View Full Version : Shot lists, scene breakdowns...which is which, and what comes first?

Robert Martens
June 12th, 2005, 07:33 PM
Lovely. Another aspect of production that is "driving me crazy". I sense a pattern developing here. I have a very simple (by professional standards), short script that a friend and I are planning to shoot over a weekend or two in July. Nothing we can't handle without a good plan.

Of course, therein lies the problem.

I haven't got a clue when it comes to turning a regular script into a shooting script. For all the books I've read, it's still a mystery; I'm supposed to have the final draft of the normal script, with just the action and dialogue, then a scene breakdown with camera positions and moves, then a shot list, and finally a shooting script that comes from God-knows-where? I am quite confused. The fact that the book I read with the most detail on the subject uses the terms "scene" and "shot" interchangeably, leaving me to wonder which of the two I'm supposed to break the script into, is not helping. Last I checked, the two words meant different things, and by my measurements, my script has only two scenes, but a few dozen shots.

Do I cut up the script into both scenes and shots? Do I figure out the individual shots at the location, on the day of the shoot (I'm not too keen on that, I must say)? And what's this I hear about breaking scenes up into eighths of a page? After all the examination and calculation to figure out how many eighths a given scene is, what do you do with the number, aside from write it down on the script next to the scene? What does that accomplish?

For something as basic as what I'm doing, I'm sure my own preproduction methods would suffice, as I needn't show others how to do what I want to do, but I'd like to make sure "my own preproduction methods" aren't needlessly complex and wasteful. If I'm gonna spend hours upon hours breaking this thing down, I'd like to know I'm on the right track.

How have you guys overcome the confusion of this process?

K. Forman
June 12th, 2005, 07:56 PM
Your shot list would go hand-in-hand with your storyboard. Using your script, you do the dreaded storyboard, and come up with the shot list. For example, the first scene opens on a remote two lane hiway, as a semi blows by the camera. The camera then pans, revealing a rundown gas station. The next shot shows the clerk inside, doing paperwork at the counter.

Your storyboard would show the angles and framing for the scene. Your shotlist would then follow- a remothe hiway, a semi driving by, then the gas station, and the interior shot of the clerk.

The break down would decide what you need for the scene- The locations, the semi, the gas station, the clerk. Whatever needs to be in that scene, and the crew and equipment to shoot it. You might even include time of day and date in this list for scheduling.

Robert Martens
June 12th, 2005, 09:23 PM
I see; so the breakdown comes AFTER the shot list, and is per-scene, not per-shot?

I don't suppose you know where I could find some examples of this stuff, would you?

K. Forman
June 12th, 2005, 09:35 PM
Haven't got a clue... I make it up as I go ;)

But you would just go scene by scene, shot by shot. Break it down to the smallest detail. Scrutinise the script to the point of over scrutinizing it. The more details you find, the less likely you are to miss something. If you miss something during the shoot, you will have to either go back afterward and have everyone come back, or do without it.

I have an 83 page script I wrote, and made it just to pre-production before it got mothballed. I went as far as using the Farmer's Almanac to find the dates and times to get the right shots, and when pick up shots could be made. I went line by line, shot by shot, scene by scene, just to make sure I had everything scheduled, down to who had to be where and when they had to be there.

Robert Martens
June 12th, 2005, 09:41 PM
Heh...flying by the seat of our pants, that's the way to go! Guess I'll just dig through this thing with finer and finer combs 'til it's done. At least it's a tiny film, should be a good learning experience if nothing else.

I welcome further discussion, but thanks for the tips so far, Keith! I'll see what I can do!

K. Forman
June 12th, 2005, 09:43 PM
Any time, that's what this place is all about! Well... that and wild video parties in Miami :)

Bob Costa
June 12th, 2005, 09:47 PM
I am totally guessing here, but isn't the point of the whole preproduction exercise to make production efficient and not miss anything? So you want to have all of a scene together (cause its hard to pick up and move everyone), and then all your shots within a a scene together so you don't have to relight the same shot ten times. On more involved script, you would have location then scene then shot, as different scenes at same location may require different costumes, makeup, as well as possibly props and lighting. But you don't haul the whole production company around when it is easier for the actors to just change their clothing and hire a continuity person..

So the whole exercise is to get you as organized and efficent as possible, including having shots organized by setup so that you don't move crew/camera angles/lighting/props 85 times when 10 will do. And the camera is the easiest thing to move for reverse angles and such if you plan it in your shot list and storyboard, just so you don't relight.

I would guess there is no right answer but some are better than others.

K. Forman
June 12th, 2005, 09:58 PM
You are correct Bob. Sometimes, exterior and interior shots are miles apart.This is why you have to look at it bit by bit, while looking at the whole picture. If you have limited time at a location, and have 3 or 4 scenes that take place there, you do it at once, changing props and costumes as needed.

If you have the same location, but different scenes occur at different times, you can't sit around half a day waiting for the sun to go down. You schedule people to come back, and maybe even go to another location and shoot another scene.

Michael Wisniewski
June 12th, 2005, 10:58 PM
My big life lesson was that there's a big difference between having a plan and being prepared.

For me, the initial scene breakdown / shot list is just a plan, based on what I came up with in my head and wrote down on paper. But there's still a lot of confusion and ambiguity for me at that point because it's still just "theory".

To me being prepared means physically working out and experiencing the planned shots a day or two before actual production. I'll setup my camera in my living room with random volunteers and we'll work out the camera angles and lighting that way, so when the time comes, I have experience with what works and what doesn't.

At that point, I have a very solid shot list, that I'm confident in, with side notes on ideas that can be tried if time or opportunity allows. In addition, with that confidence I can clearly schedule out the shots for appropriate times.

As for the shooting script, as you can imagine, it's constantly in flux, usually my one copy is the "master" and is riddled with handwritten notes, which I never actually get around to inputting into the computer.

I also like to prep myself before a shoot by just going over the story with a friend, actually telling them the story, to review the emotional responses from an "audience", that way, my technical decisions are solidly driven by the story that's fresh in my head.

Well that seems to work for me anyway. Those steps really clear up the confusion of the process.

Heath McKnight
June 12th, 2005, 11:10 PM
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Best advice I've heard yet (from a retired fire fighter).

Here's what I do: break down the script to know how many scenes, where, when, etc., cast involved, props, etc., and more. Any weird camera moves (that's where the shot list or storyboards come in handy).

From that, you develop your schedule; do exteriors and hard/tough shots first, but plan if weather gets in the way. If it rains, will your locations that are inside be available to run over?

I try to do a shot list or storyboards first, not really both in my opinion, but sometimes I do them last, along with final schedule, because of script changes. But it's probably good to do the shot list or storyboards BEFORE the scheduling, maybe not really the break down.


Charles Papert
June 13th, 2005, 01:26 AM
Whatever works for you is fine. I can share with you guys that on a good size show, the AD's will break down the script with the input of the director but unless specific and less-than-obvious coverage is planned, independently of the shot list itself, which will often come after. The breakdown may be revised as a result. More often than not, a shooting day will start without a complete shot list. It's common for directors to have a rough idea of what they want from a scene but not have specific shots in mind; those will be determined after watching the rehearsal. The mantra is: rehearse, block, light, shoot; with the final shot list for the scene developed after or during the blocking stage.

Some directors work from storyboards, others don't, or may have a few critical scenes boarded. Some may know exactly what the shots will be ahead of time, others would rather leave it up to the DP to develop for them on the day.

Heath McKnight
June 14th, 2005, 08:27 AM

Thanks for the insight!


Karl Heiner
June 14th, 2005, 07:33 PM
i shoot mostly in theater/ studio settings, but allways sit in to see at least one rehearsal. bin taking notes, storyboard, props, where and who are the principles, enter/ exit they from the left or right..etc


Robert Martens
June 16th, 2005, 06:59 PM
I'd like to say a belated "thank you" to all those who have responded--sorry I couldn't reply sooner, this information should prove very useful. I've been working on a shot list, and it's only getting easier, especially now that the pressure's off me to do it the "standard" way. Finding out that even seasoned vets do this kinda thing in whatever way they're most comfortable is a big relief, lemme tell ya.

Joshua Provost
June 16th, 2005, 07:13 PM

I'll share the way I have been working lately.

From the final draft of the script I draw up the storyboards. Not general boards, but shot by shot, cut by cut, how I want the shots. Number the boards, then group them by setup, meaning all the shots that have the same camera position and lighting.

Now you should have a list of setups, and for each setup a list of shots you need to get from that setup.

On a recent shoot, I had something like 80 shots, from 25 or so setups. I did the grouping in advance, so I only had to move the camera 25 times, and avoided having to move it back and forth between the same spots repeatedly, as I did in earlier productions that weren't as well planned.

It's invaluable to have a script supervisor or assistant director who can keep track of the script, storyboards, and setup/shot list, and check the shots off as you get them.


Rob Lohman
June 17th, 2005, 04:06 AM
Okay, how about we expand this a little bit with this:

When do you start a new "scene".

For example. A woman and a man are talking in the living room. During the
conversation he moves to the kitchen. She follows and the talk is continued

If we see the man exit (but the camera does not follow), we then see her
exit and we cut to the kitchen. Is the kitchen a new scene? (I think it is,
because it is a new location).

If that is so. What now if we decided to shoot it with a steadicam that
follows them from the living room to the kitchen? Is it now just the one scene?

Joshua: thanks for the info. However, you say 80 shots with 25 setups. That
is an average 3.2 shots per setup. I'm wondering for what "kind" of movie you
get this. Because for the work I've done almost every single shot changes
the camera setup (unless you count the cutting forth and back between
two people talking [ie over the shoulder shots] as different shots?).

Now that is not to say that I can't imagine multiple shots with the same
setup, but I'm not seeing this happen very often.

Could you describe some of the multiple shots you are having for that movie
in a single setup?


p.s. perhaps my definition of shot (or scene, or setup) is different than yours
(or somebody else's)....

K. Forman
June 17th, 2005, 06:51 AM
I'm sure most peoples definitions are different. What you described above, could be taken as two scenes, or one. Personally, if it were same physical location, in most cases I would consider it one scene. It really depends on the story, and locations.

Patrick King
June 17th, 2005, 07:41 AM
Is there some reasonably priced piece of software that walks you through this process?

Script > storyboard > scene list > shot list

Joshua Provost
June 17th, 2005, 10:42 AM
Rob, you are right. When I say shot, I meant more along the lines of a cut, because it's based off the storyboards, which were also cut by cut.

However, there were also shots that had the same setup that were separated in the script and in "time." Like a set of shots that occur in the beginning of the film and reoccur at the end of the film. Planning ahead prevented us from having to move back and forth to that position, if we had been shooting strictly chronologically according to the script.

Robert Martens
June 17th, 2005, 11:01 AM
Ooh, that might make it easier...I had been doing it shot-by-shot, and trying to connect all the interweaving cuts into coherent shots in my head (I might have a dozen cuts for a two person conversation, but only two shots), but getting all the cuts on paper first seems like a smarter idea. I could then note, after getting it all written down, which cuts were from the same camera position, then modify the list.