23rd May 2016 Content 0 comments

Bella from Skylark Media takes us through the importance of storyboarding, and explains how a good storyboard can help establish the sequencing and narrative flow of your video. Learn how to storyboard and get creative today with these pro tips. 

So, what is a storyboard?

When it comes to video and film production, a storyboard is a brilliantly creative way of planning out the shoot. A nicely thought out storyboard will allow you to show the crew your interpretation for the shoot ahead and how the individual shots will come together, without the frustrations of trying to convey your vision with words and wild gesticulation.

A storyboard is made up of pretty illustrations inside squares which represent a specific shot or scene (…still with me?) Alongside the drawings are notes about the action that will happen, as well as lines of script.

The drawings represent the camera shots and the direction in which the characters are going, which gives everyone a much better indication of what the shot sequence will look like and what the general mood is.

You can easily draw a basic storyboard template by hand (and this is what most people tend to start out doing) by using a trusty ruler to draw out some boxes. If you’re a little more IT proficient and your drawing skills are less than basic, we recommend using InDesign to create your board. Remember that whatever method you use, the cell sizes should be drawn in the same aspect ratio as the finished video e.g: 16:9 for a TV screen.

 

An elemental landscape storyboard for our client’s internal communications video (2015)

The good news is that you don’t need an art degree to storyboard. While many professional story boarders like to draw detailed scenes, stick figures will usually do the job.

The example above may be crude, but the position of the three characters in relation to the camera is pretty clear. In other words, skip that art degree. What might also help you is a basic knowledge of camera shots, so stay tuned for a follow-up video blog post ‘Need-To-Know’ piece on camera shots and the rules of narrative. 

OK, so why do I need a storyboard?

Simply put, you don’t HAVE to use one. Shoots like corporate interviews and documentaries often won’t need one. For most other productions, storyboards are necessary to communicate the concept and avoid coming up against issues like broken storylines, mis-matched dialogue, and - god forbid - nonsensical jump cuts.

Storyboards will also save you precious time and money in the long run (trust us on this one!)

When deciding on whether you need to get doodling, remember that you might have a very clear idea of what it’ll all look like, but for other people, conceptualising your vision is often much more difficult. Take time to talk through your storyboard with both clients and crew in the pre-production stages to ensure everyone’s on board (yes that was intentional).

 

Landscape storyboard demonstrating the movement of a chair for a client’s TV commercial (2016)

Get to it!

Make sure you have a script or creative brief in front of you before you start. Use this list to map out the key points within the story so you can work within these sections to plan your frames.

Establish a timeline

Some stories are not linear, so you’ll need to put together a narrative timeline for your shots. Make a list of the main events in the story, and then the order in which they will be told in your final production. Ever watched Memento? Imagine the storyboard they had to create for that!

Identify the key scenes in your story

Agree on the pivotal parts to your story, like plot development scenes, changes of location and any drama such as fight scenes / sword fighting / snakes on planes, etc. These will be the most important scenes to include in your storyboard, and it’ll help to write a description underneath of what each cell will show including the general tone of the scene (are your characters arguing? Fighting snakes?)

The details

How detailed you decide to get really depends on what it is you’ll be shooting. If you’re storyboarding a feature length film, you’ll probably want to create a board and shot list for each scene within the film. Obviously this is very time consuming (which is why there’s usually an entourage of story boarders and writers for big productions) but if you have the time, it will really help you to stay organised during the process. (In contrast, if you’re shooting a thirty-second TV ad, thirty frames might be enough.)

 

Detailed portrait storyboard for a key scene in Jurassic Park (1993)

As you put together your storyboard, think about your reasons for making each cut to a new shot. Advancing the story is about more than just hopping to the next plot point; you need to give a reason for why your characters decide to stop fighting snakes (…perhaps so that they can fly the plane?) Storyboarding the motivations for your cuts will help you figure out how to build tension and keep the story moving when the cameras roll.

The do's and dont's' of successful storyboarding

  • Do try to convey action through your images to present a sequence of events.
  • Do take into consideration what your audience will hear as the story progresses. Will there be dialogue? Will there be a soundtrack?
  • Do share your storyboard with your crew and clients before starting production. By doing this, you will eliminate “red flags” that might appear in the storyboard from conflicts between what the director interprets and what you had intended to convey.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of conveying body language and facial expression. Even with promotional video shorts, your subject needs to convey a consistent subliminal message.
  • Don’t wait until the very end to make small, but important changes. Using storyboards provides an excellent opportunity to work out the kinks before you move into formal production. Without one, you could find yourself trawling through frame after frame in an attempt to piece together a narrative that makes sense.

Learn from the pros

Check out Dreamwork’s top tips on storyboarding.