Getting The Most Out of Your Storyboard

The storyboard is a vital pre-production document that serves a range of uses throughout the pre-production and production processes. Arguably the most important reason to storyboard is to establish for yourself, as director, your vision for the scene in its finished state, but it’s also a very useful aid to ensure everyone on the production team are on the same page.

In its most basic form, a storyboard is a series of drawings which illustrate the sequence of shots in a given scene. In the process of translating the script into images, you begin to take a critical approach to which shots tell your story most effectively and economically. Doing so also helps to anticipate issues of blocking and scene geography which may require script re-writes or certain location requirements. These boards can be refined and revised as you move through pre-production and you begin to nail down locations, cast members and which pieces of kit you’ll have at your disposal.

Though some directors engage the services of a storyboard artist as part of this process, you needn’t be a good artist to do it yourself. Many directors take a fairly rudimentary approach to illustration, using stick figures for the characters with arrows to indicate movement and eye-lines. The most important thing is clarity in demonstrating the shot size, the placement of the actors and any camera movement. In moving shots, you can use multiple images to show how the camera will move between framings (see images below). The quality of this document is especially important in collaborating with your DOP, whose ability to bring your ideas to fruition hinges on you communicating with clarity.

                              
Top: Two (rather messy) storyboard frames illustrating the starting and finishing frames of a single shot. Bottom: The finished product.

Other details that are helpful to include are the lens and mount type. In addition to providing a more specific idea of what you’re after visually, this information can really save time on set. Do you have a sequence which alternates between 20mm Steadicam shots and 50mm close-ups on a tripod? Rather than constantly swapping lenses and having to re-balance the mount, it might make sense to get all of the Steadicam shots in one go before changing. Beyond that, you may choose to include notes on other aspects which clarify the intention of the shot, including performance notes for the actors, lighting requirements or any other details the production team might find useful.

It’s worth noting that not all directors use storyboards. Some directors – David Lynch and Terence Malick to name two – prefer the more spontaneous approach of figuring out the scene on the set with the actors, with a minimal idea of what shots they want beforehand. It should be noted, however, that these tend to be seasoned directors with many projects under their belts and a very solid understanding of the form. The Coen brothers by contrast are detailed storyboarders, and their long-standing collaboration with artist J. Todd Anderson is a key part of their pre-production process. They have noted in interviews that knowing precisely which angles they’ll end up using means the production can be run more economically – if only two walls of a room are going to be seen in the final shots, the set-builders can save time and money by only building what will be seen.

The storyboard can even be a valuable tool in the process as early as the fundraising stages of your movie. Having a clear illustration of your ideas can really help potential investors understand your vision for the project. During pre-production for Alien, Ridley Scott had his budget doubled by 20th Century Fox when he storyboarded the entire film to demonstrate the project’s potential to be much more than the B-movie the studio had envisioned.

When the storyboards are complete, they can be scanned for easy distribution among members of the production. Having the storyboards in hard copy on set can be invaluable as well for quick and easy visual reference for how a given shot fits into the overall scene or sequence. Of course, no matter how well you plan there will always be unforeseen factors when it comes to shooting. Rather than sticking slavishly to your boards, it’s best to view the storyboard as the prepatory groundwork which allows you to be flexible on the day and accept better ideas that come along.

The Proof of Concept in Film

You have this great idea for a feature film. Or maybe for a TV series. And you definitely want to produce it. But once again, you might find yourself struggling to overcome the enormity of tasks required to develop your idea: finding funding, time, locations, equipment, coordinating people’s (your team’s) busy life schedules…

But hey, maybe this idea of yours could be turned into a short film, so less time is required to make it, and also less money and less resources.

You might then think: “But I’ve made many shorts already”, or “But a short film isn’t long enough to develop my feature idea”. Yes, but how about making a short film as a proof of concept?

What is a Proof of Concept?

Proof of concepts are short films carried out in a way that highlights the main aspects of your film idea’s premise, showcases the potential of what you and your team are capable of, and shows where the idea could go whilst proving its feasibility.

The value of short films is often underestimated. When an idea is condensed into a short and is properly executed, that short can turn out very powerful as there is usually no place for “longueurs” or dilly-dallying with your story. Quite the contrary, the story needs to be concise and to the point. Any short that starts by ticking that box is on the right track to becoming a great proof of concept. Another aspect to consider is that the story doesn’t necessarily have to finish in a way features do, with all ends tied up neatly, and every question answered. Rather, it’s normally best to just point it in a clear direction. This will allow the idea room to develop, without any constraints.

So for now, put all limits to one side and just let your production skills and resources determine where and when you have to hold your horses.

Creating the Proof of Concept

This is especially important in terms of setting and developing the world you are creating. It’s worth trying to outline as much as possible of that world and character’s backstories without explicitly showing them, but instead hinting at them.

Obviously, this is easier said than done: developing an idea can be a daunting task. Ideas can easily get out of hand, especially when it comes to creating a feature. This is why thinking in terms of a short can help narrow down your idea and get a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve. Short films are also great for practice with the team.

Teamwork

It might be an understatement, but it is important to find the right people to work with, and if possible stick to working with them consistently. That way everyone develops a natural coordination with one another throughout different projects, which improves the team’s chemistry and ultimately constitutes an added value to the productions the team works on. This is one of the most important factors in the creation of a proof of concept, since it contains the potential to make the idea come to fruition through collaborating with a production company or studio, or even selling it.

Portfolio & Festivals

Once the short film is done, you need to be ready to show a whole portfolio of where the idea is going or what it could evolve into. This might be comprised of a treatment, which is different if it is for a feature or TV. While the treatment for a feature should focus on developing the story, the one for TV should not focus so much on story but rather outline if not the whole show, at least the first season. In addition, a synopsis, the finalised script, character developments, backstories, precise plans for the budget and production requirements, locations and even crew (the importance of having a team already gains its weight here) are some of the elements you’ll need to include.

Submitting your proof of concept to festivals is a different strategy to attract interest from people in the industry by getting some exposure. However, the film has to show a clear vision as to where the idea goes, since there would be less (if any) chances to explain whatever doesn’t come across just by watching the film.

Successful Proof of Concepts

It is inspiring to learn that some very famous, critically-acclaimed films were spawned from proofs of concept, such as: Inception, 300, Sin City, Saw, District 9 and Whiplash.

Saw: Saw’s screenwriter Leigh Whannell and director James Wan conceived the idea for Saw, but it didn’t attract interest until they made it into a 7-minute long short, which was literally just one torture scene. This was enough to showcase their ability to create an intense and gruesome story that went onto create a new genre, one that revolved around macabre torture games. They eventually got to pitch the idea to Lionsgate, one of the major production companies that showed interest in their proof of concept.

Whiplash: Although producers were reluctant at first to commit to director Damien Chazelle’s idea, he found a creative solution by making a proof of concept, comprised of a scene from his feature-length script. When his short was ready, he submitted it to festivals and eventually found support for the feature version of his idea when winning the Short Film Jury Award at Sundance 2013.

So, if you’ve got a feature up your sleeve but don’t have the resources to watch it bloom, definitely think about using the proof of concept strategy. Because who knows, with dedication and a bit of luck, maybe your film will be the next one on the list!

Juan Cruz is a well-rounded filmmaker based in London. He currently works as a camera technician, continuously learning and developing skills in advanced camera systems used in high-end TV drama and feature films.
In his own films, he likes exploring technology-related dystopias. He also loves comedy and playing drums.

Starting Pre-Production

Making a film takes a lot more work than it seems. In fact, it is hard to tell how much work has been put onto a film just by looking at the final result, although we can definitely get a hint of it by looking at the ending credits. What do all of those people do? Are there that many things to work on?

While the first question is too vague and would take ages to reply, the answer to the latter is a resounding “yes”. There are an awful lot of things to work on, especially at the inception stage. Let’s talk about these in terms of a short film, where they are generally more condensed in comparison to a feature.

The very first step where every film begins is the script. This might sound very obvious, but checking this box can actually become a daunting task, especially when it comes to finding one based on a good idea. There are two ways you can get a script: you can buy/obtain one from someone else (in which case I would make sure to choose the right one, mainly according to your financial possibilities), or you can write it yourself. The second option will give you more freedom at the time of adjusting it when some things go wrong – believe me, they will- but the important thing is to have a draft that is as close as possible to the representation of the story sought after by the director (this might be the same person as the writer), to reduce the amount of those things that will go wrong.

So you’ve got the script, now what?

If you decide to give writing one a go, check out this very useful article about scriptwriting: The Script Board: A Guide to Screenwriting

Like in most aspects of business, the two determining factors of a film are time and money. Therefore, it makes sense to start by creating a budget and a schedule. These don’t need to be set in stone, but they should act as a reference to define the extent of what can be achieved in terms of production: locations, actors, crew, equipment, production design, props, costumes, editing, music, catering, publicity and festivals… these are some of the main parts that the budget should cover.

The schedule should work in a way that it sets deadlines to complete the different steps. Without a schedule to adhere to, the production will be all over the place and will turn into a mess. Deadlines will also prevent you from leaving things unattended. It is not difficult to fall into procrastination, which will make different tasks overlap and therefore this will lead to a waste of time and possibly money, which is far from ideal.

In order to figure out a schedule, try to work out how long it would take to complete each task. For example, in terms of location scouting, how long is it going to take to speak to the relevant people, find out what the availability for that location is, how much is it and when can you pay for it to eventually lock it. Or in terms of casting, how many days of auditions do you need to carry out, where and when can you hold the auditions, how much is the audition room, when are you going to have callbacks and when are you going to make a decision on the cast.

Budget and schedule ready, now the rest

Once you have the budget and schedule in place, there’s a valuable technique called script breakdown. It is normally carried out by the 1st AD, however in a short film this may be done by the director himself or the producer. It consists of, while going through the script, identifying key elements such as characters, locations, costumes, props and VFX shots and colour-coding them to be able to know what you will need and how long for. This is tied-in with the production design, which is the visual concept for the film. A good production design should be consistent with colours, costumes, the way sets are dressed and props, since it is an essential part towards the look of the film.

A good pre-production is crucial for the correct development of the film, especially since most elements of production and post-production are sorted out during this stage. In terms of the shooting, you will need to find a crew, the people behind the scenes. Also, the equipment that will be used will be decided from very early on (camera, lenses, grip, sound, lighting). This is important in order to be able to find and compare deals by different rental houses and be able to bargain with them. Or for example, an important on-set element that can’t be overlooked is catering. People work better with their stomachs full, so make sure you keep them well fed.

In regards to post-production, you need to determine aspects such as where are you going to edit the film, what music are you going to use (is it going to be a buy-out, copyright free, originally composed) or if you need VFX shots, which you need to plan in advance.

Last but not least, you also have to keep in mind distribution and publicity. You should think about where your film is going to be seen (streamed online, particular venues), or maybe you’d like to do a festival run, in which case you need to allocate some money for submissions. As for publicity, is the film going to be promoted through social media? Is it going to have a poster? Will there be still photographs?

And by the way, you will find that forms are very much necessary to keep everything organised and most importantly to cover your back mainly against legal issues. Completing location recces, risk assessments and making the relevant people sign release forms will definitely keep you from getting more than one headache.

Juan Cruz is a well-rounded filmmaker based in London. He currently works as a camera technician, continuously learning and developing skills in advanced camera systems used in high-end TV drama and feature films.
In his own films, he likes exploring technology-related dystopias. He also loves comedy and playing drums.

Six Ways Film & Television is Embracing Women and BAME

 

The most prominent debate in film and television in the present day is the representation of women and BAME. In this article, I hope to present schemes and organisations that are dedicated to creating diversity and equality in the industry.

 

ONE: NFTS Directing Workshop

The National Film and Television School provides teaching and training for those wishing to work in film and television. They run several diplomas; masters; certificates and short courses.

This new initiative for directors has been launched by NFTS aiming to increase the number of women, BAME and people with disabilities.

The six selected directors will take part in a 2-day introduction in March followed by an intensive 4-week workshop during summer culminating in the production of a short film.

The course is free and the deadline is 19th February.

Apply here: https://nfts.co.uk/directing-workshop

 

 

TWO: CREATIVE ACCESS

Founded in 2012, Creative Access aims to provide young BAME people paid training opportunities in creative companies and supporting them into full-time employment.

With over 200 media partners offering opportunities including ITV, BBC, Channel 4 and many more. This organisation is paving the way to creating an industry that truly reflects British society.

Want to sign up? Check out the website here: https://creativeaccess.org.uk/

 

THREE: Women In Film & TV UK Mentoring Scheme

Women In Film & TV is a membership organisation run by women supporting women working in the creative media in the UK.

Every year they run a mentoring scheme designed for women with more than 5 years’ experience looking to take a significant step in their career. Over six months participants receive six hours of mentoring contact with an industry figure. There are also seminars, training workshops and networking opportunities.

Free to apply and participate. Find out more here: https://wftv.org.uk/mentoring/

FOUR: BAFTA

In 2019, BAFTA will be adding the BFI Diversity Standards to the eligibility criteria for the Outstanding British Film Award and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.

This decision has been controversial in the industry with some parties believing this is a step too far and restricts filmmaking. In my opinion, it is a bold and much needed move towards creating an inclusive and equal industry. My only issue with it, is the fact this is even needed in the 21st Century to promote diverse filmmaking.

Considering that in the 2015 Oscars no non-white actors were nominated for an Academy Award, a change in criteria for these awards is definitely overdue.

FIVE: DIRECTORS UK

In 2016, Directors UK released a 10 year study on women directors in film revealing the shocking truth that only 13.6% of all directors working in the last decade were women.

They aim to use the findings of this study to improve the industry for women by campaigning for these 3 specific goals:

  1. 50% of films backed by UK-based public funding bodies to be directed by women by 2020.
  2. Development of the Film Tax Credit Relief system to require all UK films to take account of diversity.
  3. Industry wide campaign to inform and influence change

Find out more here: https://www.directors.uk.com/campaigns/gender-equality-in-uk-film-industry#support-our-campaign

 

SIX: GAME CHANGERS

In 2016, BFI Film Forever and Creative Skillset launched a workshop called Game Changers specifically for women and BAME filmmakers.

Run by Kymberlie Andrews who is a master trainer and communication coach. The aim of the two day workshop was to boost confidence; teach pitching and make contacts with like minded individuals.

For myself, this workshop changed my game by opening my eyes to my personality strengths which has affirmed by future career goal.

Hopefully this opportunity will be renewed for 2017 but only time can tell!

Find out more here: http://gamechangeruk.com/

 

If you know of any opportunities for women and BAME in film and TV then please comment below!

 

 

 

Aspiring TV Producer and Director currently studying at University of Greenwich doing a BSc Digital Film Production.
Working as a freelance production runner, office runner and floor runner.