Storyboarding Your Film

Before you create your film storyboards, you have to perform certain tasks and make certain decisions. First, begin by evaluating your screenplay and picturing it in terms of separate shots that can be visually translated into individual storyboard panels. Then you determine what makes up each shot and also which images need to be storyboarded and which ones don't. After you start storyboarding, you'll need to determine whether you're shooting for a TV movie or a theatrical release, which will ultimately affect the frame dimensions of your panels.

Breaking down your script

The task of turning your screenplay into a film can be very overwhelming. But remember, a long journey begins with a single step, so begin by breaking the screenplay down into small steps, or shots. A shotis defined from the time the camera turns on to cover the action to the time it's turned off; in other words, continuous footage with no cuts. Figure out what you want these shots to entail and then transform those ideas into a series of storyboard panels. Stepping back and seeing your film in individual panels makes the project much less overwhelming.

Evaluating each shot

You have several elements to consider when preparing your storyboards. You first need to evaluate your script and break it down into shots. Then, as you plan each shot panel, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the location setting?
  • How many actors are needed in the shot?
  • Do you need any important props or vehicles in the shot?
  • What type of shot (close-up, wide-shot, establishing shot, and so on) do you need?
  • What is the shot's angle (where the camera is shooting from)? Is it a high angle? A low angle?
  • Do any actors or vehicles need to move within a frame, and what is the direction of that action?
  • Do you need any camera movement to add motion to this shot? In other words, does the camera follow the actor or vehicles in the shot, and in what direction?
  • Do you need any special lighting? The lighting depends on what type of mood you're trying to convey (for example, you may need candlelight, moonlight, a dark alley, or a bright sunny day).
  • Do you need any special effects? Illustrating special effects is important to deciding whether you have to hire a special-effects person. Special effects can include gunfire, explosions, and computer-generated effects.

Creating a shot list

After you determine what makes up each shot, decide whether you want to storyboard every shot or just the ones that require special planning, like action or special effects. If you want to keep a certain style throughout the film — like low angles, special lenses, or a certain lighting style (for example, shadows) — then you may want to storyboard every shot. If you only want to storyboard certain scenes that may require special planning, keep a shot list of all the events or scenes that jump out at you so that you can translate them into separate storyboard panels.

Even if you've already created your shot list, you aren't locked into it. Inspiration for a new shot often hits while you're on set and your creative juices are flowing. If you have time and money, and the schedule and budget allow, try out that inspiration!

Constructing storyboard panels

Before you actually draw your storyboards, you need to create a space for them to call home. The shape and dimensions of your storyboard panels will be determined by whether your film is going to the TV screen or the theatrical screen. These two different dimensions affect how much information is drawn into your storyboards and what will ultimately be seen on the appropriate screen.

A storyboard panel is basically just a box containing the illustration of the shot you envision for your film. You can purchase pads of storyboard panels in different format sizes at many art and business stores. If you don't want to spend extra dollars on a pad of professional storyboard paper, you can draw your own panels — four to six on a regular 8-1/2 x 11 piece of paper (keeping them at a legible size), or you can even print blank storyboard panels using your desktop computer. Here are some quick steps to design your own storyboard panels:

1. Decide which shape and size of panel to use.

A television storyboard panel, like the screen on your television set, resembles a square, only slightly wider. Theatrical feature-film storyboards are rectangular in shape, almost twice as wide as a television screen (see Figure 1). Many filmmakers hope for a theatrical release and also like the picture information available with the larger, rectangular storyboard panel, but shooting a happy medium between the two is safer. You're more likely to end up on TV and you don't want a lot of your picture information lost on both sides of the image.

2. Draw the shape of the panel and add a thick black border (approximately 1/2 inch in width) around the square or rectangle.

Placing a border around each panel helps you to see each panel as a definitive separate shot, and subliminally creates the illusion of a TV or darkened theater around your shot, giving you an idea of what that individual image will look like. With theatrical panels you may want to avoid the thick border to save on page space (and black ink!).

3. Create a description panel by drawing a 1-inch empty box just below the bottom of the frame panel (as shown in Figure 1).

Use this box to write down important information that describes in detail what the illustration doesn't show or enhances what is drawn in the frame above. For example, include any important dialogue, camera directions, scene numbers, or special-effects instructions.


Figure 1: A storyboard panel from The Frog Prince, and a theatrical panel from Miss Cast Away.
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