The way we develop movies over here (I guess it’s the same in the states) is a pretty antiquated beast. The template for a movie, for the vast majority of its gestation period, is 100 pages of courier 10pt.
I’ve always found this a little bizarre. Film is a visual medium, with light and movement and music and sound and fury, and yet the best blueprint we can come up with is a paper (or nowadays PDF) script. Words on a page. It’s kind of like composing a piece of music by writing a series of notes on a stave, without tinkering around on a piano to see if they sound good together. Don’t get me wrong, there are some people who’ll come out of that process with a symphony, but for most people you’re gonna end up somewhere between free jazz, and a bag of angry cats.
Once everyone’s decided that your script blueprint works, and you’re into the next stage of the process, ie. budgeting and scheduling the shoot, often you produce a set of storyboards – which is a kind of cartoon strip telling the story of the film, and suggesting the camera angles and movement for each setup.
Directors each have a different approach to storyboarding. Some will storyboard the movie to the last detail and the shoot becomes a process of simply committing that to film (…'simply’, hah!). Others prefer to keep things a little looser on set, allowing more room for improvisation, and to react to things as they arise.
They are, of course, wrong.
‘Keeping things loose’ on set generally means shooting slows to half speed, as the director has now decided that a shot of the lead actor from between the slices of a British rail ham sandwich is the only way to convey his inner torment, and the entire morning is spent gaffer-taping Sunblest to the camera lens.
But even with the most board-shy, producer-hating directors (god forbid we should know how the movie’s gonna be shot), in order to budget things like visual fx (digital) and special fx (physical), at the very least the relevant Heads of department need to know what’s going to be seen on camera for each shot, so these sequences need to be fairly closely storyboarded.
We were lucky enough to work with a wonderful artist called Douglas Ingram, whose previous work included ‘The King’s Speech’ and ‘Batman’.
You can see a page from his storyboards here: