Pre-Production: The Importance of a Shot List

By Phil Short, Video Director

Video has no doubt become the most engaging and effective method of storytelling that people and businesses use to convey a message to viewers. With so many videos being made and content being shared, a lot of businesses are trying to figure out how to do it themselves.

The process of video production can be a daunting one. A production can arguably be as simple as someone with a smartphone shooting a quick vlog post in their bedroom to as complex as a movie set in Hollywood. The differences between those levels of production are vast but one thing that all successful video productions should be doing is spending the necessary time in the pre-production phase. One of the most vital steps of pre-production is a shot list.

A shot list is typically put together after you have finalized your script or at least some kind of vision board that allows you to decide what footage you need to capture to tell your story, and at its simplest form is a checklist for production. It includes information that instructs the production crew of all the details they need to know to get the right shot, at the right location, with the right equipment and also in the most efficient order.

Let’s break down the components of a basic shot list and along the way, discuss the benefits of each so you can decide what information you might want to use on your next project.

Scene/Shot/Take Numbers Not all productions will require you to label your shot list via scene, shot and take number, but this can be extremely helpful to keep everything organized through the life of the production. This naming convention can then be integrated with your import/log process of the footage after the shoot and no matter who ends up handling the post-production, there will be no question what each and every video clip is and what order it is intended to be edited in.

Location Including the location of each preferred shot in your shot list can help divide up your production day(s) in the most efficient way possible. Let’s say your story starts outside at a park, then moves to a coffee shop, then ends up back at the park. The shot list order should always be organized around the best way to capture the best version of each shot and in the most efficient order for production. This will allow less set up and strike time for the crew, fewer instances of traveling between locations, and helps to consider all variables related to the location of each shot.

Talent Who will be on camera? Similar to location, knowing who will be on camera can be a variable used to decide shot order. This will also be used to create the call-times for talent.

Interior/Exterior Specifying whether a shot is occurring inside or outside is very helpful in determining what gear will be needed to bring on set. Specifying time of day can help in considering the amount of sunlight that will be available during production, which is a very important factor when shooting outdoors than indoors, for instance.

Shot Size/Framing Now we’re getting into the fun stuff.  How will you want to frame the shot? Wide shot? Mid-close? Over the shoulder? Outlining the framing of each shot before you’re on set can save huge amounts of time during the shoot and can really position you for success during the editing process. I prefer to think of the most pivotal shots in the story and outline the framing of those first, then work around those shots to move into and out of those pivotal frames.

Equipment For low-budget productions, the equipment can be as simple as an iPhone, but outlining any specific equipment that is required for each shot can help organize what needs to be prepped and packed along for the shoot. You don’t want to be the reason why a shoot is delayed because no one brought the necessary camera or piece of lighting gear. It can add up very quickly in production costs for simply not planning appropriately. A comprehensive shot list can do wonders when creating your gear list, so don’t skip this step!

Duration Including the expected length of a shot can have a large effect on the equipment that is required for the shoot. Many shots are 2-5 seconds long, but others can be a static interview set up that lasts as long as an hour.

Sound Depending on the size of your crew, detailing sound requirements will indicate to the sound engineer whether or not the subject on camera or the scene itself needs to have the production audio captured and what kind of gear will be required. This will also be important to know if it needs to be “quiet on the set” for audio isolation purposes of a given shot. Sound quality is often neglected with low-budget productions and can have a dramatic negative effect on the overall viewing experience of your content. Go the extra mile when it comes to capturing quality sound, and you won’t regret it.

Not all of this information may be required for your shot list, especially if you aren’t working on a movie set. But the next time you’re thinking about starting any kind of video, think through your project and come up with a shot list when preparing for your production date(s). You’ll find that the fewer details you have to be thinking about on the shoot day, the more you’ll be able to actually be in the moment on set and be sure that you captured every scene, shot, and take.