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Why a Filmmaking Shot List Is Essential For Your Indie Film

 

A filmmaking shot list is one of the most important pre-production tools that a director has at his disposal to start the planning process for a film off on the right foot. In this post, we’ll explain why filmmaking shot lists are so important to the process and how you can use modern tools to make one of your own.

Why is a Filmmaking Shot List So Necessary For Indie Films?

Planning to make a movie is just as important as actually making it. Pre-production for indie films is often seen as less of a priority as it is in larger projects, but it’s just if not more important. When you’re making an indie film, you have to worry much more about your budgeting then you would if you had studio backing. This means you cannot waste any resources once you start shooting.

Shot lists are usually the product of collaboration between the Director and the Director of Photography. The purpose is to take the script and outline how each scene will be captured on camera. Accurate shot lists allow you to plan for a full day of shooting so that you can make sure you get everything you need.

In many ways, you can think of them as formalized checklists that you run down during the production and check off each shot as you get it. When a production gets underway it’s just that, a production. Directors use shot lists as a tool to workshop how different shots are going to go so they don’t have to come up with anything on the fly. While every production will have a certain element of spontaneity, the more planned the shots are the smoother the day will go.

How to Build a Shot List Of Your Own

shotlist for movies

You will find many tools out there designed to help you create shot lists out there, but it all starts with the script. The first step of any shot list will be to annotate the script. The whole goal of the exercise is to identify and label all the different shots in each scene. There are plenty of softwares available that allow you to do this, but it can also be a simple as a pen and a printed version of the script.  

The first thing you want to do is to come up with some sort of naming/numbering system so you can identify which sections are which. Start by going through your script and bracketing out each section where a different type of shot is needed. Give each bracket you make a unique identifier so that you can reference it on a spreadsheet.

After you get all of your sections labeled you want to move all of those labels into a spreadsheet so that you can manage and view them easier. Getting your shot list organized in a spreadsheet allows you to section out exactly how each shot will be constructed. What you decide to put in each line of the spreadsheet is totally up to you, but here are a few things that we recommend.

Elements of a Filmmaking Shot List

Shot description: This is a requirement because it’s why you’re making this shot list to begin with. Don’t worry about getting too technical or formal with theses. It’s preferable to keep your shot descriptions in a natural language format. All you have to do is describe where the camera is and what it needs to be doing for the shot.

Equipment list: Here you would simply list all of the technical equipment that you would need to have on hand to complete the shot. This is really helpful because you know exactly what you need to bring on each day of shooting. When you’re involved in a small indie project this is even more important because you’ll usually know everything you have available for the project in pre-production. When you’re working on a larger film you could say something like “crane shot” and then let another department handle it, but when you’re on an indie project you’ll know for sure if you have access to that kind of equipment or not.

Blocking: This section would describe how the actors would be placed in the scene. This is important because it can help you to visualize how the shot would need to happen mechanically. You may have a more in-depth blocking plan elsewhere, but it is important to at least reference what is going on here.  

Lighting setup: Along with the mechanics of the shot, you want to take a moment to describe the desired lighting effects for the shot as well. If you’re well versed enough to recommend the needed lighting equipment to achieve the effect then go ahead and note it in the equipment section as well.

Approximate length: Here you would simply list how long you think the individual shot should be. It’s good to start thinking about the length of your shots early so that you can understand how your scenes will build tension as the plot progresses. This will also give a sense of how many shots you’ll be able to cover in one day.

Difficulty: This is an option that you can include if you wish. Basically, it would be a rating system that you would come up with that would rank each shot by its complexity and level of difficulty. Doing this would allow you to divide and conquer so to speak and not put too many difficult shots all in one day.

Filmmaking Shot List And Pre-Production Software

There are many different types of software that can help you build a better shot list. While it’s true that you can create a shot list entirely on your own and have it work quite well, there are a few software solutions out there that can really help you get some work done. Below we have listed a few of these solutions:

Celtx: This is a full-feature software platform that covers all aspects of the preproduction process. Celtx has tools specifically designed to help create scripts, make shot lists, and plan for an incredible film production.

Yamdu: This is a solution catered specifically to the film industry that offers a wide range of tools to help during every stage of pre-production. Yamdu has tools designed specifically to fill the shot list role and it works quite well.

StudioBinder: Another excellent suite of tools that can really help you get on top of your pre-production so that everything is ready to go when you’re ready to start filming. Studiobinder has great informational material to keep you on the right track as well.

Conclusion

A filmmaking shot list is one of the key elements that helps you drive a successful production. While you can always go the route of doing everything yourself, there are also a few software solutions that can really make the who process a lot easier. What’s important is that you don’t start a day of filming without a well-constructed shot list in hand.

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