When a writer is writing a film or a director is reading a script, they probably have a decent idea of what the final product will look like in their head. Their mind’s eye will be drawing inspiration from their various personal influences, piecing together the visual themes and rhythm of the film.
However, we all visualise things differently – so get yourself a storyboard to lay down the visual law! A storyboard is a great way to demonstrate the flow of a film, give the editor an idea of the rhythm, and give the cinematographer and camera crew information on how to frame every moving image on the screen.
If you’re new to storyboarding, you might want to try a storyboarding template. There are different websites that allow you to create a storyboard for free including our personal favourite, Milanote! Creating your own storyboard from scratch can be very harrowing, but a template system that holds your hand throughout the process can be a huge relief.
Yes, we’re drawing still images, but the movement of both characters and cameras is essential. You might note that this is a two-shot, but does the camera stay static? Does it slowly zoom in? Does it suddenly hard pan to the right to reveal something? Similarly, do the characters move around in a certain direction? Make notes and draw plenty of arrows.
Music and Audio
When you’re so focused on the visuals, it can be easy to forget about the sound. Try to set up the soundscape as much as the visuals – is there any diegetic sound? Perhaps there’s the wind howling or a cityscape ambience in the background? Similarly, are you visualizing a certain song or score being used in this part of the film? Try to set the whole scene.
You’ve probably thought about the kind of shots you want – long shots, close-ups, over-the-shoulder shots etc, but have you thought about other elements such as lighting and shadows? The way that a frame is lit can drastically affect the mood it gives off. Give your cinematographer an idea of the lighting you’re going for in every frame
It’s called “storyboarding” for a reason – you’re supposed to be telling a story. The way that your characters and props are drawn should help to tell your story without the need for explanation. If your main character is sad, draw them looking sad. If there’s an awkwardness between two characters, try to highlight it within their facial expressions. Keep it visual.
If you’re planning on some visual effects, whether they’re big or small, make a note of them in your storyboards and try to portray them. If your film title is going to flash dramatically on the screen, show this. If Manhattan is about to get blown to smithereens, draw this to the best of your ability. The FX Department needs guidance too!
Too Many Panels
With all this said, don’t do TOO many panels if you’re doing a relatively simple scene. If you’ve got a standard shot-reverse-shot of 2 characters speaking, we don’t need to see the same over-the-shoulder frame repeated 37 times for every time they take turns speaking. Unless something changes visually, it’s a waste of pencil lead.
Too Few Panels
On the other hand, don’t do too few panels that fly through a scene without getting into details. Assume that your film crew knows nothing of your vision – walk them through it with detailed descriptions of your frames, composition, characters, movement, dialogue, audio, etc. Basically, do just the right amount of panels!
It’s a good idea to start out with a badly-drawn rough storyboard before graduating to a better-drawn version. Starting rough obviously helps you to get your bearings with the images, but it also can help to highlight some changes that you might want to make before you solidify the polished, nicely-drawn version.
You might have a lovingly crafted and well-drawn storyboard, but when you’re shooting, you discover that a different angle or lighting setup works better. An actor may improvise a line or action that you weren’t expecting. You might have an idea on location that you want to try on the fly. Storyboarding is great for guidance, but you don’t always have to stick to them.
Pin It Up On Set
It’s a great idea to pin your storyboards up somewhere on set, giving the cast and crew an easy visual reference that they can refer back to. For some people, it’s difficult to imagine how a script will look visually, so looking over a bunch of pictures can be a big help, even if they’re badly drawn!
Storyboards are a guide, not a strict roadmap. Still, a well-made and adequately detailed storyboard is an excellent tool to help share your vision with the team and give them an understanding of the proposed final product you’re going for.
Good luck storyboarding!
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Founder + Film Editor / Sharing her thoughts on all things film! When she's not writing about filmmaking for So Theory Goes, she is writing weekly posts for her new video editing platform, Working Womxn. workingwomxn.com