Have an ambitious project but not enough time to storyboard the entire script? Here’s a guide to flagging the most important shots and sequences for pre-visualization (better known as “pre-viz”). Get out a stack of multi-colored Post-its and read through the script with an eye toward flagging these crucial areas…
Prioritize the Sequences
There are often a few scenes that you’d pre-viz for their aesthetic possibilities. Then there are the sequences that cry out for boarding because of their logistical requirements. In the best of situations you’d have the resources to work on both, but in the event that you’re working with a limited budget (sure, that’s not likely, but just in case) the list below can help identify the scenes that will save you the most time and energy when exposed to the light of pre-viz:
• Visual effects
• Stunts and pyrotechnics
• Crowd scenes
• Complex camera movements
• Montage sequences
• Opening and closing scenes
• The rest…
Visual effects shots are virtually always storyboarded. It’s pretty difficult for a VFX company to bid on creating imagery when the script may simply describe a sequence as “the spaceship blows up.” Most production companies don’t have the internal resources to create this material in-house so the work is contracted out to a specialty production company such as Digital Domain or ILM. In order for this group to understand your production’s needs, some visualization should accompany the script pages. The conversation between the production company, the director and the effects group will take place as much in the visual sphere of communication as in the verbal one.
Stunts and Pyrotechnics
The rule for pyrotechnics is if it blows up, ‘board it! Because you only want to blow it up once. And in many cases, you only have that single chance to grab the action. Also, it’s expensive and dangerous, which are two more good reasons to have everything planned out to the slightest detail. In addition, multiple cameras are used in many of these sequences and using storyboards will allow the director and cinematographer to have greater communication with the second unit crews.
Action sequences such as stunts, fights and car chases lend themselves to storyboarding because they are usually highly choreographed, and therefore blocked out in great detail before the cameras roll. If an illustrator can be included in the rehearsals of the fight action, then the director will have a good visual record of the shot possibilities of that scene. Sometimes all that is necessary is a 35mm camera with a zoom or a video camera to block out the camera positions. That visual info can then be worked with to create a plan of action for photographing the action scene. Again, multiple cameras rolling on these sequences is frequent if not the norm.
Crowd scenes are a good bet for inclusion on the production that has a limited storyboarding budget. A crowd can consist of anywhere between 20 and 2,000 people. At either extreme it is often useful to have a set of storyboards to hand out to a crew that may be more than taxed with the overload of bodies on the set. Crowd scenes are also another situation where multiple cameras may be utilized. If these sequences have already been boarded out, the director, assistant directors and other crew members will have one less element to think about during a challenging day on set.
Complex Camera Movements
A complex camera movement is another type of shot that lends itself to storyboarding. In the case of extended crane moves, handheld or Steadicam shots, the use of overhead diagrams tied in with sketches of frame compositions can cut down rehearsal time drastically. Or they can serve as a starting point for discussions about the shot. Either way, these visual tools encourage conversation and expedite communication.
Montage sequences have a specialized meaning in American moviemaking. The word “montage” was originally used by French moviemakers to mean editing in general, but in the U.S. we have narrowed the term to apply to sequences that are edited with highly compressed time and space. They often have little or no dialogue and can be described in the written script in a sentence or two. The director and crew must then flesh out this shot-heavy sequence visually, often using storyboards and a shot list. An example of this in popular cinema can be seen in Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts’ character goes on a whirlwind shopping spree where a two-minute collage of images edits a full day into about two minutes of screen time.
Opening and Closing Sequences
Opening and closing sequences can also benefit from the treatment of pre-viz. Whether you are working on a feature or a 20-minute short, the opening shots of a film strive to pull the audience into its particular world. The style of the film’s imagery as well as the feel of its characters can be projected in those first few moments. A clear image of the shots that will make up this sequence can set the tone for the way the entire film is visualized. The same idea can apply to the closing scene of the film. If not a climactic moment, it is a denouement to the full three-act structure, and the imagery of these last moments will stay with the audience long after they leave the theater or turn off their televisions.
There are no definite rights or wrongs in storyboarding. The above list is meant as a guide to get you started on the scenes that have the most pressing logistic need for the work. In terms of aesthetic needs, anything and everything or nothing at all can be planned in advance. The choice simply has to do with the style and the content of your individual project. MM
Some of this content is excerpted from Marcie Begleiter’s From Word to Image: Storyboarding and the Filmmaking Process – 2nd Edition. C) 2010. As a designer and artist, Begleiter’s clients have included New Line Cinema, Tristar, ABC, HBO and Paramount New Media. Collaborators and students include writers, directors and designers of Dreamgirls, Grey Gardens, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Terminator 3. For more information, visit www.marciebegleiter.com.