Some years ago, I remember hearing that director Gary Ross had a shot list for the film Seabiscuit that was triple the length of the screenplay itself. While it may be overkill (and then again, maybe not), it can’t be overstated enough that failing to plan is planning to fail.
In any visual medium, the foremost job of the leaders behind the project is to make sure that everyone working with you is clear on exactly what you’re all trying to create together. You have to get your vision, out of your head and into the heads and hands of others on your team.
To return to the Gary Ross example, I remember his saying that his shot lists explained shots in emotional terms as well as general filmmaking terms.
So instead of just saying “Long shot,” he would say things like, “They’ve just lost their son, and feel utterly and absolutely alone in the world. Their pain is so deep that they need that isolation, for now, and we need to respect their pain.
And this shot in the film reflects that.
So for directors and producers who feel like shot lists and storyboards might paint you into a particular shot, at the very least describing how you want people to feel at key moments in your media can be a great way to get your team on the same page with you.
Now, personally, I like to plan; I also believe that having a plan doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from the plan. Having a plan means you have thought about the purpose behind each part of the plan, and have a firm foundation upon which to assess possible changes to your plan when you get your boots on the ground.
Changing your plan mid-game is fine, and can even drive better results than having stuck to your original plan. But you and your team need a place to start. Shot lists, and shot planning aids are a great way to do that.
Below are some old school templates I’ve used over the years, feel free to download them and use them for your own productions!
Blank Shot Planning List
Overhead Layout Template
Blank Storyboard Frames
I will also note, that since pre-visualization tools have gotten much, much more accessible (Sketchup, Blender, anyone? Or Maya, or 3DS Max on the paid route), there’s no reason you can’t setup rough scenes in full 3d, and export stills or even animated sequences so your crew knows what you’re going for.
Make a plan, or plan to fail, it’s your choice:)