Storyboarding And The Creative Process

When I worked as an actor in television, I was always fascinated by the matchstick drawings that I observed on the reverse side of director’s scripts. This was accompanied by camera angles and a strange abbreviated language, enabling the director to see how the shots would cut together.

Now that I am a director myself, passionate about drama, I fully comprehend both the language and importance of storyboarding. But is this production process always necessary, and how should students be best encouraged to master its art?

It really depends on the genre. ENG (electronic news gathering) has to be produced at great speed, as the news is breaking, and therefore provides no time to storyboard. The art of telling the story is down to the skills of the journalist and the editor.

So what about documentary? The essence and power of documentary is to observe and reveal information. By its very nature, it can’t rely on a script or rigid story structure, as this can only be fully determined once all the footage has been shot. However, where students are concerned, knowing the aim and objective of their documentary programme, plus clear pre-production planning, may allow for a rough storyboard that will help reveal and shape the overall structure.

Where storyboarding is most useful, is any programme or film that is fictional. This includes drama and music videos, the latter being a genre that a lot of students are encouraged to create.

Storyboarding is a process that helps the film-maker see the piece as a whole, and the advantage of this, is that it makes the film shoot focused and precise, and ensures that no time is wasted shooting extraneous material that will only ever be good for the cutting room floor.

Above all, storyboarding is a discipline that encourages you to think ‘visually’. By translating what you see in your ‘minds eye’ into a framed image, it reveals the dynamic of your story, and whether or not you have achieved the desired effect. Should you use a mid-shot or a close up, a high or low angle, a static or moving shot, and will it cut together?

It is a very creative process and one with which students can have great fun. However, the temptation is to overlook the storyboard and rush out with the camera. So how do we get students really appreciating the importance and creativity of a good storyboard?

Some may be self-conscious about their lack of drawing skills. Frustrating though this can be, and here I speak from personal experience, it shouldn’t stop anyone from telling a visually powerful story illustrated by a storyboard.

Alternatively, students might be held back by a lack of understanding regarding how the camera can be used to manipulate an audience and create dynamic. This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. You can only really understand the camera and the requirements of visual storytelling once you have experienced editing, and you can only edit creatively, once you understand how the camera has been used to create a specific dynamic or impact.

So, how do you best organise the workflow and learning process with regard to storyboarding? Should students first learn the language and techniques of the camera, or begin with the creative power of editing, or simply dive headlong into drawing their story in a series of frames? If you have any thoughts or experience, please be bold and share it.

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Many thanks for you patience.
Kind regards,
Mike - Media4ed.

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