Storyboard Design Tips For Filmmakers

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As a filmmaker, you need to get your vision of the film from script to screen.

But just how can you share this vision with your film crew?

The easiest way to do this is through storyboards.

Storyboard design makes it easier to share, explain and make people understand how you want your film to look.

Not to mention that you don’t have to be a great artist. So, if you can only draw stickmen that’s fine too. Storyboard design is also part of the pre-production process you might want to check out our article 10 Steps Of Pre-Production.

Lets jump in!

Step 1 – Create Your Template  

Free Storyboard Template

To begin with, you will need to have a template that you can use to draw your storyboards onto.

In the past, people used pen and paper but these days you also have the option of digital programs. Basically, use whatever method you feel most comfortable using.

If you are using paper, grab a pencil and ruler, then draw box panels onto a page. The panels represent your film screen and should be in the same aspect ratio that you aim to be shooting within. Aspect ratio is of course the width and height of your image (e.g. 16.9 widescreen or 4.3 fullscreen).

Here’s a link to our own FREE storyboard template (we also have another article where you can find more production forms).

If you are using a digital program there are lots of options out there. So as to make things easier, here is a list of the most popular storyboard design programs.

Step 2 – Sketch Your Shots

Sketch frames

Now that you have your template you can begin to sketch your shots.

Firstly, choose a scene in your script and write a shot list. Consider how your script will translate on-screen, what type of shots will you use to tell the story?

Remember each panel box on your template represents an individual camera shot. You don’t need to be very detailed but include actors as well as key props. In essence think of your storyboards as the comic book version of your film.

On a professional film set, the director and DOP will work together to create storyboards with a storyboard artist. But if you are making an independent film you can draw the storyboards yourself.

Step 3 – Add Details

Design frames

Once you have a basic sketch of a scene you can add details to your storyboard.

To represent movement arrows are used in storyboard design. Traditionally a black arrow is used for character movement and a white arrow for camera movement.

For instance, if a character is walking from left to right a black arrow will point right on the storyboard to indicate this. However, if the camera is panning from left to right, a white arrow would be used.

You can also indicate whether or not a scene is taking place inside or outside. An abbreviation will be used to show this. (e.g. Interior INT or Exterior EXT)

Under each panel, you can also give a short description of what is happening in each shot. This will be a one-line description followed by an abbreviation of the camera shot being used. (e.g. man walks across the screen MS)

To help here is a list of the most commonly used camera shot abbreviations

  • Close Up – CU
  • Extreme Close Up – ECU
  • Medium Shot – MS
  • Long Shot – LS
  • Establishing Shot – EST
  • Point Of View – POV

Step 4 – Get Feedback

Storyboard Pitch Group

Next share your storyboards with your film crew.

Specifically, your director of photography will need to see your boards. After all, it is their job to get your vision onto the screen. They will also need to know if there is any specialist equipment that needs to be sourced to make a shot possible.

Additionally, your producer will want to see your storyboards. Similarly, they will need to know if any further equipment needs to be rented out. Such as if you have a dolly shot or crane shot.

Specialist shots like this will cost money and need to be added to the budget as soon as possible.

Furthermore, your 1st AD will also need to know if certain scenes will need a longer set up as this will affect the daily schedule.

Another useful tip is to create a storyboard folder. This could be done either on paper or digitally, and be brought with you to refer to onset.

How much you refer to your storyboards is a personal choice. Some filmmakers choose not to use storyboards on set but no doubt they are a useful tool.

Wrapping Up – Storyboarding

So there you have it, storyboard design lets you share your vision with others. Not to mention that they help cut back on over filming and increase on set confidence.

Perhaps you will want to give storyboarding a go on your next production?

Director Tips and Tricks, Pre-Production

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