First thing I should say before storyboarding anything.
Do you care enough about the subject matter to do it?
If you are NOT EMOTIONALLY INVESTED in the material, forget it. All directing is artistic vision/emotionally meaningful characters/gut passion. It is ethereal. In flux. Storyboarding begins to draw from this creative pool to turn words into moving images; storytelling your way. It is sublime, certainly for the best directors; they LOVE IT. It is exciting - like falling in love! - each time you come to a new project. As you dig deep into the flesh of your story, you hopefully will uncover your distinctive storytelling language using the camera as cipher.
For me, I storyboard because the story demands it. If it does not, I probably should drop the project. I am its servant for the period of the production. My storyboard displaces the real world. Intense, involving, invading my stream of conciousness and day to day life. If you have feelings like this then trust me you will make something to be proud of.
What is it?
An example is shown above, which I will discuss in more detail later.
It is the closest I'll ever get to being a comic book artist! I grew up on Steve Ditko and Stan Lee and spent my formative years leafing though piles of Marvel back issues.
A storyboard is a series of small drawings which describe the action of a story. As a director, the storyboard is an essential tool which enables you to take 2D story and begin shaping it in the real world.
Storyboarding is also a useful way to learn how to tell stories.
Not all directors use it to the same extent. Those who appear not to prefer a different style of directing, for example, directors like Wernor Herzog are renowned for their use of intuition on-set with actors. These guys have a lot of experience and storyboard in their head as they go along, for sure!
One way or another the storyboard is here to stay, so, if you are a budding director, get to it!
For those who are less experienced it is better to start with a one minute story to practice storyboarding. Be willing to leave it for day or two before going back to it. It is like shuffling cards. New cards appear. The old hand is discarded. Gradually, an efficient storyboard will appear which best shapes your story.
The storyboard I published in this blog is the opening sequence of my current short film project Invisible. It is about Homeless Man and Street Magician and their strange, surreal relationship, which unfolds in a world where rubbish and those who live among it are all too easily discarded.
I begin with images of their legs, as Homeless Man (HM) and Street Magician (SM) are contrasted: HM is plodding along pushing his laden shopping trolley and SM's body is animated as she performs her street show. Towards the end of this sequence, we see their relationship is converging. Both are in search of sustenance. HM from the nearby rubbish bin, SM as she peers inside her top hat looking for donations.
With any storyboard, start with the few pristine images. Others that appear later can serve to link the action to keep the story moving forward.
With my short film Invisible pristine images were of HM and SM and their personal connection with their bin and top hat, respectively.
Develop your images keeping in mind this rule: meaningfully connected action and reaction (not necessarily linear) makes a good story grow. Your storyboard should get artistically satisfying as you make adjustments between images.
I chose a closeup of HMs hand wiping his hungry mouth, and a wide shot of the SM magic show, and an emotional reaction by SM as her top hat is clumsily kicked over by a passer-by. This way the audience comes to identify with what is important to each character.
As you become more proficient you can introduce movement into your storyboarding.
Arrows can show direction of motion. An arrow can either follow the audience's gaze as the camera (which is your tool of translation, your chisel to stone) moves across the image, or it can indicate movement within the drawing of characters and objects.
Self Help Rules
These are the basic requirements.
1. A decent story! A storyboard can enhance a rubbish story but, in the final analysis, your audience will know something isn't working. A meaningful connection between action and reaction is key.
In my working example for Invisible, Street Magician reacts to a passer-by who kicks over her top hat, which leads her to pick it up and look sadly inside to find it empty, just as Homeless Man finds his bin empty, too.
2. Locations. Vital. Really, you cannot storyboard properly until you know the limits of space and depth, such as the arrangement of corridors and doorways and walls. This is the world you are going to cram your story inside. Hopefully the location will inspire your storyboard to maximize the drama, while exploring its subtext and mood.
3. Know your characters in terms of emotion and motivation. How you choose to place a character can be more informative than their dialogue. After all, this is primarily a visual medium.
4. Props are unsung heroes. They get a bit neglected. I am always looking for unexpected ways to recruit these tidbits on-set. Do not get me wrong. Props are used, sometimes brilliantly. I just do not think they have been fully explored in film.
5. You should have a keen sense of the unitary whole of your story, which you are reverse engineering through storyboarding.
You are chopping the whole up into manageable pieces, which means you as director have control over exactly how each piece (image) will look. A jigsaw piece is one image in your storyboard, and you will have so many choices to make in terms of its size and shape, focus and emphasis, format and content, that it will seem daunting.
So - take your time.
Do not try to storyboard the whole story at once. You need breaks. Rest. Time to sleep on it.
Storyboarding is an art form. Treat it with respect.
6. At some stage in your storyboarding your unconscious will take over.
I have woken up often in the middle of the night suddenly knowing what I must do in order to solve a storyboard block. A stilted moment of action which does not quite flow into the next image. New images and ways of crafting your jigsaw puzzle can arrive even while taking a shower! As your subconscious pours over your storyboard, which is a highly rewarding experience, it harmonizes your story. In surprising ways the jigsaw pieces move and accommodate, switch and swap, until they feel just right.
At this stage your script is becoming "real"!
8. It goes without saying, as with all art, rework your storyboard. The first version is
Do you have a decent storyboard?
How will you know?
Instinct. You are a creative artist.
Your story should leap out from the first image. Then in every subsequent frame something important should demonstrate the theme, highlight the story's character, and show meaningful action, etc. It should startle you sometimes, and be visually clear so that you can now see the movie in your head.
Individual shots and camera positions will stop being vague. They will suddenly become naturally fixed. The best directors want one camera position for the shot as they believe this is the best way for their story to be told.
Having a decent storyboard under your belt is a powerful calling card.
You can get a creative team together, as they will hopefully be inspired to get involved.
Creative types know something good when it comes along. Your passion and inspiration can be conveyed far more convincingly with a good storyboard, which means you have more chance of success!
Armed with your storyboard, the script, and a bit of footage, you can try and get investment, perhaps a crowdfunding campaign off the ground, or go straight to producers who make this type of film.
1.You need to be a decent drawer. I am not! My Director of Photography has to sit me down to go through my storyboard! A very important and professional approach to filmmaking anyway, so do not worry if you find yourself explaining your scrawled images to others.
2. Storyboarding is a valid learning tool. It will make you a better director so always try to do your best. If you are lucky enough to have a real budget then of course you can employ a professional storyboard artist.
3. Keep flexible. Once you get on-set things can and should change. A storyboard is your friend. Do not make it your inflexible enemy. Sticking to something that clearly is causing a lot of headaches should be avoided, unless you are 100 percent sure the sacrifice will be worth it. Events such as unpredictable weather can offer new ways of seeing the story. A good storyboard can adapt.
I hope this short tour of the storyboard will help in your directing film.