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
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.
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.
Now Available, a 244 page book by Peter John Ross,
called TALES FROM
THE FRONT LINE OF INDIE FILMMAKING. It features cautionary
tales and tips for the Camcorder Kubricks and Backyard Spielbergs. CLICK
HERE to purchase - only $14.99 (or CLICK
HERE for a 9 page sample in Adobe Acrobat format)