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The Importance of Storyboarding

neil-buchananWARNING: This blog will not give you the ability to draw, Neil Buchanan-esq magic will not flow through your finger tips to your HB pencil after reading this – SORRY! Hopefully what this blog will do is to draw your attention (see what I did there) to the benefits of storyboarding, regardless of ability or confidence.

1. Storyboarding makes you concentrate on the visuals.

“But film is a predominately a visual medium so aren’t I doing that already?” I hear you ask. No, you may not, or at least, not as much as you think you are. It’s exactly because film relies so heavily on visuals that you should do all you can to focus your attention on it. Storyboarding shows you how a film flows from shot to shot.

TL - panel 36

2. It can help Cinematographer/Director relationships

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic DOPs but none of them (and I think they’d agree with me) are mind readers. Don’t assume your DOP will just pluck the shots out of your head. Remember that they are bringing a lot of creativity to the set too and they may see the scene and/or shot in a slightly different way to you; don’t make your jobs more difficult than it already is. Storyboards can make sure you’re on the same page and help start some stimulating discussions about how to shoot a scene.

3. Storyboards can give you confidence

The same goes for any amount of planning you put into your film. As soon as I was happy with the script, I started storyboarding my film Time Lapse. I did it because I wanted people to see what I saw when they thought about the film. It gave me confidence and more importantly, it showed people I had put the time in, I was willing to agonise over the visuals.


It took me 3 months and over 100 panels but it was worth it, the whole thing was incredibly empowering. Storyboarding made me understand my film inside and out and I was confident. If you’re confident about you’re work, other people are willing to be confident about you, and that can get you a long way!

4. Storyboards highlight mistakes

As soon as I finished my 100 panels I was able to share my vision with the DOP, Make Up Artist, Costume Designer and with it there was a lot of discussion about which shots/scenes could be improved or altered. The ink had dried but the storyboards were forever changing; it was only from seeing it before shooting it I could save myself a MASSIVE headache and improve my film before we even picked up a camera. This brings me on to my final point.

5. Be prepared for change

You can imagine after 3 months of hand drawing each character, every background and photoshopping each panel, I was very precious over my work. I soon realised however that If I wasn’t adaptable, all of the hard work spent would be wasted because I’d be making the process about me and not about making a good film. Film is a very organic process; remember, you’re not the Messiah, you’re a very naughty boy (Monty Python). And by that I mean remember you’re constantly learning and your storyboard is just a step along the way, not the destination itself. Change your storyboard where possible because it will develop in some surprising ways if you keep your mind open…especially to criticism.

A Filmmaker’s Execution: Advice on originality

I think I was seeing double at that point, night shoots are a killer!
I think I was seeing double at that point, night shoots are a killer!

I was in a meeting a few weeks ago and someone asked “What makes the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ film?” Luckily someone jumped in as I paused for thought too long, trying and simultaneously failing to find the best Aristotle quote on good vs bad. My mind runs on Windows 98 on the best of days. To put the question in to context, it was in relation to the ‘process vs product’ debate; do filmmakers find virtue and meaning by simply making regardless of standard of film produced? Of course they do. Process vs Product is quite an interesting topic and I will write about it in the near future i’m sure. ANYWAY… We meandered  around the conversation until we arrived at the subheading ‘Originality’ to which someone said

I always find that originality comes from the execution, not the idea

Think about that. Isn’t that a wonderful way of looking at your work? With nearly every story done to death how is it that original work keeps emerging? It has to be from the individuals involved hasn’t it? When I think about it it’s quite naive to think a killer script is all that will launch you into the upper echelons of the film elite.

emperorFurthermore, I can imagine that most filmmakers can liken one of their screenings to a form of execution, I know I have. You wait until the credits role, the ‘Good Standards’ Emperor in the Gods gives you a thumbs up or thumbs down depending on the crowd’s reaction. The thumbs by the way in modern times now look remarkably like the You Tube ‘thumb’ icons.

Yes the guillotine and hang rope have been replaced with dislikes and trolling; the only notable difference it seems is that with the former you’re out of your misery, if you get the latter then you’ll really have to suffer!

So how do you create original work?

1. YOU are original.

Nevermind the camera, the software or even the story, it’s YOU that has to be the winning feature. If you can’t shoot on a RED, fine shoot on another camera. Can’t use FCP X? Edit on something else. If you’re at a point where you can be replaced then you’re in trouble. Don’t for a minute assume you know it all but recognise that your take on the film is unique.

My latest film Time Lapse uses the ‘found footage’ device, a technique that’s common in the Horror genre. I use it because I know  it’s crucial to my storytelling and I know that because I understand what my story is really about. This brings me to my next point…

2. Know the truth behind your story

I learnt this lesson from BAFTA award winning writer Geoff Thompson. I was fortunate enough to meet him last year and he spoke about the search for truth and how to identify it in your work. OK, my film has recognisable traits to the horror genre but it’s not a film about found footage it’s really a film about fear and I use to explore my thoughts of the effects of fear on the human psyche. The Shawshank Redemption isn’t about prison it’s about hope. There’s a single truth to most films, you just have to look a little deeper.

3. Plan to be original

Don’t confuse ‘Originality’ with ‘Spontaneity’. Sure, spontaneity can conjure some highly creative solutions however to rely on it to always be the ‘ace up your sleeve’ is just plain stupid. Planning actually highlights all the un-original areas of your film just as much as the original areas.

IMG_1340For Time Lapse, I storyboarded the entire film because I wanted to see how the film would flow on paper before I picked up a camera, it was a great starting point for my camera crew and I to work from and it gave me heaps of confidence!

So let’s recap…

Relise that you have an original take on the world that no one else does. Know what your story is really about and consider how you’ll stay true to that knowledge. Plan as much as you can because it makes being original more achievable.

“A poor original is better than a good imitation.”
― Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Time Lapse Wrapped

That’s it, 16 months of pre-production and filming and it’s in the can…or rather on the hard drive. In efforts to regain my sanity I took a break between the end of shooting and the start of post-production so I could create this website. I’ve been saving blogs, behind the scenes photos and videos so I can share my journey so please check out the site so you can see how we got to this point and how much further we need to go! I’d like to thank my family for their unshakable faith in me, my girlfriend for her tireless love and support. I’d like to thank all of the people who have helped shape my thoughts, beliefs and ideas throughout this process and thank The Rural Media Company for their generosity and support. Finally, I’d like to thank my crew, they’ve given me so much and I continue to learn from their insight and passion for filmmaking.

Advice, guidance and stories for the professional filmmaker