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Shot Lists: From Pre-Production through Post Production

By Peter John Ross

Like so many of us with a desire to eventually make movies for a living, I like to view my little DV shorts (aka Microcinema) as a training ground. Even when making a 5 minute camcorder short, the kind where you are the writer/director/producer/cameraman/editor, you can still prep for bigger shoots, and develop good habits. One of these habits is creating and maintaining a shot list.

A shot list is a list of all the camera angles for a shoot, including coverage and cutaways. This can be done from the script, on the fly during a shoot, or even AFTER the shoot, using the footage and just naming the shots that were obtained.

Shot lists in pre-production usually only blueprint a shoot. A basic shot list of MASTER SHOT, CLOSE-UPS (aka CU’s), et al help plan for time & basically outline what the shoot will consist of. Part of directing is deciding what shots best tell your story and elicit the emotional reaction from a viewer. Storyboards are a great second step for a shot list, but not everyone can draw or get storyboards, so a written list of shots can still achieve the real goal (which is organization).

Making a list of those shots from the script usually winds up being different than when you get there on the day and do the shoot. New shots can come up, two shots get fused into one, or you just don’t have time to get them all. During a shoot, LOGGING the shots can be a valuable tool for post-production (thinking ahead).

A “script supervisor”, the person watching the shot list and the script verifying everything from the script got shot, can scratch off each shot as they are completed, and take notes about each take and each shot. Details like which take the director liked, merged or changed shots, audio problems, time code, and as much as possible for notes for post production. Having a person doing this function can greatly increase the speed and organization of post-production.

Now after the shoot, and either the editor or the person who is doing it all need to be able to take all these shots and make editing choices from them. Again, if this is a small, simple shoot with the same person writing/directing/shooting/editing, you may not have made a shot list, but now that you have a tape full of shots that now have to be captured to the hard drive – you have to name the files and the shots in the computer in order to edit them. So, no matter what you still have a “shot list”.

Now, if you had created a shot list from the script, you can carry the same names through pre-production all the way through post-production. It can be any way you feel like organizing. I can’t tell you how to best organize your shoot, but the only thing that matters is that everyone understands it from writer to cameraman to editor. A basic shot list can consist of just saying “scene 04, take 02 Camera A” and abbreviated “S04T02A”, or any variation therein. Make up your own systems, whatever ways seem best to you.

Concupicence script

The reason to be so detailed and to make consistent notes is because as your projects get bigger and more people get involved, there is a system in place for everyone to know what everything is in every department. You can find out where you are in the screenplay based on a shot list, or if one shot needs a title, or there was a slightly different angle – all of that information is systematically (and subsequently anally) organized and easily found. So shot number "S04T02A" is the same from screenplay to shoot to file in the editing computer, it's easy to find everything. There is a roadmap that everyone can follow.

Having worked as a post-production supervisor and lead editor on a feature film, I was dealing with a director who was the only person who had the notes and shot lists, but they existed in his memory. When capturing & trying to synch audio to his 16mm film transfers, I was trying to find shots like “George gets in car” or “Jenny at apartment”. So where in the script does that happen? How many times is George in a car? It became impossible to do anything without the director present at all times. We then devised a system and naming and assigned scene numbers, and shot lists after the fact and we were able to synch audio for the entire movie.

On the big movies & TV shows, the whole production team synchronizes by a shot list and all the way to the end. Even when you’re doing it all yourself, you can prep for eventually delegating to people like a different editor or cameraman by being organized with a shot list, and making it something everyone can understand. It makes it possible for everyone to be on the same page.

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