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*Updated October 2021

Some parts of the creative process just aren’t fun.

Every filmmaker is different — you have your own habits, quirks, and preferences. But one thing everyone struggles with is the process of production scheduling, organizing each shoot, and then making sure the cast and crew are fully prepared each step of the way.

Of course, big-budget Hollywood films have the benefit of an entire sub-industry of support personnel. Even indie films or ad agencies designate people as production assistants to help things go smoothly.

 

 

Unfortunately, if you’re on a small team (or a team of one), that might not be an option. Sometimes the only person scheduling and organizing a shoot is you. And in that case, a little bit of help can go a long way in making your job easier.

A detailed shot list can be a lifesaver. On one hand, it’s an excuse to visualize each shot. On the other hand, it makes you think through what gear you need with you if you want to get the footage you need.

But actually building a shot list can be a pain. Without the right direction, your “list” can quickly become a spider web of post-it notes and ideas.

So let’s make it easier for you: Here is a shot list template that will save you time and brainpower. And if you stick around, I’ll also walk you through the details of the template and how to use it in every project.

 

 

Who this guide is for

Maybe you’ve been in the film industry for years now. Or maybe your creative expertise leans more toward corporate video production or wedding videography. 

Whatever the case, it’s not as if you reach a point in your career where you no longer need to use shot lists. 

If you’re unfamiliar with shot lists, it’s pretty much what the name implies. This tool is a detailed chart that breaks down the specifics of what goes into filming each location, scene, and shot. (It can also serve as a schedule, with dedicated time slots to make the most of natural light.)

This document adds structure to any production with a camera involved, which is to say that no amount of accolades or experience can replace it.

If you’ve been looking for a new shot list template or creating one from scratch every week, this guide is our way of helping you simplify and streamline your workflow.

We’ve created a shot list template that you can adapt for any project — whether it’s a film, YouTube video, TV commercial, or something as short form as a social media video. (If camera shots and angles are involved, this template covers it.) 

Think of our template as a launching point. Take the elements that you like and leave the ones you don’t. Ultimately, what matters is that you have the tools you need to breeze through pre-production and production with the footage you need for post-production.   

  • Why so many different creators use shot lists
  • 4 things to keep in mind when creating your shot list
  • Tips for using our shot list template
  • Tools that keep you creating

Why shot lists matter

One thing that filmmakers would never say no to is more time. 

As South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook once put it, “If you would ask me what my ideal process is, I would say, long pre-production, long production, and long post-production.” 

Production is a time-sensitive process, from start to finish. If you don’t have all of your ducks in a row by the time filming begins, odds are that production will be hectic, rushed, and riddled with complications. 

A shot list is one of those organizational documents that makes everything else run smoothly. Take it away, and you’re left making split second decisions that could be wrong. And the thing is, you’ll only recognize a bad creative decision when it’s too late to go back and get the right shots. 

With documents like shot lists and storyboards, you’re able to visualize how the project will move from script to screen long before you even pick up a camera. You chart out all of the shots you know you want, which saves you a lot of time and trial-and-error once filming starts. 

Especially when you’re working with a large production team, documents like this keep everyone on the same page during production. 

And who knows? Your team might make any number of last-minute changes to the shot list, but it’s one of those things where you have to know the rules before you can break them. You have to make a shot list before you can deviate from it and take more creative risks.

Shot lists vs. shooting scripts

Not only do shot lists give camera operators more direction during production, it’s what filmmakers rely on when creating a shooting script

While the shot list breaks down the shots and angles in each scene, the shooting script is a hybrid document that includes this information and more (i.e., special effects, lighting cues, notes on the acting, etc.).

Essentially, you’re taking the script itself and making note of everything important that should be featured in frame.  

A few considerations

Before we dive into using our free shot list template, let’s take a look at the four key things you should consider when filling out your shot list. 

The project 

The great thing about shot lists is that they are fully customizable. So not only does a template like ours help you organize all of the shots sequentially, you use your own judgment to decide what goes inside the template and what doesn’t. 

And like we mentioned at the top of this post: a shot list is a resource for anyone and everyone in video production. It doesn’t matter if your project is slated to be five minutes or two hours long, you can adapt a shot list template for your project.

As you create your shot list in pre-production, you need to consider how long the final edit will be, how many actors will be involved, and where filming will take place. (The script is your best friend here.) 

Knowing the ins-and-outs of the story you’re going to tell is Priority #1 when building a shot list.  

The production team

Another thing that you have to consider is the size of your team. 

If you’re working with one camera operator on an upcoming project, it doesn’t make sense to plan for a three camera handheld setup in the shot list — it just wouldn’t be possible. (And even if it was, odds are the camera operator would be overwhelmed and over-worked.) 

In this scenario, you would make adjustments to the shot list so that it would be doable for one person. 

The size of your team matters, but so does their expertise. 

As a general rule, you should know how experienced and familiar your camera operators are when working with different types of equipment. 

It might not be the best idea, for instance, to include drone footage in your shot list if none of the camera operators have used a drone before. 

So before you start building your shot list, make sure that you know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. That way, you can find ways to showcase their skills and also get the best quality footage to take into post-production.

Here’s the bottom line: By accounting for your team’s size and expertise, you’re setting them up to do their best work. 

Resources and budget

Let’s say that your camera operators are licensed drone pilots with tons of experience, and you really want to include cinematic drone footage in your project’s shot list. The only caveat is that you don’t have room in your budget to invest in a drone. 

No matter how experienced and capable your team is, all of your pre-production decisions are filtered through the budget. If buying or renting a drone (or any other piece of equipment) isn’t doable, you have a couple options:

  1. Change your approach and find a different type of shot for the scene.
  2. License the footage you need from a stock media library. 

If you go with the latter option, you get the shot you want without overextending the budget. So instead of reworking an entire section of the shot list, you simply make note that you’ll use stock video from a resource like Soundstripe instead of filming it yourself. 

It’s an easy fix to this type of logistical complication.

Simply put, you have to consider your budget and resources when deciding which camera shots and angles to include in your shot list.

Shot selection (and variety)

Logistics aside, building a shot list is a subjective process. It’s up to you to decide how a scene or segment of your video will unfold on-screen. 

While certain types of shots and angles are commonly used to create a specific on-screen effect, the last thing you want to do is overdo it. 

Take an extreme low angle shot, for example. 

This type of shot is great for emphasizing an inequal power dynamic between two characters — especially when it’s contrasted with a medium shot, high angle shot, etc. But because you know that this shot achieves this effect, you might be more inclined to use it again and again in your project.

While there’s no real harm in doing this, the shot will eventually lose its emotional weight and power if it’s overused. 

So after you make the first version of your shot list, review it a second and third time (maybe more). Take note if a specific shot or angle seems excessive. And ask yourself if there are any opportunities to swap out one shot for another to add more variety to your shot list.

Even if you don’t make any major changes, this is just your way of making sure that every shot, angle, and detail is included in your shot list for a reason. 

Tips for using a shot list template

People think of filmmakers as scatterbrained visionaries or narrow minded auteurs — either too creative to focus on an idea for more than five minutes, or too obsessed with an idea to see a broader picture. 

That might work for teams that have a budget, but independent filmmakers can’t afford to waste time or money. My guess is you’re just as comfortable visualizing a shoot as you are editing it, and that’s why a shot list template is perfect for your production needs.

If you’re unfamiliar with shot lists, it’s pretty much what the name implies. This tool is a detailed chart that breaks down the specifics of what goes into filming each location, scene, and shot. (It can also serve as a schedule, with dedicated time slots to make the most of natural light.)

And when it comes to studying the key parts of our shot list template, there are a couple items that standout. Let’s break them into three categories: shot, gear, and direction.

Plan the perfect shot

Is there a “perfect shot”? Probably not. But when you think about your next project and how you are going to plan for each day of filming, it helps to visualize the shot you want. That way, you can break down the components of that shot and try to capture it perfectly.

Things like distance, subject, and angle all play a part in how you tell your story. They influence every other part of the shot, like movement and lighting.

You’ll also want to include basic things like the key, shot number, and the time of day/location — these details help with organization as well as determining what else you need to get the shot you want.

Bring the proper gear

Yes, I’m combining the “Equipment” and “Lens” columns because you would normally consider both topics at the same time. (And one technically falls into the other category, even if you should list both separately on your shot list.)

The gear you have on set will obviously determine what kind of movement you can do, how you handle lighting, and what kind of sound you’ll capture.

Similarly, your lens choice caters to the distance and angle you want, and you can be as specific as you want. In some cases, you could choose to specify a focal length.

But if you want to give yourself a little bit of flexibility on set, feel free to list a lens range and grab a couple. The same goes for your gear choices. The whole point of this template is to help you simplify things — if locking yourself into something feels like a pain, don’t do it!

Give the right direction

Production notes are different from the “Coverage” column, which works almost like a written storyboard for the shot. Instead, think of this slot as the place to put in any direction or ideas in your head that don’t fit anywhere else on the chart.

It can literally be a “note to self” so you can make sure that what you film matches your original vision for each shot. You might specify visual effects, lighting ideas, or sound effects.

Maybe it becomes a spot to give some talent direction or specify a mood you want to create with the shot. It could even be a place where you leave specific notes for someone else helping you on set.

Treat the production notes as an opportunity to give extra context. There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer here.

Tools for creating more

Now this list might seem a little minimalistic. After all, I’m trying to compress an entire spreadsheet into three categories. There are more details and guidelines included in the downloadable PDF we’ve made available, but the above list is a starting point.

Part of pre-production is making a plan, and that’s where resources like a shot list template or a storyboard template will make your life easier. It’s a tool that you can use on every project (whether personal or commercial), and it’s straightforward enough that you can share it with collaborators who might not know the ins and outs of filmmaking.

You have stories to tell and visions to bring to life. We don’t all get the budget, time, and resources to make our dream projects, but that doesn’t mean that every filmmaker shouldn’t have the resources to make whatever they are passionate about in that moment.

Download this template, brainstorm your next project, and see just how much easier the filming process can be.

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