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The Video Producer’s Secret Weapon: the Shot List

Mark Vargo, ASC

Every professional video production relies on a shot list. Here’s why you should too.

Cover image via Shutterstock.

Years ago, when I first started directing, I remember being annoyed by assistant directors and producers who wanted to see a shot list. I thought, Isn’t what we’re going to shoot obvious from our storyboards? I was so wrong, because it isn’t obvious.

The Video Producer's Secret Weapon: the Shot List — Storyboard

Storyboards are visual guides that help everyone plan, in a general way, the work they’re responsible for. In prep, storyboards are very useful for designing expensive action and VFX sequences — the studio wants to see what they’re paying for, after all. And storyboards are useful during preliminary budgeting and scheduling. Storyboards can form the basis for a shot list, but they are not a substitute for one.

In live-action production, you can rarely edit a set of storyboards together and tell a compelling — or even cohesive — story. As the director, you have a number of shots in mind that will bridge or expand on a single illustration. It’s these shots that you need to write down and share with your colleagues. Remember, film and video production is collaborative, and your team members are there to help you realize your vision. But they can’t do this if you don’t share it with them.

The Video Producer's Secret Weapon: the Shot List — Shot List 1

Shot lists help you plan the day. Each shot takes a certain amount of time, and if you have thirty-five of them in your head, you better let the AD know so they can help organize and budget the time to pull everything off. Then the DP deserves a look because there might be something on the list that doesn’t quite fit the photographic plan. When you prioritize your shots, everyone understands what’s most important to you. As you may know, things can and do get crazy on a shoot. Unforeseen weather or equipment issues can derail your train of thought, so keeping a list will remind everyone what remains to be shot — or re-thought, given the remaining daylight.

The Video Producer's Secret Weapon: the Shot List — Shot List 2

On a TV show, there isn’t enough prep time to draw storyboards. Shot lists become even more important because there are multiple directors in a season, and their shot lists give everyone a sense of their organizational skills and visual appetites.

Finally, being the director means that someone has entrusted you with a tremendous amount of responsibility, both creative and financial. Thorough preparation is the hallmark of a successful director. A detailed shot list informs everyone that you have thought a scene through and that this list represents the minimum amount of coverage you require to cut the scene together creatively. Chances are, your knowledge of the coverage will expedite the process and, in the end, buy you extra time for additional shots that will make the day and the scene even better.

The Video Producer's Secret Weapon: the Shot List — Storyboard 2

Production images courtesy of the author.

Do shot lists improve your productions? Let us know in the comments.

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