Storyboarding -or- "But I Suck at Drawing!"

June 22, 2009 - by Jeff Freeman

If you can draw stick figures you’ll be fine. In fact, even if drawing a circle with two dots for eyes is too much for you, just writing out what is in the shot inside a square on your storyboard page is enough (although it sure is nice to get some kind of visual idea of what the shot will be). You can even use your handy-dandy digital camera to snap shots of each shot and print them out. You could find pictures in magazines and paste them together… helps with style, too. Anything that gives you a sense of what each picture is going to look like. After all, a movie is just a series of pictures, right??

Be creative with this part of the process. This is your chance to envision your film as it will look on the screen. Don’t be scared by it and take your time with this part of the process. Again, the more prepared you are before you hit the set, the more time and energy you’ll have to change your mind when unexpected things pop up. Make pictures of every shot you can think of for each scene. I like to put each on a 3x5 card, then spread them out on the floor. That way, I can move them around into any order I want, and imagine the best way to tell my story visually. Hey, if it weren’t visual, we’d be writing a book. You can also use some visual shorthand to help you visualize how you might transition from shot to shot. Do you want to cut from one picture to another, or do you want to pan the camera?

Also, don’t underestimate scenes that seem really simple, like two people talking. Do you want to show each of them in ‘over-the-shoulder shots’, ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’, thus cutting them off from one another, or do you want to have a ‘two-shot where we see them sitting together? Are their eye-lines close to the camera, which makes them seem more sympathetic, or do you want them looking far away from the lens, which is more alienating. As you watch well-shot movies, look for the ways directors show people and get a sense of how different shots make you feel about the characters.

When your storyboard is finished and you’re happy with how the scenes look as picture sequences, it’s time to translate them into a grocery list of sorts that you can take with you to set, called a SHOT LIST. Here’s a list of different shots from small to large:

• ECU (extreme close up): one very small part of a person (eyes, mouth, hand, foot, etc)

• CU (close up): usually just the person’s head or the object you’re shooting

• MS (medium shot): the person’s upper body and face, or the object with a little bit of room around it

• LS (long shot)or WS (wide shot): the person’s entire body, or the object with it’s surrounding area

• EWS (extra wide shot): the entire area of the scene.

When you get to set, you can change your mind about shots as much as you want, and this way, you have a mind to change.

These tools: breakdown, storyboard, shot list will make sure you’re as prepared as you can be for shoot day. BE PREPARED!

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How has being prepared worked for you?
Any stories of when you were sorry that you prepared?
Or maybe stories when you thought you would have been better off if you hadn't?

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