The filmmaking journey is a long and exhausting one. At any given moment, time and money are rapidly depleting and, for any production of any size, it’s going to take proper planning, which, as we know, prevents poor performance.
Thomas Eddison said that innovation is one-percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. This is an idea we can certainly apply to filmmaking. After all, the more ambitious the idea, the more planning and coordination it’s going to take to bring to life.
But what does planning in the filmmaking world even look like? Well, it all starts with a script. The script is the sheet music read by the orchestra - your cast and crew - as they perform the symphony: the film itself. Writing the script should be a fulfilling and liberating experience as you get your thoughts onto the page; don’t limit yourself with worries around logistics and budget-limitations just yet. For now, focus on telling your story the best way you possibly can and then, once you’re past the notes, re-writes and editing, you can start thinking about how you’re going to bring your story to life.

An example of a 'Shot List', which includes the type of shot and a description of the action.

When it comes to planning the visuals of your short film, all you really need to consider is how you’re going to tell your story frame by frame, and a good way of starting is by drawing up a Shot List. Just as it sounds, this is a list of shots that you will capture during the production, with a brief description of the shot (e.g. Establishing Shot, Two-Shot, Close-Up). You may even want to consider the lens you will use (e.g. 18mm, 35mm, 50mm) and if the shot includes any movement (e.g. Pan, Truck, Dolly). Initially, you want to consider all of the shots that complete your story, but remember not to put it in your pack if you don’t want to carry it. What I’m suggesting here is that you remove any risk of excess from your shot list. The last thing you want to do is overshoot. Not only will this slow down your production, it can also be detrimental to the viewer’s experience. As David Mamet writes in On Directing Film, “There is nothing in the joke that doesn’t tend towards the punchline”. Read through your Shot List and ensure that every shot is revealing new information to the viewer and enhancing their experience of the story.

From storyboards to screen: storyboarding your short film is crucial when planning shots with camera movement and blocking.

Next, you may want to consider translating your Shot List into Storyboards, which are going to provide you with a visual reference for every shot, and can even give indications as to any camera movement within a scene. Above, you’ll see examples of our storyboards for a recent short film entitled ‘Boredom’, along with screenshots from the final cut of the film. Having these storyboards to hand were crucial when it came to the production, as not only provided a visual reference for every shot we were shooting, it also gave a good understanding of how the story was piecing together, allowing us to shoot with the edit in mind.
These are just some of the examples which, when used in tandem with test shoots, rehearsals, and a well-organised shoot, are going to be fundamental to creating a good shooting etiquette, resulting in the capturing of footage that will tell your story in the best possible way.
With all of this in mind, the power of paperwork may seem absolutely faultless, but we shouldn’t disregard the value of spontaneity and improvisation, which is why, next time, we’ll look at what’s possible when we remove all of these methods of planning and try shooting with little to no planning at all!
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