The Film Junkyard: Visualising the frames
By Fred Fernando
The last few weeks, we spoke of storyboarding and concept artwork. And we mentioned, in passing, a process called shot-listing. What is this shot-list? Why is it important? Can you do without one?
Every piece of art or craft has a unit of measurement. In music, it’s a note. In film, it is a frame; a compilation of frames formulates a shot, and a series of shots make up a scene. And multiple scenes stitched together in a coherent sequence creates a film. Whereas capturing a single frame would pretty much be photography, in filmmaking, a single shot is what filmmakers focus on as a singular unit each time they shoot.
Therefore a shot-list is a document that contains a comprehensive list of every single shot that the crew needs to cover within the duration of a shoot. Here’s why we compile shot-lists.
Never miss a shot
Having a list of to-do’s in a day serves as a reminder on what to get done in a day’s time. Likewise, a shot-list keeps a filmmaker in schedule with the number of shots he or she has to get in on a given day. In case you forget a few shots, reshooting a scene can be expensive, so we believe it pays to have a shot-list in hand.
Serves as an editing guide
On more complex shoots, a shot-list can serve as a guide to the editor, who sometimes scans through the list to assemble a scene. Most of the time, editors are not physically present during production, and a shot-list provides them with the order in which a sequence plays out.
Technicalities and other info
A shot-list not only contains every shot needed, but also the finer specifics of a shot, such as: Which lens needs to be used? Who is in the shot? What sort of camera movement will be employed?
As most of our guests on Junkyard Theory have reiterated, a film is made in pre-production. And the more you plan each shot out and put them in that list, the smoother your shoot is guaranteed to go on the creative side.
Additionally, a shot-list can also contain the emotion or story beats being conveyed. These notes serve as guidelines and reminders of preplanned creative decisions.
Helps determine scheduling
A shot-list can help filmmakers determine how much time is needed to complete shooting any particular scene. Time and money are both the scarcest commodities during a production, and deciding how to schedule your shoot also affects your budget. Therefore, a well-planned shot-list can serve for a more efficient shoot.
But how do you actually create a shot-list?
Break down the screenplay
Once you have your script, break down each scene. Decide how the story is progressing in each scene and what emotions are being conveyed. Since each scene is made up of shots, visualise the scene playing out in your head.
Visualisation is key
If you wrote the script, chances are that you have already seen the movie in your head. When shot-listing, pay closer attention to the visuals in your head. Is there camera movement? What happens in the shot? What sort of framing is used?
Closing your eyes and seeing all the finer details helps you break the visual down into the components, which will help construct it on set later.
Including more shots than less is advisable solely due to the fact that it can be better to have a shot and not need it later in post-production, rather than need it and not have it!
Usually a shot-list is made by the director, cinematographer, first assistant director, and maybe the writer. Gathering your essential crew members together and breaking down the screenplay into shots helps you to determine the feasibility of pulling off each shot on set.
In case you have the storyboards prepared already, those can additionally serve as inspiration for the shot-list too.
That being said, not all filmmakers opt to shot-list their films in advance. Some prefer to improvise on set and capture what they believe is essential. Certain others prefer to work with storyboards alone.
Whichever way you choose to go, there is no right or wrong in a creative field, but the existence of a shot-list does tend to make life on a film set easier.
In 2015, filmmaking collective High School Junkies started creating short films out of passion and soon gained momentum as a film production house that championed frugal filmmaking. Their second short, EIDETIC, became the first-ever Sri Lanka film to be screened at the San Diego Comic-Con, and has subsequently been screened all over the world. They host guests from Hollywood on their webinar, Junkyard Theory.