How to Plan for Your Shoot: Storytelling the Stillmotion Way, Part 3

How to Plan for Your Shoot: Storytelling the Stillmotion Way, Part 3

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Part 3 of the Stillmotion series on storytelling gets down into preparation for the shoot.  The idea is to know what you’re shooting, how you’re shooting it, and what equipment you’ll ultimately need to make this as painless and fun a shoot as it can be.  What I’ve enjoyed about these Stillmotion tutorials is that it’s clear that their advice comes from an early source of failure.  They’ve learned from their mistakes and now they make productions they are clearly proud of.  Finally, we’re getting into the actual shoot here, but believe it or not, you have a lot more preparation to do before you turn on the camera.

Storytelling the Stillmotion Way: Part 3

You should already have made choices about who you’re filming, where you’re shooting, and what the purpose of the journey is.  So now, you need a final preparation.

Sketch Out A Storyboard

A storyboard is simply an organized way to show the main shots you plan to capture.  You can use a sketch or photograph that replicates the shot you want.  You don’t need to worry about being a trained artist, you’re just trying to get an idea of how the shot will look.  Stick figures are completely fine.

What a storyboard does is help you come up with ideas as you draw.  Putting those ideas on paper will help you work through them.  Stillmotion states in the video that they have been able to come up with more thoughtful compositions, lens choices, and transitions during the storyboarding process.

Waiting until the day of the shoot, you’ll often start second-guessing yourself.  Winging it is generally going to lose you time, and ideas you could have had before you started shooting might come too late while you’re improvising.  Storyboarding saves time and energy.

Also, storyboards are a good way to share the vision with your team, and they tend to encourage valuable feedback and discussion.  It also gives the client more confidence in the vision.  Think about it: you’ve prepared these shots, you’re giving an idea of how it will look.  It shows that you’re not only dedicated, but it gives an early sneak peek into the “final” film.

In lieu of a storyboard, you can make a shot list.  Sometimes a full storyboard isn’t the best option.  A shot list has the same intent as a storyboard.  You simply have to list out the important shots you want to take for each scene rather than drawing them.  Shot lists will let you know how you want to move the camera and what lens you want to use.

Plan Out A Shooting Schedule

Create a call sheet, a 1-page document that has everybody’s contact info, essential details about the shoot, and a breakdown of what will be shot and when.  Even if you are shooting something all by yourself, you want a schedule and a plan.  It allows you to figure out how long it will take to film each part and what order you want to film it.

Figure Out the Gear

What to think about when choosing your gear:

  • Keywords (discussed here): which lens, lighting, and camera best represents the keywords you’ve created for this story.
  • Review the storyboard: which gear will be required?
  • How much space do you have at your location?
  • Comfort level of the people–how long will this take and will your equipment intimidate your on-camera participants?

Gear can change on every shoot based on these factors, so you won’t ever have a “uniform” gear list for every shoot.

Consider What Kind of Movement You Need

How will you use movement?  Locking stuff down and using heavily-produced footage, or raw hand-held feel?  Will you be using sliders, steadicams, or a jib?  A monopod for control, movement, mobility?

Choose Lighting Gear Wisely

It’s easy to just go for what looks good or proper, but that many times leads to you bringing way more than you need to bring to the shoot and spending far too much time for a produced look when it may not be needed.

Day of the Shoot

Shoots rarely ever go according to plan, and no amount of planning will prevent problems.  So it’s important to do these things:

  • Be Present.  Always be in the environment and with your characters.  How you talk to them, what you say, how you act all define their experience.  It also determines what you get out of them and what feeling they are left with when the shoot is finished.  Also, you can manage problems and possibly capture new opportunities that arise from the problems.  The worst thing to do is to zone out and get frazzled, which will affect everyone around you.
  • Keep It Simple.  If you have 2 paths to go and both seem equally good, choose the simpler route.  New filmmakers constantly go wrong by over-complicating things.  If a slider and a monopod both capture your story, just go with the monopod.  If your story is well-told with natural light, don’t feel the need to add more.
  • Three Over One Rule.  Instead of shooting one thing with one shot, try to shoot it in three shots so you can build it into a sequence.

For instance, in the video Stillmotion covers the filming of “Wrapping a present.”  This three-over-one rule can be thought of as beginning, middle, and end: you shoot each different step as part of the story.  Or it can be thought of as wide, middle, and tight: shooting the same thing with different angles throughout.

  • Get In There.  Tell the story the best way you can.  You rarely can do this by standing on the other side of the room with a long lens.  Where you put your camera is where you put your viewer.  So bring them into the action, closer to the story.  Always be present, so that when you get in there it’ll be comfortable for everybody and doesn’t alter the moment you’re covering.  Many times new filmmakers are too timid, too scared, or too removed from the process to really tell the story that needs to be told.  Be bold, be confident

If you want to watch the other Stillmotion videos, go to their Vimeo page.  For our coverage of it, here’s part 1 and here’s part 2.  Part 4 is already available, and we’ll be getting to that soon.


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