Lights, Camera, Shot List!: Why Every Filmmaker Needs Shot List Before Shooting

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Fact-checked by Layla Varela
Editor
Updated on: May 31, 2023

Making a movie can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it's also a lot of work. So a shot list is one of the essential tools a filmmaker can have. That detailed plan breaks down every shot needed to tell the story. 

By creating a shot list, filmmakers can ensure that cameras capture their vision and that their production runs smoothly.

Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting, a shot list helps you track what shots you need to get, in what order, and with what equipment. That can save you time and money by ensuring you have everything you need on set and don't waste time shooting unnecessary footage. These are the basics of creating a shot list for filmmakers of all levels.

What items should include a complete and efficient Shot List?

When filmmakers start planning their shoots, the director and production manager (or associate producer) typically work together to create a shot list. 

There are several factors to consider when organizing the shot list to make things efficient, and here are the most important ones:

  • Major location (and time of day).
  • Camera setup angle.
  • Shot size.
  • On-set logistics.
  • Pickups. 
  • Exceptional considerations.

Location and time of day

When planning the order of shots, location and time of day are two significant factors to consider. The general rule of thumb is to group all the scenes in the same location, regardless of where they appear in the script. 

For instance, if four scenes are set in a restaurant kitchen, we would shoot them all together, even if they occur at different points in the story. That saves time and resources, as we can skip traveling back and forth to the exact location and setting up equipment multiple times.

This approach allows us to be more efficient with our time and resources and helps us to streamline the production process. For example, imagine having to set up the kitchen scene multiple times; if we shot the scenes separately, it would be a waste of time and energy. 

By grouping them, we can shoot all kitchen scenes simultaneously and move on to the following location on the schedule.

Camera setup angle

A camera setup is the placement of the camera for each principal camera angle from which we can shoot one or multiple shots. With that in mind, one important thing to remember when making a shot list is to group the different camera setups to get the right angle for your desired scenes.

But setting up a camera is just the beginning. Once you've figured out where to put the camera, you must ensure the set looks right, set up the lighting, and get the sound. 

Grouping shots with the same camera setup on the shot list helps us avoid wasting time by repeatedly setting up and taking down the same equipment for different images.

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Shot size

Generally, we like to start shooting wide shots and work our way toward close-ups. Look at scene #16 (see illustration left: Shot List 7/20/10) for an example. We hit the master shot 16A first, followed by the reverse shots 16B and 16C. There are a few reasons for this.

The master scene typically covers more of the script and shows more space, requiring more attention to set details, lighting, etc. If we run out of time and can't shoot everything, it's usually easier to come back and shoot a close-up later. 

Close-ups usually require fewer people on camera, so fewer people must be called back for a reshoot. And it's much easier to start with the broadest lighting setup and slightly adjust the lights as you move closer than it would be to light a close-up and then have to relight the entire scene for a wide shot.

On-set logistics

When it comes to on-set logistics, it's all about common sense. It is essential to respect your cast time because no one wants to keep any cast crew waiting for hours for no reason or waiting for their shots. That's why it's crucial to plan the shoot carefully. 

Let's say you have a scene where a teacher is lecturing a class of 25 students, and you plan to cut back and forth between shots of the teacher and images of the students taking notes. 

In this case, it makes sense to shoot all the shots involving the class first, including a master shot of the class with the teacher and the reverse images of the lecture. Then, once those shots are done, you can let the class go home and focus on shooting the reverse shots of the teacher without the 25 people hanging around on the set.

That not only saves time but also helps you stay within your budget. In addition, if you can wrap up the shoot before lunchtime, you can save money on food and keep everyone happy.

Pickup shots

Pickup shots are quick shots taken during or after production to fill gaps, make editing smoother, or enhance a scene. (And no, they're not the same as reshoots, which involve redoing significant settings for one reason or another.)

Since you don't need a sound recordist while shooting cutaways that don't require synchronized sound, and you don't have to keep actors waiting. At the same time, you take close-up shots of still-life details, and pickups only need a small crew or actors most of the time.

And although they can include landscape shots, location-establishing shots, and shots of objects or cutaways, those shots can be taken after everyone goes home or on a different day, which makes it more convenient.

Exceptional considerations. 

Sometimes, you have to be flexible with your schedule and work around unexpected situations. For example, it could be the actors' schedules, the location availability, or the weather. But even when that happens, you should keep the rest of your schedule as efficient as possible.

Take, for example, the filming of the movie Chop Shop. Director Ramin Bahrani had to work around the location, being an auto repair shop still in operation. He had to consider the owner's needs to run his business.

So, he scheduled many interior scenes at night after the shop had closed and filmed the day scenes around regular business activity. He also had backup scenes ready to go if needed at other locations.

Directorial and Performance approach

The directorial and performance approach can be a big deal. But, sometimes, it's essential to keep the cast's creative energy flowing by shooting things in order, even if it's not the most efficient way. 

But hey, if it leads to better performances, then it's worth it! That is especially true when working with non-actors or actors who aren't used to shooting with just one camera.

Conclusions

  • Organizing your shooting schedule in a shot list is crucial to achieving film and video production efficiency. By doing so, you can ensure that you make the most of your resources, stay on track, and avoid costly mistakes that may derail your project.
  • A shot list lets you prioritize shots based on their importance, allowing you to complete critical scenes and sequences quickly and efficiently.
  • Following a shot list typically saves several hours or even days during the production of a film or video project. This time savings can translate into significant cost savings, particularly on larger displays that involve numerous crew members and talent.
  • Ultimately, having a shot list is valuable for any filmmaker or videographer. It allows for better organization, smoother workflows, and, finally, better results.
Andrea Mercado is a tech-focused journalist and copywriter with over 5 years of experience covering innovation, edtech, AI, and internet trends across media outlets. She is passionate about how technology can democratize access to education and is an avid learner when it comes to emerging tech like AI. Her articles and webinars help readers stay informed on the latest tech developments.
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