The Importance of Storyboards in Filmmaking

Films are all about visual language and storytelling, but how do you convey your vision for a film through a script? Not everyone is blessed with a strong mind's eye, so visualising a film by reading a script can be difficult. This is where storyboards come in.

Storyboards help to bring a writer's work to life, providing an artistic visual reference for the cast and crew. They can be essential for capturing the essence of a scene and helping it to jump off the paper.

If you're an amateur filmmaker looking to experiment with storyboards, you can learn how to create a storyboard here.

This article takes a look at some of the key aspects of filmmaking and how the storyboarding process plays into them.

Cinematography

You could have the best script in the world, but if your shots don't convey the emotion or they just don't look nice, you're going to end up with a bad film. Storyboards can illustrate the camera shots and movements that filmmakers have in their heads, making it easier for the cast and crew to understand how everything will piece together.

Shots can convey very different feelings and emotions. For example, close-ups and tracking shots are often used in action and horror films to make us emphasise with the characters in stressful situations, while wide shots can make people seem insignificant among a vast scene environment. Blade Runner 2049 does these ultra-wide shots extremely well.

Would the famous opening shot of Kill Bill be as effective if it wasn't a tight close-up shot of The Bride's bloodied face hanging on for dear life? If you read the script, it might not feel like a strong opening, but once you see the storyboard panel of her close-up desperation and the extreme close-up of the bullet leaving Bill's gun, you suddenly feel the power of this dialogue.

Movement

Movement is another thing which is hard to convey with a script. Where do the characters move within the scene? Does the camera move from left to right or perhaps zoom in and out? Films are moving pictures after all, and a storyboard helps to convey the flow of movement from one scene to another.

The famous Dolly Zoom shot from Jaws wouldn't sound impressive on paper, but the storyboard allows the filmmakers to show the camera's focus sharpening and zooming in quickly, indicating the panic and realisation that is washing over Brody in that moment. On paper, it just doesn't have the same effect.

Tone

Until a filmmaker starts getting their film down onto a storyboard, it can be hard to fully comprehend the tone and feel of a film. What's in a director's head might not always translate well to paper, making them rethink the way they were going to tackle their script on film. Once the storyboards are drawn out, the tone and feel of the "finished product" are often different from how they were originally planned.

Once directors start to see an artist's panels of their script, they can better understand the stylistic tone and choose to either change the style significantly or double down on the storyboard artist's interpretation of how the final cut should flow. Of course, this sort of thing varies from filmmaker to filmmaker. Some filmmakers are very strict with their storyboard artists.

Problem-solving

Filmmaking is all about problem-solving, and storyboarding helps to solve problems before they even occur. When you're writing a film, it's easy to get swept away in the fantasy of it all and start scripting scenes and camera shots that just aren't realistic to film in the real world. If you're working with a shoestring budget, you probably shouldn't be putting in a multitude of scenes set in extravagant locations that you can't afford to rent or travel to with a large crew.

Directors also often find that their action set pieces won't work then they start storyboarding and they need to be re-written. When you're imagining a chase scene in your head, it probably seems very exciting and intense, but once it's on paper, you might see that it's not as exhilarating as you imagined. Similarly, shots and camera movements that seemed sleek in your mind might look boring or cliche when they're storyboarded in the cold light of day.

Sound

It's something that you wouldn't think of in a storyboard, but these panels are often accompanied with a ton of notes about the sound that is playing over the images. For instance, is there any dialogue or ambient sound? Is there any music over the top? Is there any non-diegetic sound which isn't present in the "real world" of the scene? Displaying your visuals can help directors to imagine the soundscape accompanying them.

For example, sound plays a VERY important role in horror. Whether it's mysterious silence, tense music swelling, or the slow creak of an opening door, a horror film storyboard can look boring and unscary until you make notes about the sound and how it plays into the overall feel of the film. Although the specific sounds chosen could change in the final cut, the storyboard is a great time to give the soundscape some serious thought before you head out to film.

Storyboarding is a crucial part of the pre-production process that puts your film into perspective more than a script can. Whether you’re working with a storyboard artist or sketching it out yourself, do not undervalue this step’s impact on a film.

Keep up with the top stories from Reader’s Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.