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.
Here are the storyboards from a couple commercials I directed recently along with the resulting spots. I recently found a treasure trove of old storyboards I’d filed away, so I’m planning to do more of these. The nice thing about these is that they’re pretty recent—the spots are currently running in many markets and I even saw one of them running during the Oscars broadcast here in Seattle on KOMO. These are commercials that I directed for Seattle’s Creative Media Alliance, Jai Suh, Creative Director.
“Family” Final Commercial Spot
These are an example of storyboards I made fairly late in the process, and you can tell. The actors had all been cast and the location set. I knew what I wanted most of the shots to look like and you can see how many of them are translated to video very clearly.
In my post about Storyboards, Shooting Plans and Shot Lists, I mentioned that there can be many reasons to draw up storyboards. These were primarily to keep the clients and agency engaged and informed about what, exactly, they would be spending so much money to produce, as well as to keep things moving very efficiently on set. Both of the commercials shown here were shot on the same day. So with kids, bikes, sprinklers, sparks and molten metal, we had to move pretty quickly to get it all.
Though the spots match the storyboards closely in most areas, there are also some big differences. First, you might notice a whole extra kid in there. This is an example of a late addition by the agency and client that improved the whole spot. The “money shot” of the Mom walking out of the store was also changed based on a last minute location change. Overall, these storyboards are about as close as I’ve ever gotten to a straight storyboard-to-screen translation. In other examples I’ll post later, you’ll see that this can be more the exception than the rule. But when projects do evolve from the storyboard stage, it’s usually a good thing—it means the boards did their job in helping you to visualize and iterate even better ideas…or be prepared for the changes that get thrown at you in real-world production.
Even though the storyboards were done very much like “Family,” this spot differs from the storyboards a lot more. Sure, you can see the same story beats, but important details are different. This is an example of getting onto the set and having a talented DP point out that there’s a better angle for the same type of shot right over there… There were also a few shots where I got the blacksmiths doing their thing and just pointed the camera at them—and ended up with footage that was a lot better than what I was imagining when I sat down with my pencil and paper a week earlier.
A fun part of looking back at storyboards and the resulting videos, for me, is that it’s really a win either way: If the shots match up well, then Hey, didn’t I call it; And if they change significantly, well then look how collaborative and responsive I was on the day. I gotta say, that’s a pretty convenient way for me to look at it! But joking aside, what it really reminds me of is that storyboards are always just a means to an end. Like rehearsals, camera tests, and frankly even the script, they get you closer to your final product and let you look at options along the way before you’re fully committed, but none of them are the final form and you should always be eager to make changes if they improve your final film or video.