Plan First, Film Later

December 7, 2009 at 9:42 am Leave a comment

Plan First, Film LaterWith the availability of technology and equipment today, anyone can grab a camera, think of an idea, and step up to create some fantastic films … and some not so fantastic. However, even budding Spielbergs and Scorseses have to start somewhere. Whether you are a student or an educator, the following tips, hints and techniques will assist you in the disciplined planning process of filmmaking.

Most of us have been raised with video our entire lives, and we can tell the difference between homemade films and a major motion picture. But how can those of us just starting out give a professional style to our work? No matter how expensive the camera or how large the size of your filmmaking budget – a successful film is all a matter of planning!

Just like in anything we do, we need to have a plan. When filmmaking, even the professionals start on paper as they create a script and storyboard in a process known as pre-production.

Scripts for film, television and even commercials are crucial to the collaborative process, and all are very similar in style. But scriptwriting is an art form, and creating art is never easy. Decide on a simple story if you are just starting, and experiment with dialogue and characters. If you need help drumming up an idea, talk to your peers, watch your favorite films, and find something that inspires you. Or, you might already have the idea for your script and just need help with the formatting.

General script resources and templates are available on-line on sites such as and, both great for finding tools and utilities for first time filmmakers. A plethora of script examples exist online that you can view for inspiration.

Once a script is in place, it is time to storyboard, the process of creating a graphic organizer of illustrations or images in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing your film. Again, there are countless resources online, such as the extensive American Film Institute Education Process Handbook, which demonstrates best practices and a storyboard glossary of common film shots. This handbook is a great tool if you are thinking about teaching film in the classroom.

Your storyboard should read almost like a comic book as it displays the action and dialogue from your script. Remember, you don’t have to be able to draw to create a storyboard: some filmmakers create graphic novels, and some simply draw squares on paper and use stick figures to get their point across. As long as you deliver the concept, it doesn’t matter which medium you use. Be sure that you are paying attention to the types of shots you use to tell your story. This will help you organize your shots when you have the camera in hand and are ready to film. To help, look at some existing storyboards and notice how camera angles change and the images show motion without ever moving.

With a plan in hand, your vision is complete even before capturing it on film. Resist the urge to just grab a camera and go –– pre-production is the key to success. Disciplined, educated filmmakers will take the time to plan their vision and subsequently create a stronger film. To some new filmmakers, it may seem like an extra step, but it means the difference between amateur and budding star. You will see the difference in your film, and so will your audience.


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