Planning and Storyboarding
When you start out making your first video or movie, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. You want to grab a camera, point it at something, and hit record. Part of knowing how to make a video, however, is the planning phase. Don’t skip steps in your storyboarding and planning phase if you can avoid it, because even if you don’t follow all the fancy technical procedures you can still save yourself some headaches by just sitting down and thinking about everything you need to plan.
Just getting up and making a spur-of-the-moment project can work out perfectly fine, and you can capture some great moments flying by the seat of your pants. But even the most experienced Hollywood directors use a technique called storyboarding to plan their films from start to finish.
A storyboard is not a book about your video. It can be as simple or as detailed as you want; some storyboards are simple sketches of how a shot should be framed with arrows showing camera movement. Others depict the length of each shot, lighting schemes, a description of the scene and notes on character placement.
Starting out with a good storyboarding session can give you a better idea of how a scene is going to flow from beginning to end. Drawing a sketch of every shot might not be your style, but maybe instead you’d find it useful to map out a top-down view of your location and select camera angles and action paths.
Often if you’re the writer, producer, and director of your film it won’t be necessary to do any of this. But if you have one or more cameramen who will be setting up and operating the lenses (if you happen to be a character in your film, for instance) you might find that providing rough storyboards can reduce the time it takes to get the cameras in place.
Scripts vs. Storyboards
Working with a good script will give a filmmaker the general overview of a scene; what the location is like; what the characters look like and how they act; and the visual scope of the camera(s).
For example, a scene description in a script might say “Fade up from black to see a lone MAN walking down a dirt road in the forest. His pace is quick, his steps determined. The man’s face is expressionless as his strides quickly cover the ground between him and his destination.”
A storyboard goes one step further on the technical end to provide a list of shots. A storyboarding layout for the segment above might begin with a wide shot of the path in the woods, with the man walking down it. The second sentence describes his footsteps and his pace, so the second storyboard frame might show a close-up shot of the man’s legs, tracking alongside them as he walks determinedly. The third frame could be a close-up of his face, expressionless as he walks.
How Detail-Oriented Are You?
I’ve made short films without either a script or a storyboard. Mostly this was because I had come up with the concept and storyline for the film and knew exactly how I wanted it to look visually. I would be directing and doing camera work as well, so when it came to both technical direction and dialogue, I’d be in the driver’s seat.
Even in these situations, that didn’t mean I didn’t have to sit down and plan things out. You always have to plan. Just make sure you write it down if that’s how you remember it best; make an audio or video journal if you like it that way; or bounce your ideas off of friends and crewpeople, if for no other reason than that you can ask them later and it helps you remember.
You might find that it’s easier to work this way in some cases, and it mainly depends on your level of detail-orientedness. At the end of the day, it’s more about what makes you most comfortable as a filmmaker; I can offer suggestions all day long, and tell you the way they do things in the film industry, but when you have no budget and no constraints you’re going to make films the way you want to make them.
So use storyboarding to give visual instruction to your crew. Plan because it’s good practice. And script dialogue out to keep you from having to remember everyone’s lines and recall them at any given moment while you’re doing twelve other things on set.
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