Creating a shot list is an invaluable tool for your production, but unexpected obstacles can arise on your film set at any time.

When is it important to rely on your plan? When is it important to be more flexible? We’re going to help you navigate through this process because knowing how to use your shot list is just as important as creating one.


Why make a shot list?

A shot list is one of the best tools you have available to you, and even directors who play fast and loose have spent a lifetime creating shot lists for their films and television shows.

Let me ask you a few basic questions:

  • Would you leave for a big road trip without a map?
  • What if that road trip were a race?
  • What if you were being paid to come in first place?

Your shot list sets you up for success and helps communicate your plans with the crew before you start that race.

It’s your roadmap.

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

— D.D. Eisenhower

With StudioBinder's Shot List Software, you can keep everyone in the loop by sharing your shots and collaborate from anywhere.

Your department heads know your creative and visual goals for the day.

When things don’t go according to plan, you can still use the original concepts that got you excited about your shots in the first place.

How to Make a Shot List with StudioBinder


Shot lists help communicate goals

You have a specific vision for your next film.

Now you need to clearly communicate what you need with your team

Consider for a minute how the pre-production process works. It is a collaborative effort with contributions from a number of artists, all with different points of view.

This is why it's critical for the Director and Cinematographer to establish a visual language to communicate with one another a lot easier.

Preferably you're using shot listing software so you can easily share and collaborate on your shots in the cloud. In our case, we created a reference shot list made using StudioBinder

Share the page with your department head and have a threaded discussion. This will help eliminate any confusion with respect to the vision of the project.

Filmmaking Shot List Gospel - StudioBinder

If you're not sure how to ideate what specific camera shots you'll need, take a look at our video below to understand how to direct the viewer's eye.


Shot lists limit surprises

Efficiency in pre-production saves you a lot of time and money because your costs will balloon when you have to fix something that could have been planned ahead of time.

It also helps your production know what special equipment will be needed on set.

For example, if you a high-speed camera for a specific shot in your scene, you can easily identify this on your shot list.

Just go to StudioBinder Shot List, enable the Special Equipment column, and select the special equipment needed.

Just remember that a well-planned shot list can help your production avoid potential complications.

But what happens when a complication arises that isn’t so easily anticipated or avoided? Something that was unforeseeable, or dare I say, random.

For example, your lead actor, Christian Dirk Steele, is super late, and the PA who picked up the dolly was just rear-ended by an Uber.

No Christian Dirk Steele…

No dolly...

Surprises happen.

Fortunately, your shot list was planned out.

It may have not factored in the spontaneous forces that comprise a film set, but you’ve had countless discussions with your cinematographer (utilizing your shot list).

You also shared it with your 1st AD and UPM.

You understand the shots needed, and why they’re important.

So when the time comes, you can adapt quickly and creatively.

Who knows? Maybe the shot(s) turn out better than you expected.

Things may not have gone according to the plan…

But your planning was indispensable.

And it's best to prep well in advance.

You can either send a basic shot list spreadsheet, or share your StudioBinder shot list. Simply invite a collaborator, they'll be able to make changes directly on your shot list for efficiency. In the pop-up, click Generate Link or invite a specific collaborator and grant a permission you want (can view, can comment, can edit).

Filmmaking Shot List Gospel - Share Page - StudioBinder

Once you invite a collaborator, they'll be able to make changes directly on your shot list for efficiency/


Shot lists inform a shooting schedule

Your 1st AD is tasked with time management and safety on set.

Their job is to keep the production moving so that you make your day.

When you create a shot list, and break down your coverage, your Assistant Director can would a shooting schedule that accurately allows enough time for each scene.

If your day begins to get off track, get together with your 1st AD and Cinematographer to see if you can adjust your shooting schedule to accommodate any shots you may need over shots you’d like.

This can be a messy process, unless you're using StudioBinder's Film Scheduling Software.

Just import your script to automatically generate your schedule (which is what your 1st AD or 2nd AD would field) as your DP starts building the shot list.

Your Script Supervisor can use your shot list to determine how much coverage each scene needs, and can keep track of it on the day so that you don’t have gaps in your edit.

You can give your shot list and director’s notes to your editor as well to help them survey coverage, and make determinations that more accurately reflect the intended tone, pace, and look of the film.

It also helps your location manager understand shot requirements and potentially secure any additional property for the day to help make the shot happen.

Take a look at our video breaking down the essentials of a shooting schedule.

5 tips on preparing a shooting schedule


Shot lists are your daily checklist

A film set can be a hive of activity. Distractions are everywhere, so you need something to constantly remind you of what shots you have, what shots you don’t have, and what shots you need from your day.

You can make any task significantly more organized when you have a checklist. If time doesn’t allow the completion of all the shots, having the shot list helps to boil down the essential coverage needed so you can quickly re-prioritize without sacrificing the story.

An easy way to keep track of your shots is by printing out your shot list. In StudioBinder's Shot List Software, you can easily add a checkbox column to track your progress on the day of the shoot.

To do this, just go to Adjust Column on the top-left, and tick Status.

You'll immediately see a the new checkbox column appear, and that's it! Now you can either save it as a PDF, or just print it out.

If you're on-set and there's WiFi available, you can even access your Shot List page off an iPad to green your film production.


Shot lists help you question your shots

There is an old adage they teach you in film school...

Never fall in love... with a shot.

The meaning behind this is simple; don’t let the beauty of an isolated moment be the tail that wags the dog.

Though your shot may stand out as a masterpiece on its own, if it doesn’t contribute to the overall narrative, it can actually disrupt the storytelling.

It’s easy to become emotionally attached to a shot that you envisioned in the pre-production phase of the project.

This is because the time and budget aren’t really a consideration yet.

But when shot listing, logistics come into the conversation.

Equipment needs. Camera movements. Lighting requirements. Lens choices.

Then you start estimating the prep and shoot time for every shot.

Which adds up.

We suggest specifying Prep Times and Shoot Times for every shot, which then automatically tallies the total time required for each camera setup. See below:

This will quickly give you insight on how long each setup will take and ultimately help you make your days.

Take a look at this shot list example that features lifestyle videographer and photographer Matt Komo on how he approaches shot listing for his videos.

Filmmaking shot list: How Matt Komo plans a 24-hour shoot

Now, just because it's on the shot list doesn't mean that you need to grab the shot.

For instance, what do you do when your cinematographer observes a unique angle for coverage that isn’t on the shot list?

What if your actors re-interpret the physicality of their actions on set?

What if some window light highlights some architecture in the room that brings a certain subtle beauty to the scene that wasn’t previously known?

Each of these examples is different.

If the new idea merits throwing out a setup from your shot list to get something better…

Do it!


When are shot lists unnecessary?

Efficiency and detail in the pre-production phase can save a production a lot of time and even more money before the actual principal photography.

On the other hand, creating too rigid a structure prior to filming may limit the new ideas and collaboration that reveal itself on the set.

There are also times when generating a shot list can actually be a misuse of your time.

The scene may not require a lot of visual razzle-dazzle, especially when standard wide, medium, and closeup shots will do. Most crew members on your team will immediately understand the cinematic visual language used for this kind of scene.

Just remember, sometimes the simplest option is usually the best.

Here's an example of a shot list from Looper.

Notice how the entire shot list is basically a combination of wide shots and closeups.

And it's one of the most memorable scenes from the film.

WHat's a Shot List Really?

A roadmap that can adapt

Shot lists are a roadmap to your creative goals.

What's the bottomline?

When you shot list, you are more prepared for your day, and you’ve taken the time to consider exactly what it is that you hope to capture.

Think of shot lists as a safety net and creative tool.

If a scene is straight-forward enough, you may not need it.

But it's still helpful to plan it out, at least in your mind. At that point, you might as well jot it down to free up some mental RAM. There will be times when you'll want to create an extra shot list that’s strictly for your eyes only. 

On the other hand...

If you need to plan out a complex scene, you should consider making a formal shot list. But it's not enough to just make it. You'll want to get it into the hands of the other creative members of your team to weigh in. Share it, add comments, and finalize it together. Film and video is a collaborative art.

Don't forget to print it out and bring it on set too.

And when you get to set...

Be prepared to throw it all out if a better idea presents itself.


How to Make a Shot List

Now that you understand the nuances of your shot list, you should feel comfortable enough ideating your next short film ideas.

There are a lot of details that goes on a shot list template, but which ones are the most important to you?

Our next article will break down the complete anatomy of a shot list and provides a step-by-step approach of creating your shot list. 

So our next question is...

  • How often do you create a shot list?
  • Do you depend on it when shooting?
  • When have you actually 'thrown out' your shot list?

Let us know in the comments!

Up Next: Learn How to Make a Professional Shot List →
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