Storyboard00What's the formula for which shots to use when making storyboards for a film shoot? Unfortunately, there's no one right answer. This is part of the creative workflow and the shots you choose depend on how you, as the director, see the movie in your mind's eye. Learning more about the meaning or the visual weight that certain types of shots convey can help you add an important level of visual interest and information to your story.

In the world of literature, punctuations help clarify the written word. When the writer makes a new paragraph, it signals that one thought is concluding and a new thought begins. A sequence is similar. A new location, a new time of day and a new thought, problem or dramatic element is introduced.

The same can be said in calling for various shots in a movie sequence. Let's define a sequence as a series of scenes (or a paragraph of sentences) and a scene as a series of shots. But the actual size and composition of the shot for which the director calls (or the actual words a writer uses) depends on the director's creative interpretation.

So think of the Establishing Shot as an introductory sentence. It's one roll of the camera and locates the viewer in time and space. Then within the same location we can add other shots that will hook your audience with some information or plot point to make them want to continue watching. An example of an Establishing Shot: Are we in a shopping mall during the present day or are we in outer space years from now? If we use a Star Trek-like movie as the example, we'll start in outer space. Next shot: a starship enters the frame. Next shot: an explosion happens on the starship.

Within three shots, we've given the audience something of interest to keep them viewing (whether it someone you're pitching an idea to or whether you thinking about the audience once the project is made).

Consider the establishing shot (also called a wide shot) as a good start to a story. Again let me emphasize, what we're exploring are not hard and fast rules, buy these are suggestions for where to start when learning how to compose shots for your first few sequences. Once we've established where we are, we can use a medium shot to show more detail about the situation and then progress into a close up to emphasize important points.

When you're done, step back and ask your audience to view your sequence and see if they understand what you're conveying. That's one of the import functions of storyboarding. You can work out problems and communicate the creative layout of your project without spending a lot of time and money trying to fix problems after it's been shot.

You can go on to use an extreme close up but be careful, it's like using an exclamation mark. Use them sparingly and use them to punctuate a point or an emotion: a concerned look, a tapping toe, a glance from side to side, a drop of sweat rolling down the villain's brow. Using your shots to show emotions means you won't have to put dialog into your actor's mouths like: I'm worried. Show your audience, don't tell them.

[A beginning film school exercise is to shoot a short, 1-minute, film without using much (or any) dialog to force you to communicate your story visually.]

But you can't be sure that your audience will see the "worried look" if you've planned a long shot. Other elements in the frame will be competing for the viewer's attention just by being in the frame. So when your actor's "worried look" is the element that is important to move your story forward, make sure your viewer gets your point by directing their eye to see what you want them to see.

As a filmmaker, becoming skilled in the art of composing shots means learning the film punctuation to direct the viewer's eyes through the frame, like using lighting to highlight areas of the frame, using placement within the frame (foreground elements carry more visual weight than background elements), or using camera zooms sparingly (start wide and follow a character into the scene). A good director means directing shots, directing the viewer's eye, directing your crew to create your vision, as well as directing actors. Storyboarding is a great tool to help learn to direct a movie.

Sally Walsh has been involved in the development and documentation of all PowerProduction products for over ten years. She has extensive experience in commercial production for such companies as Cunningham & Walsh, Chiat-Day and production experience with Chelsea Pictures and other independent productions. Her clients have included Nissan, Folgers, American Home Products and Apple Computer.