging it – Turning up to set without a shot list or storyboard.
This is the ultimate beginner mistake. A Film Director that turns up to set without a shot list is not directing. They are pretending to direct. There are two reasons a film director turns up to set without a shot list.
The first is that the director has no skill at creating a shot list and decides to wing it hoping no one notices and the DOP fills in the gaps by coming up with some kind of shot list on the spot. On a professional crew, everyone notices and loses confidence in that film director.
The second reason is cockiness mixed with laziness. The Director feels that they are so good that they will make it all up on the spot. Yes, they often wing it but their made-up-on- the-spot shot list usually is inferior to the well thought out shot list.
For the emerging film maker do the following. Learn about shot listing on a great film directors course. When you direct your film, learn off the experienced person. Many times, when I am hired to shoot (DOP) films, I will work with the inexperienced director to create the shot list in advance of the shoot. Whatever the case, turn up on set with a shot list prepared.
Blocking is the movement of actors on set. This is where the director plans the movement of the actors on set. Actors must have movement on set. This means that they move from Point A to Point B. This needs to be motivated by the script and story in that scene. The movement of the actors can say so much about what is happening in the story.
Inexperienced directors struggle with this. However, you can learn through experience and on a great film course. Make sure that you do, as stiff blocking or non existent blocking means the film will look amateurish and alienate most viewers.
LEARN HOW TO BLOCK YOUR ACTORS VIA A GREA T FILM COURSE
It is much easier to block actors via visiting your set or location in advance and planning your blocking there. This brings us to the third cock-up.
Cock-up 3. Creating your shot list out of your head and never on set or location.
Believe me when I tell you that preparing a shot list in advance is so much easier if you go on set or location. What this means is that you visit the set in advance of your shoot and work out the blocking first and then prepare your shot list around the actor blocking.
This is so important. I recently shot (DOP) a film with film director Matt Smith called ‘Fractured Light’. We always go on set about a week before shooting. It will take us about eight hours to prepare a shot list and his actor blocking for a ten minute short film. Please see ‘Repressed’ which is a film we shot a year ago and see the shots and blocking of the actors. We spent about 10 hours preparing the shot list and blocking. The film shows the work and planning that went into the visual look of the film.
Everything was prepared in advance on set or on location. We did not even discuss shots till we were on set.
WHEN YOU MAKE YOUR FILM, PREPARE YOUR SHOT LIST AND BLOCKING ON SET OR ON LOCATION.
In summary, knowing about the cock-ups in advance is how to avoid them. Make sure you learn off either an experienced Film Maker or, if you are still yet to meet experienced film makers, enrol on a film course taught by experienced film makers. They will teach by actually really shooting a film, so you can learn the skills necessary to shoot your own future award winning films.
Colm O’Murchu is an active film maker and film instructor at Australian Film Base. He is also the owner and regularly blogs about film making.