If you’re familiar with the intricacies of pre-production, you know that it’s very important to make up a shot list for your project. Regardless of whether it’s a small documentary or a large production with several dozen crew members, a shot list is key to keeping your production machine well-oiled.
In addition to keeping your shooting schedule organized and taking out a lot of the guesswork during production, you can get down to precisely which details you want for each shot, making it as seamless as it can be to move between sets and shoots. So what are the details you should include, and why? Let’s go over a bunch that you’d typically want to use, then you can add or subtract as many details as you want to make it work best for you.
Scene#: This represents the specific scene you’re shooting. It can be listed in numbers or letters, or you can color code them for each location if there’s no numbered order.
Shot#: This describes the shot within the scene. If you’ve got multiple angles, this is where you’d put that, usually as a letter or another type of symbol different than the scene number.
Location: The location/setting of the scene.
Camera: Which camera is being used. (You won’t need this if you’re shooting on the same camera the whole time.)
Lens: Which lens is being used.
Lighting: If you have specific lighting setups, here’s where you want to put that.
Framing: The shot’s composition details: MS (medium shot), WS (wide shot), ECU (extreme close up), etc. You can always reference our shot-types post for examples.
Camera/Actor Action: Describe the way the camera moves here, or the way the actors move within the frame. Dolly, locked town/tripod, gimbal left to right, and jib down are all examples of camera moves, and things like “Tammy walks from left to right through the frame” or “couple walks away from camera” are examples of actor actions. You may not need to write both types of actions if only one of these things is moving in the frame.
Description: This describes what’s happening in the scene, it’s less technical but can still be specific. For instance, the camera action is the technical part (“Tammy walks from left to right across the frame”), but the description says what the scene is about (“Tammy confronts Chris about the stolen art”).
Dialogue: Anything that is being said during the shot.
Actors/Subject: Who or what is in the shot, whether they’re main characters, non-named characters, or a b-roll shot of a different subject.
Props: Any props used in the scene.
Other: This is where you can talk about anything that’s not covered in the other details. You can include something that needs to happen in each scene (e.g. “Wait 2 seconds before moving the camera”).
Here is an example shot list for a completely made-up movie project. Yours may look something like this:
As you can see, not 100% of the boxes are filled out, and that’s because some of them don’t need to be. This is a very basic rundown, but you may want to do your own. The key is to find what works best for you and/or your crew.
Some other tips you may want to consider when making up your shot list:
If you’re not sure where to begin, you can get started by writing out all your locations and the types of shots you’d like to get in general. You can then whittle them down and/or associate each shot type with each location, then move all of that information over to your spreadsheet and extrapolate from there.
If you’ve always wanted to get, say, a gimbal shot going through a window, figure out which location will work for that and see if it makes sense in your narrative. Remember, motivation is important for your camera angles, so make them coherent and you should have an easier time figuring out your shots.
Leave yourself some room on your spreadsheet/list for improvised shots. A lot of times you may not know how a shot is going to look until you’re there, so be flexible and prepare to add, subtract, and modify on the fly. Just make sure to add the new shots to your sheet so you can always reference them later in re-shoots or post.
When your production is something like a stock video or commercial shoot, take a look at our shoot briefs to get a perfect starting guide.
If you’re shooting editorial/news footage, a lot of this advice still applies, but it’s much more difficult to plan for specific shots because the scene is usually out of your control. You can still plan to get specific shots like close ups of protest signs or high angles of flood waters, but the best you can do is write out your ideal shots so you have a good idea of what to do when you get into the situation.
Finally, to save yourself some of the effort of having to do all of this from scratch, there are also a number of apps out there that allow you to create shot lists and manage other parts of your production workflow with a single solution. Check out StudioBinder for a look at how this can simplify the process!