A good shot list is one of the first and most important steps to creating great videos. Whatever the size of your production, working with other people requires consistent and clear communication, whether it’s cast or crew. That’s why I’ve developed a shot list that can be used on any scale, from a one-man-band video, to a full-length feature film.
In this post you’ll find a detailed breakdown of:
- How a shot list helps you get the most out of your production
- A free shot list template and how to use it
- A real-life example of a good shot list, storyboard and schedule in practice
Why is a shot list so important?
It’s imperative on large productions that different departments can work independently from one another, so if a key crew member dropped out the show can still go on. In theory an editor should be able to work from a well-made shot list without any instructions. Think of it like a recipe that connects all the other ingredients. The better the recipe, the better the result.
This holds true for smaller productions too. Even if you’re working alone or in a small team, staying organised will help you focus on what matters and produce better videos.
Creating a shot list will help you:
- Plan precisely what each shot will be
- Previsualise how shots will fit together (creating better, more compelling sequences)
- Communicate your vision to cast and crew
- Maximise time efficiency
- Ensure you don’t miss any shots
When do I create a shot list?
The best time to create a shot list is in conjunction with the storyboard, after you’ve finished your script. In fact, a storyboard can easily be turned into a shot list as you’ll see in the examples below. If you’re intimidated by the idea of a storyboard, don’t be! I’ll even show you how you can create one using text descriptions if you don’t have the time or budget for drawing.
The first step is using the shot list to help you visualise what you want. Once that’s done you’ll use it to organise cast, crew, equipment and locations to enable that vision to happen (using documents like call sheets, tech specs and license agreements which all stem from the shot list). During production you’ll add notes to the shot list to help the editor, such as which takes to use, detailed comments and the shot/card number.
So that the editor knows which shot is which, it’s important that you add the clip number or timecode to the shot list during production. This can help dramatically speed up editing time.
TIP: If your camera has the time of day timecode feature, you need only look at your watch and make a note on the shot list before or after each shot.
The workflow looks like this:
What if I don’t have a script?
Even if you don’t have a script, a shot-list is still a valuable tool. I’ve been on many shoots where time has been against me or a script wasn’t available. In these cases, I still find it extremely helpful to jot down a shot list on my phone or piece of paper for all the reasons listed above.
How detailed should it be?
The shot list will become a vital part of the production right through to the edit. The more you add, the more prepared you’ll be. At first, it will be organised chronologically (in order of the script). Eventually you’ll reorganise it using setups, grouping similar shots to increase efficiency on set (laying the foundations for your production schedule).
How to make a shot list:
Use the free shot list template and sample documents provided to help you understand each element outlined below. The sample documents were made by producer Jacqui Doughty who has kindly allowed their use for educational purposes.
GUIDE TO USING THE SHOT LIST TEMPLATE
The first step is to fill out the scene, setup, shot and description.
This is the scene number as stated on the script. It may not be applicable for smaller productions (like a corporate shoot where scenes aren’t always used).
A new setup happens each time the camera is re-positioned or the lighting is changed.
Setups will later be used to rearrange and group shots into the most effective shooting order.
Each time you begin a new shot, increase the shot number by one. Some people like to reset the shot number for every new setup, but I prefer that each one has a unique number.
This is for reference to help you quickly get an idea of exactly what moment you’re at in the script. It can be an action, moment in time or piece of dialogue.
As you can see in the example below, working from a storyboard makes it incredibly easy to fill out these first 4 columns.
You can also add other elements to the storyboard, such as music cues, sound effects, voice-over and graphics.
For the full storyboard, see the download link above.
Remember, to stay organised:
“Every time you want to re-position the camera or change the lighting, increase the setup number by one.”
This is your practical consideration for what equipment will be supporting the camera, be it a tripod, Steadicam, dolly, or handheld. I usually begin with the ideal scenario, so if a drone is the best tool for the job I’ll put a drone. During the later stages you can tally associated costs on your shotlist, compare this with your budget and work out where compromises need to be made.
If your camera isn’t static, then it’s moving. You can include pans, tilts, tracks, jibs, or anything else that will help you easily identify what your camera should be doing.
- Camera Angle
This is the angle of the camera in relation to the subject. If the camera is lower than the subject, it’s a low angle. If it’s above the subject then it’s a high angle. As well as different heights, you can also include terms like birds-eye-view, over-the-shoulder (OTS) and point-of-view (POV).
- Shot Size
This is the size of your subject in the frame. It’s important to vary your shot sizes and the order in which you arrange them can have dramatically different effects. For example, a typical scene might start with a wide establishing shot, move in to a mid-shot of the subject, then a close up of the action. However, with creative license you should experiment with different combinations to get different results. Reversing the order and starting on a close up might build more anticipation as you gradually give context to the situation.
Try and think beyond just a wide shot being on a wide lens and a tight shot being on a telephoto. When you combine your lens choice (e.g. 24m, 50mm, 200mm) with your shot size (WS, MS, CU) you open up a whole range of creative options. For more on this, I suggest reading the section on Focal Length in this post.
- Time Estimate
Estimating how long it will take to setup each shot will inform your schedule and timings for the day. It will also let you know which shots are most time consuming if you need to cut back. In the example, the jib shot might take too long to set up and a similar shot could be achieved on a raised tripod.
I consider the above to be the fundamental elements of an effective shot list. You may however wish to add additional columns depending on the unique requirements of your production. These may include camera (if working with multiple cameras), sound requirements, cast, props and special effects. You can expand column M in the download to see these in the template.
When on set you can expand column J to fill out ‘Best Take’ and ‘Timecode’ to make your editor’s life easier. If you don’t have timecode, simply change it to ‘Clip’.
In the example provided you’ll see how the storyboard and shot list are really the backbone of the production. Using key information like setups it’s much easier to create department specific instructions, schedules and call sheets.
To see the video that was created from the sample documents, click here.
This post doesn’t stop here! Now you have all the tools to build your own shot list I’d love to hear from you. What does and doesn’t work for you? If you make use of the free template, send some feedback so we can improve it for everyone at The Five Day Film School.
If you found this useful, fill in your email below to subscribe to occasional updates. I’ll be sending out more free production templates over the coming weeks.