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Storyboards & Coverage: Who's responsible?


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#1 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 08:25 PM

I was given an opportunity this weekend to DP a NO/LOW budget 10-15 minute short (my first formal project): 19 scenes, 9 locations, 8 actors, a few extras, a relatively inexperienced Director/Producer, a decent 2 person sound crew, a PA and a few extra hands to help me move lights, etc (I'm also responsible for lights, no grips or other light experience on set).

**keep in mind that I was originally signed on to do 2nd camera and assist the DP so I could have hands on learning before walking on to an actual set as DP, however, the DP flaked at the very last second, literally the night before... well, I knew I had enough knowledge to not totally screw it up, and I think I did well enough all things considered, i.e. I could have had storyboards, familiarity with the script and locations, better lighting, better coverage, etc, but all in all I got some good shots and some good lighting given I had to walk on cold to these locations and the story).


So, with that being said, I do have a couple of questions:


STORYBOARDS and COVERAGE: I realize that storyboards are not always done, but I seem to have this idea in my head that the Director should have the primary vision of how the shots will unfold, literally down to the cuts, i.e. the coverage that is needed to be to ensure the editor can realize the director's vision. On that note, is it normally the Director who storyboards? Also, does the Director "normally" know the coverage necessary to ensure smooth sailing for the editor? I realize that the lines aren't black & white, but I'm wondering what is typical if there is such a thing as "typical"? I'm also curious about the fact the we had our editor on location but he didn't seem to know what shots he would need to get smooth/motivated cuts and transitions? As time goes on I expect to know (and should know) as much as humanly possible about what an editor will need and also what a director should need, but is it unrealistic to expect more from them as well?

I was reading the Northfork article: http://www.cinematog...cles/northfork/ , and saw that David Mullen (the DP) created the storyboards, so.... I guess there are variations on what is "normal"?


Thanks in advance for your comments and experience.

~Shawn

Edited by Shawn Murphy, 19 January 2006 - 08:26 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 10:43 PM

The director is ultimately responsible for covering a scene so that it will cut properly, according to his or her vision for the film and its cutting style. Now whether he defers a lot of this responsibility depends on the director, but nature abhors a vacuum, so the DP should be ready to help the director out with determining the coverage, or else the AD or script supervisor will take the job on themselves (or even the actor.) It's important that the director maintain the semblance or illusion of creative control, so often a DP will help the director out behind-the-scenes (or more overty, in discussion on the set in front of everyone.) Now whether that help is in terms of shot lists or storyboards, it just depends.

Some directors are experienced enough to either have a workable (i.e. achievable and efficient) shot list for every day, or know how to block and plan coverage on the spot -- usually a mixture. Some scenes need more pre-planning than others.

Some directors could figure this all out for themselves, but prefer the DP's input on this, or even input from the production designer, editor, stunt coordinator, etc. They want to see if anyone else has a better idea.

If storyboards are done, more often or not they are done by the director (if he has a talent for it, or not, but likes doing it) or a storyboard artist hired by the director, although technically the job falls under the art department. The advantage of the DP getting involved is to steer things towards the lightable and photographable, if you know what I mean, plus have some visual design input. So for myself, it's an advantage to be able to storyboard, and if not, to be able to work out shot lists and understand blocking and covering. All in collaboration with the director. Some directors will require that we agree in advance on every shot I go off to draw, while others will tell me a few shots that they really want and let me figure out the gaps, plus come up with something better if it occurs to me.

Today, before the film I was doing got cancelled, I was drawing storyboards for a picnic / county fair scene. The villian is cooking BBQ when an accomplice comes up and shows him some poison that he bought to kill the hero. As I was drawing the frames, sort of basic coverage, I drew some smoke wafting through the shot (because of the BBQ grill) when it occurred to me that some heat wave distortion would not only be motivated, but give the impression that the villian was "in hell" so to speak. But this simple visual idea only occured to me while drawing; it may have not occured to me on the set. For the next scene, I was suddenly inspired to draw the figures in silhouette as if they had walked under a tent roof at the fair -- nothing like that is mentioned in the script but the director had encouraged me to think of ways to sneak some film noir elements into scenes. So now that I had an idea in pre-production, there is time for me to coordinate things with the art department, like needing a tent to walk under, or sterno cans to create heat waves under the lens, etc.

The sort of ideas that occur to you on the set, while working fast, are different than the sort of ideas that come to you with long, slow contemplation at your leisure. Not necessarily better or worse ideas, just a different area of your brain at work probably, compared to the think-on-your-feet part used on the set. You need to exercise both forms of imagination, both to be able to pre-visualize weeks in advance while sitting at a desk or driving, and while working on the set with actors, responding to what is happening right in front of your eyes. Being a graphic artist since childhood, the pre-visualizing aspect and design work comes easier to me, which is why I've spent more time training the side of me that has to improvise and deal with immediate problems of the set.
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#3 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 12:50 AM

Greatly appreciated David, and indeed I would prefer to discuss any potential holes in the Director's vision off set and not cause any doubt for the actors.



Regarding the Editor: Is it reasonable to expect an Editor who happens to be on set to know the kind of coverage that will help or hinder them? I guess in the end I will always do my best to know what coverage I believe is necessary, and if I have a good Director and sufficient lead time I will know the story and the Director's vision well enough to identify any gaps in the shot list or storyboards long before we get to a location.

On a related note, I believe it was Murch who said he prefers to not be on set at all so that he can approach the edit without any knowledge of the "drama" or potentially influencing discussions that may have occurred on set.
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#4 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 02:06 AM

I really have no drawing talent at all, so my involvement in the story boarding process has tended to be limited.

On my current project the director and myself worked in a 3d program to create scale story boards to help us with the early part of film which has some complicated moves that we wanted to see if they were really even possible to shoot based on the space.

We did this for a little, which is obviously very time consuming but very helpful in pre-visualizing some complex stuff. For later coverage we just simply shot-listed it.

The director noted that working with the DP so closely on the story boards was great compared to just handing him story boards that he made with a story board artist.

He said it was not only the better communication of what we both want, but also, as David points out, keeping things somewhat grounded in the realistically photographable, as well as creative input.

I have found that some directors just know what they will need and some don?t. The ones that do can really plan their coverage more efficiently than the ones that don't. Often the ones who have this ability also have a background in editing their own work, or working as an editor.

I would expect an editor to know the bare bones of what he needs to cut a scene. I would also expect that from the director and DP. I would hope, but not expect that an editor is really able to get beyond bear bones as far as what works and doesn?t coverage wise.


Kevin Zanit
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#5 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 03:15 AM

Thanks Kevin, I just found out that for the remaining two shoot days the Director has postponed and now I'll have the opportunity to sit down with her and the Editor and go over the remaining shots and also create storyboards, which I might do myself, but with them there (even quick sketches with stick figures will be better than nothing). I'll also now have a chance to either go to the physical locations or have some stills sent my way.

Thanks again.

~Shawn
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