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.
There are lots of ways to get people to visualize the film you want to make. Some films are so “high-concept” that all you need is a title and logline. I always thought Air Force One was the ultimate high concept film until they came out with Snakes on a Plane. Before I go off on a rant about the merits of high concept movies, I’ll just say, sometimes you need more than an awesome title to help people see the movie you’re planning to make. The “lower” the concept the more you need to show. Some movies can get by with a poster. Others a cool fake trailer. And for some, you might need to show the movie frame by frame.
A set of storyboards can help you tell your visual story to your potential backers before you have anything to show. These can be presented at-is or scanned and turned into an animatic video with voices, music, however fancy you want to go. It probably isn’t necessary to storyboard the entire movie—at some point, even looking at drawings is too much to expect of investors—but a well illustrated, cinematic sequence can not only show backers that there’s a visual story to be told, but how you plan to tell it. That’s powerful.
Several years ago I wrote a romantic comedy feature script that won a few fans. It was the story of a guy who’d given up his dream of college when his parents died and was working as a janitor in a university so that he could send his sisters there. He crosses paths with an associate professor when she throws away her publish-or-perish novel in the trash out of frustration. The janitor finds it and secretly passes her some ideas about fixing it while he simultaneously passes himself off as a professor on sabbatical. You know, romantic comedy stuff.
In advancing the cause of this film, I spent several days drawing detailed storyboards of the film’s opening sequence. It’s a mostly visual sequence that carries the film through the prologue that introduces the protagonist’s dashed dreams and carries us to his present-day existence and into the story. Like the movie itself, I figured that once the viewer got sucked into this story, they’d be hooked and stay with it. So I drew some pretty fine storyboards and included them as a part of the film’s business plan. Today I might have gone further and made a video from them, since it’s not much more work.
The following are the 7 pages of storyboards I drew to win over potential investors by getting them to visualize my story. But I also thought that these storyboards served another function, which was to convince myself that there’s a compelling visual story here. Look at the panels—forget about any dialogue or description. Can you see the movie based on the storyboards?
So if the storyboards are so successful, why haven’t you seen this movie? Well, in fact, the storyboards were part of the package that secured a distribution offer and a lot of investment interest. Unfortunately, there are some things that even cinematic storyboards can’t overcome, and the movie financing fell apart for other reasons. That’s a different discussion. But the storyboards did their job. As I look toward my next feature project, I’m realizing that I should probably get out the pencils and onionskin because along with a great script, good casting, and a reasonable distribution plan, I believe that storyboards can be an important part of bringing a project to the starting gate.
Douglas Horn is a feature film writer-director and a creator of independent series. Douglas and Dan Southworth founded the web media company Popular Uprising. The company’s action/sci-fi series DIVERGENCE will release its first season in 2012. More information at: DouglasHorn.com and WhatIsDivergence.com