Shot list and Storyboards

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    • #48862

      I’m trying to shoot my first documentary. The topic of the film is the History of my church, and it will be a two-fold idea. There will be a version about an hour long going in depth about the history, and then there will be a shorter 10 minute version with an overview for new members and website hosting.

      This as I said is going to be my first documentary, and I was just wondering about the storyboard. If I’m going to be shooting this myself, so I NEED a storyboard and a shot list, or can I get away with just a shot list? I’m not very good as drawing pictures, but if it’s good to have, I want to do it right.

    • #200328

      Fred, I’ve always found that developing a shot list is always much more simple after developing a storyboard or writing a script (even if I’m not specifically going to USE that script for my “reality show” πŸ˜‰

      A major challenge in developing a storyboard or script is visualization – even though many of us are adequate-to-fantastic behind the lens, we may be lacking in ability to “SEE” things in our minds before we shoot. I suppose that’s why there are scriptwriters who cannot shoot, storyboard artists who cannot write script, shooters who cannot visualize πŸ™‚

      But, if YOU can SEE in your mind’s eye what you want/need to cover. If your research has given you elements and aspects of the church’s ongoing history that you want to focus upon. If you’ve decided to take a chronological approach or are going to do time shifting, or flashbacks from current to past, you’ll need to be aware of the history, the contents, and the folks who can help you CARRY your story in that direction, or along that path.

      Having a production outline based on the information of written history and documentation of the church’s growth over the years, old photos, etc. will help you generate a storyboard of sorts. And NO you do not have to be an artist to develop this (stick figures work fine) will be a tremendous asset to you in figuring out exactly the shots you want for your shot sheet.

      On the other hand, if you’re gifted at seeing things in your head and want to pursue development of a shot sheet from that resource there’s nothing in the books that says you cannot accomplish your goal – development of a production outline that will give you some concept of how to approach your final production and shoot/edit for it.

      Just determine where you want to start with your church’s story, and where you want to take it, and how you want to get there. You may find that doing the other stuff first ISN’T necessary for your project, but I still think it would help give you a clearer understanding of the comments, shots, angles and archival photo use you will need to do the best possible video production reflecting both your vision and the subject’s story.

      I can’t wait until you’re able to share the final outcome of your documentary with us all.

    • #200329

      Thanks Earl. Once it’s done I will find a way to post it online or get you a copy. The church loves the idea but doesn’t think there will be a market for a 2 hour “Documentary”. I think there will be a huge interest in the older generation who attend the church and who would love it to reminise about the days gone by. It’s also a big pull for history buffs like me and many other people in my town. I’m going to keep pushing along and getting this done, and hopefully it will be great. I know with the assistance and advise from you Earl, it will be great.

    • #200330

      Hi Fred:

      Sounds like a great project. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler so for me sketching a storyboard is out of the question. I’ve found that using a still camera does the job quite well. After talking with a client, or after thinking a great deal about a personal project (just like you have), I take my still camera and walk the site — building, garden, woodland, etc., — taking shots that show the area and the kinds of shots I can build into my production.

      When I get home I make 4×6 inch prints, or just load all of the photos into a browser on my computer, and start moving pictures around to tell my story visually. I find that this both helps me visualize how I will shoot the story and where the holes in my narrative are.

      I find this approach especially useful if I’m working with a client’s script; I have to find a way to take the written word and make it visual. Having the still shots enables me to work out a flow, both the flow of the story and what will be the flow of my shoot.

      Good luck with your project. Sounds really interesting.

    • #200331

      A little addon Jack’s comments, if you have historical pictures or news clippings of people and events that you want to cover, scan those into your PC and use them in your pictorialstoryboard timeline as well.

    • #200332

      Ok, let me ask you both this. When you do a storyboard do you start out with it in order from opening credits to closing credits, or do you just write the concept and then move things around to fit later? That’s the tough part for me right now. I have concepts but I’m not sure where I want to put them all yet.

    • #200333

      I usually just pick a point in the story that interests me and start there. Once all the shots — whether stills or video — are on your time line you can move things around as needed. I’m working on a promotional piece right now for a fly fishing company that had one shot I really liked when I took it — a fisherman walking out of a ravine, coming across a two hundred yard wide gravel bar and finally reaching the river. I started the story at this point: it had the right feel for expressing the enormity of the country surrounding the Columbia River. I have subsequently moved this segment twice, each time because I realized it helped tell the story better if it was juxtaposed to a different clip. And I’ve compressed time by cutting if from a minute and a half to about 30 seconds.

      If your editing software allows, put things into bins and label them. That way you can find all the stills and video showing, in your case, stained glass windows; those showing flying buttresses; those containing interviews with former choir directors, etc., when you begin to assemble the story. By doing this you’re accomplishing what in the days before digital video we called “logging,” noting the location and description of each shot on a tape. If you do this you won’t have to search through hours of tape for a single shot and you’ll find that it helps a lot in organizing the story.

      Also, in terms of story telling, what this allows you to do is look at the existing story and say to yourself: “You know, I really need someone talking about the altar cloth at this point,” and go quickly to the appropriate footage (it’s in the bin called “Stuff inside the sanctuary.”)

      Hope this helps. And remember: there’s no RIGHT way to tell a story, just some ways that seem more effective than others. That’s why every article I’ve ever written has gone through several drafts.

    • #200334

      This is all practical and excellent information, Fred. I thought of something else that might be useful, it is a program called notebook from circus ponies that is a GREAT assist to me when working from, as you said, about having “concepts” but not being sure where you want to put them yet.

      Unfortunately it is Mac centric, but if you have NO access to Mac OS there should be a similar program for the PC. Just do a search on Google for project or notebook organizing programs. Meanwhile, even if you cannot use the Circus Ponies program, reading about what it does and how it can help you organize for projects will give you some idea of what to do for this phase of your project.

    • #200335
      Grinner Hester

      Story boards are for pitching ideas. Any use for them outside of that is a huge waste of time. A shot list aint a bad idea if it makes you feel better. I’ve never had a need for one, especially when shooting documentaries.

    • #200336


      I’ve shot a lot of docs and I’ve never done a storyboard for any of them. Like Grinner mentioned, unless you’re doing an investment pitch to raise the cash to shoot a doc, it’s really not practical. Docs are way too fluid to try and nail down with a storyboard.

      On the other hand, I wouldn’t dare go without a shot list to shoot a doc. When you’ve researched your topic, there will be specific things that must be caught on video to tell your core story. You’ll need a list of ‘must get’ and ‘try to get’ shots in addition to being open to ‘shots of opportunity’.

      There’s no way you’ll be able to tell the exact story you pitched or envisioned because once you get into the edit bay the story will ‘tell itself’ and it will be better than what you originally thought of.

    • #200337

      I think the term documentary is ambiguous and means different things to different people. Strictly speaking a documentary “documents” a story. What most people call a documentary is more an “educational narrative video”. I know my Lost Towns of the Pine Barrens, Vol. I falls into that category. While it documents a story, it is more an educational narrative piece (think news magazine) than a film where the filmmaker just documents what is happening to tell a story.

      That said, I find too often people don’t think visually. they go out and research and write a wonderful script with no thought to what will be on the screen. One way around that is to “storyboard.” It need not be a formal storyboard. One technique, similar to Jack’s with the still photos, is to use index cards. No need to be an artist, write a description of what you would see on teh screen, add information. the advantage of the index cards is you can easily shuffle them around. If what you thought would be your opening scene works better somewhere else, move it.

      It’s really all in how you work best.

    • #210342

      With documentaries, I find that pictures are the best way to plan things out. Documentaries tend to go where they will based on the footage you get so a large majority of the plot is creating with editing so I would just say focus on planning out camera angles. Totally agree, unless you need a storyboard for funding or something along those lines, it's a waste of time for documentaries.

    • #214532
      alex whitmer

      Believe it or not, Microsoft Word is great for storyboarding. This is, of course, if you have some drawing ability.

      These were all created on Word …

      / Storyboards

      It is the only ‘program’ I use.


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