I make shot lists.

Years ago when I first started directing - I remember being annoyed by AD’s and producers that wanted to see a shot list from me. “Isn’t what we’re going to shoot obvious from our storyboards?” Was my reply - and I was so wrong because - IT ISN’T OBVIOUS! Storyboards are a visual guide that helps everyone plan and account for, in a general way, the work that needs to be accomplished. In prep, storyboards are very useful in designing expensive action and visual fx sequences. Here are two more reasons: the studio will want to see a visual representation of what they’re paying for, as they can’t attend all of the meetings. And, storyboards (and more recently pre-vis) are used for preliminary budgeting and scheduling purposes. They can form the basis for a shot list but are not in any way a substitute for one. In live action production, rarely can you edit a set of storyboards together and tell a compelling or even a cohesive story. As the director, you have a number of shots in mind that will bridge or expand on a single illustration. It’s these shots that you need to write down and share with your colleagues. Remember, film is a collaborative process and your team members are there to help you realize your vision. They can’t - if you don’t share it with them. Clue them in on even wild and crazy ideas - you never know, you might just get to shoot one - and change film history!

Shot lists help you plan the day. Each shot takes a certain amount of time and if you have 35 of them in your head, you better let somebody know because there are only so many hours allotted to a shoot day! Your AD can help organize your list into a logical shooting order. Then the DP deserves a look, because there might be something listed that doesn’t quite fit the photographic plan. By prioritizing your shots, everyone gets a sense of what is important to you. As most of you know, while shooting - things can and do get crazy! Unforeseen weather or equipment issues can effect your train of thought - so having a list can remind you of what remains to be shot - or re-thought given the time left before dark.

I’m working on a TV show now where there isn’t prep time to draw storyboards. Shot lists become even more important now because we have a new director every week and his shot list gives everyone a sense of his visual appetite and style.

Finally – being the director means that someone has entrusted you with a tremendous amount of responsibility – both creative and financial. Being thoroughly prepared is the hallmark of a successful director. A detailed shot list informs everyone that you have thought a scene through and that this list represents the minimum amount of coverage you require to cut the scene together creatively. Chances are, your knowledge of the coverage will expedite the process and in the end, buy you extra time for additional shots that will make the day and the scene even better!

Start making shot lists.

Return to Musings