OK, we’re past the dreary technical bits – which if you haven’t read yet, you can find here. Now we get into the aesthetics and philosophy of the storyboarding art. This will be short, but important. After all, from here on, it’s all about YOU.
Before you start creating your storyboard, you have to decide which storyboard template you want to use. This is one of those “there’s no wrong answer” choices. It’s a matter of which workflow you feel most comfortable with. Most storyboard templates are a variation of this, which is pretty standard in feature filmmaking:
There are many others to choose from, examples of which you can see here.
Again, this is a question of how you want to work the storyboard out and organize the visual information. Very often, the storyboard artist will include a cell style which provides space for descriptions and titles. Using text to either elaborate upon the visual information, name the scene or include crucial bits of dialogue is a very common practice and can be extremely useful. Here’s three typical cells:
Or, if that’s too much clutter for you and would rather just refer the screenplay, there’s always the “naked” version of a cell:
What’s the best one of these to use? The one you like. Some people like to use word balloons à la comic book style, but I don’t recommend it. Film frames should be unobstructed. This is your first experience seeing the project. Don’t block the view.
Whether you’re doing a montage, a long take, a quick-cut action scene or anything else, take each scene and think about how they will build up visually in the sequence you are materializing. Yes, part of it is moving the action from point A to point B. But perspective, motion, and the juxtaposition of concurrent sequences can transmit as much about the story as what is being said in dialogue. A horror movie might have some weird angles and high contrast lighting to set the mood. That romance scene will probably have a close up of lovers kissing at some point. And an exciting car chase could switch from an exterior look at the car to the diver’s point of view in just one cut. You’re working surgically in each scene now, make each step count, and make sure all the organs are in the right place once the operation is done.
Once you get past scene building, start to look at how the storyboard flows from scene to scene. Is the progression reflecting where your story is moving to? Taking a more global view of the storyboard can provide a visual guide to thematic waxing and waning throughout the progression of the piece. If you can, lay out every single page of the storyboard at the end of the process. Cover the walls. Get that mosaic view going. This will provide a sort of living graph which measures the state of your vision. Clunky movements may be detected, or perhaps an open opportunity for some enhancements. It’s just like The Matrix. Seeing the whole picture at once can give you a whole new insight.
Take this very seriously. Every cell of your storyboard must include every actor blocked into the shot, every prop that’s part of the action, every expressive look on every face - all the stuff that matters must be depicted in the storyboard. Not only that, but every consequential camera movement, too. What matters? What’s consequential? Ask the script. Then ask yourself. It’s OK to evolve beyond the script, or cut back on it. What matters is what visually progresses the tale you are telling. Clothes might matter if your character is a soldier, but maybe not as much if she’s a generic office worker. It’s your story. You decide what the viewer’s eyes must see.
OK, so – not everything firing up in your brain is the most important thing ever. Do we really need to see the fine grain in the old barn’s wood? Must the storyboard bear witness to every single bottle in a wine shop? Does every pedestrian’s face in a street scene need to transmit everything every extra is feeling? No. Not at the storyboard level. Don’t make these images too busy. It will fatigue your storyboard readers and drag the process on too long. All those crazy details are best left for production design, a process you can read more about here.
How you approach the creation of the storyboard – and how you use it in every stage of production – is something the filmmaker will learn over time, and indeed, will be customized for each individual. Don’t freak out if you’re disappointed with early efforts. As with any skill, it takes time to find one’s groove for the work. And as the filmmaker gains confidence in his craft, the storyboard will be less like words written in stone, and more a handy roadmap to a vision. This is a great place in the filmmaking process to experiment with editing schemes and camera blocking. Take some chances. Wait for a producer or cinematographer to raise objections to your scheme. There’s a lot of ways to use a storyboard. Get comfortable with having one always in your production toolkit and find your own way to make it a worthy instrument to further your vision.
That’s not all there is to storyboarding. There are many other techniques and approaches, traditional and customized, which the filmmaker may apply. But with the fundamentals I’ve described here, you should have more than enough understanding to get started on the process. And when you do, may I please say – welcome to your vision. The storyboard is giving you your first glimpse of it. Savor it and keep pushing forward!
Argentinean-born New Yorker Miguel Cima is a veteran of the film, television, and music industries. An accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comic book creator, Miguel's movie, Dig Comics, won Best Documentary at the San Diego Comic Con and was selected for Cannes. He has worked for Warner Bros. Records, Dreamworks, MTV, and more. Currently, Miguel creates content for multiple platforms and media. His formal education came from New York University, where he earned a BFA in film. World traveler, culture junkie and major foodie, he is happily unmarried to the same gal since the mid 2000s, devoted to his family & friends, and slavishly serves his true masters - two dogs and a cat.