The Dreaded “Uh. . .”

You’re on location. The cameras are rolling. The actors are in place. The camera operator looks to the director. “Where do you want me to put the camera?” The director puts his glasses back on and gets out of position. “Uh. . . Well, just sort of film the scene.” The camera operator folds his arms. “I was looking for something more specific.” For the next ten minutes the actors sit around waiting while the director tries to decide what angles he wants. Sound familiar? I hope not. There is a simple remedy for this terrible disease. An antidote for the dreaded “Nobody knows what we’re doing” is available to anyone who needs it. It’s called storyboarding.

There is no better way to keep boringness and stress from setting in than planning ahead. Storyboarding is the easiest way I have found to plan. It’s quite simple. Prior to filming (Or even before the whole filming schedule commences) you take a section of the script. Say. . .

EXT Sci-Fi Port (Badguy) NIGHT
Bob and Clyde have just escaped from the badguy headquarters, taking with them the secret plans for a fighter plane. The badguys have discovered them and are chasing them. Bob and Clyde have just reached their broken plane and are waiting for their mechanic to fix it.

Look out! They’re right behind us!

(into walkie-talkie)
Ground 20, have you got the ship working yet?

(looking at approaching badguys)
We can’t wait that long.

Do you see another way?

Alright. There you have it. (No, that is not part of our next movie.) Now, how do you get this from script to storyboard? Well, there are a number of ways. First, you could draw thumbnail sketches of what you think it should look like. (“You” being the director or official storyboarder) Think about the feel of the scene. What you want to camera angles to look like. What you want to them to show and in what order. Here is how I visualized this section and drew it.

Storyboard Example

As you can see, I am no drawing master. Stick figures work very well for me. Particularly when I give them some special characteristics to define person from person.

If you don’t want to draw you can write it down.

Wide Shot: Bob and Clyde rush up to side of the ship.
Close up Bob: Bob’s first line
Wide Shot of badguys charging.
Close up Clyde: Clyde’s first line.
Two shot with Bob and Clyde: Bob’s next line.
Close up Clyde: Clyde’s second line.

Now, this way is very handy because it makes converting the storyboards to a filming schedule easier. Do you see the repeat? Clyde has two close ups. On your filming schedule you can put: “Close up on Clyde: both lines” and film it all at once without having to move the camera around and shoot everything in order.

(I’m a little fuzzy on the whole “filming schedule” thing. It didn’t dawn on me until this last movie that such a thing would make it a ton easier. Trust me, next movie I’ll have one.)

How do the storyboards compare with the final film? For us, this varies by scene. Here’s a comparison of a scene from our movie iSundae.

iSundae Storyboard Comparison from Phantom Moose Films on Vimeo.

You can also watch it on YouTube.

So that’s how you do storyboards. I highly recommend them unless you are one of those directors/camera men who can see the whole thing in their heads and mentally check off the angles. That would be so handy. . . I wonder if I can teach myself to think that way. . . But anyway, try a couple storyboards. They can make things run a whole lot smoother.

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