I love short films—both making them and watching mind-blowing shorts from other filmmakers. Pound-for-pound, short films are my favorite format. I want to make more and see more. Unfortunately, the real world is getting in the way. Even though short films seem like the ideal format for today’s social-media attention spans, they just don’t get made or distributed in a way that lets them be an ongoing, viable art form. So—even though they create a lot of entertainment value for audiences—filmmakers aren’t capturing much meaningful return from that. As a result, filmmakers can only create new short films sporadically or as a brief stop along the way to some other career. If we could find a way to solve this problem, then filmmakers like myself who love the art form could continue making short films that audiences would love and benefit from. Everyone would win.
In my first post on storyboards, I mentioned that that can serve a number of different purposes from a production tool to a way to get people excited about your project. I recently posted an example of some storyboards I drew just before shooting—and the videos that they inspired. This article looks at the other side, using storyboards long before you ever hope to shoot to help advance a project so that it can get funding.
Any time you’re trying to sell someone on backing your vision—whether it be for ten or twenty bucks on Kickstarter or millions from a film fund or high net-worth individual—you want to create a vision of that film for your backers—even though, for the moment, it that still exists only in your head. You need to help people visualize the film you would make. If you can help them visualize it—and if it’s worthy once you have—then you have a better chance of getting their support.
I was going through some storyboards for old projects recently and thinking about how they progressed into final videos. Sometimes the storyboards are remarkable predictors of how the end video will look. Sometimes there are very significant changes in the translation. I think we can learn a lot as filmmakers from both.
These days, not only is every filmmaker a director, editor, and DP, but it seems that a lot of us are having to be electricians as well. With little lights and high ISO cameras, I see a lot of people playing gaffer and lighting their own sets. That’s fantastic, except when it’s dangerous.
I’m no electrician. I know maybe two things about electricity on a set, but they’re biggies so here goes:
- Never hold one light in each hand.
- Make sure any circuit you plug into has a ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI).
Here’s my understanding of why you never hold a light in each hand: Something, something, something, electricity can shoot through your heart. There might be a more thorough explanation on Wikipedia, but really, do you need one?
As a director, you can always phone it in with standard coverage or rely on your DP can find you lovely backgrounds and nice shot compositions, but if you want to pull off any shots that are interesting, meaningful, or cool, you need to plan them out ahead of time with storyboards or a coverage plan. Great shots don’t just happen.
I believe that being a good director means making a plan that I can share with other people before the morning of the shoot. That’s why I typically put in a bunch of prep time creating storyboards, shooting plans, and shot lists. In this post I’ll talk about what these are and why I think they’re important.
Preparation: The Burden and Opportunity
Typically on a shoot day you barely have enough time to get all the shots you need, let alone explore them. As much as I love the romantic notion of a director figuring out his vision on the set as he and the actors try new things, the reality is, a good director figures all that out long before the shoot. And then maybe, if he’s done his prep, he gets a few more ideas in the moment. But that’s only after all the work is done.
So how do you figure out your vision before you’re actually on the set looking at everything? One of the best ways is with storyboards and shooting plans. Sketching out what you want to shoot is a great way to try new things, refine your vision, and then communicate that to all the people who will help you realize it. In many ways, the director’s real visual exploratory work is done on paper.
(* The other exploratory work a director can do—the performance exploration—is in workshopping and rehearsing with actors. I’ll talk about this in a future post.)