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How to Craft a Comprehensive Documentary Storyboard

  • By Joy Davenport
  • Published 04/9/2010
  • Screenplay

Creating a wonderful documentary involves a lot of forethought and planning; getting your vision onto film should include a comprehensive storyboard that maps out camera angles, dialogue, and backgrounds. In the past, this “paper phase” of crafting a documentary could be time-consuming and laborious; however, today, there are some easier ways to get the desired result. When you build a polished storyboard, it’s possible to plot out your entire script in a way the whole crew can easily absorb and understand. Sometimes, a test film is used before storyboard preparation: this rough draft of the script is then transferred onto storyboards and further refined. However, old-fashioned two-dimensional storyboards (created with the help of an illustrator) can be expensive and sometimes disappointing. There is generally a degree of drama involved in working with an artist and waiting for finished drawings. Delays and setbacks are commonplace with this type of storyboard. Digital storyboarding is one way to get the outline you need without wasting too much time and money. Today’s cutting-edge storyboard software makes it possible to create an entire documentary storyboard in mere minutes; in fact, using a commercial artist isn’t even necessary! With digital storyboarding software, you can take advantage of appealing, pre-loaded artwork that has everything you need.

The main benefit of creating a full storyboard with digital software is the degree of control it gives you. Since the whole point of a documentary storyboard is to map out the specific narrative (be it

linear, episodic, etc.) and modalities, having the power to do this independently can make the process more efficient and true to your own vision. Working alone or with a small group can produce a professional result that requires no expensive outsourcing or other common storyboarding “headaches”. Mapping out the aesthetic of the documentary is also easier with the help of digital software. Instant artwork and a wide range of tools (such as characters, props, special effects, angles, music and dialogue) offer a plethora of choices that don’t require the help of an artist. One of your primary goals when mapping out the aesthetic qualities of your production should be to establish uniformity and a special “feel” that is unique to your film…this will help your team understand what is required when shooting begins. Some questions to ask when storyboarding should include how the camera will be held and used (handheld or tripod?), and the pacing of filming (fast or slow?)…incorporate these elements into your storyboard to make it the best it can be…

Within the context of your storyboard, be certain that interviewing strategies and techniques are studied and analyzed. Your goal should be to create an atmosphere that puts an “interviewee” at ease. Creating the proper setting, tone, and camera setup to ensure the subject of your interview feels more candid and relaxed will ensure that you get a more authentic result. In your storyboard, take care to focus on the ideal setup and be prepared to adjust your vision to deal with each specific subject. Having a great outline is what a storyboard is all about, but you must also remain flexible and open to changes that don’t interfere with your overall vision.



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