As a director I always, and I mean always, have a shot list. I have been on film sets where there was no shot list prepared, and as a director, I find this very disrespectful to the cast and crew. When there is no shot list there is no guideline.
The shot list is how I see the film play out in my mind. It also tells the assistant director and director of photography what I need from a scene and acts as the guide on set to let the rest of the crew know how I visualize the script playing out.
In pre-production, I will read the script numerous times. This helps me to see the film play out in my head: angles, close ups, wide shots, effects, transitions etc. Each time I read through the script I make notes on the sides of the pages. I purposely do not use post-its, so I am forced to transfer my notes numerous times making sure that the note I made is consistently what I want. Each time I read the script, I am drawn deeper into the story and I see more detail. I then start to make notes on angles and framing. Finally, it is with these notes that I create my shot list. I now have a vision for my film.
I give this list to my assistant director and we go over it scene by scene. This helps them schedule the days. They now know how many angles I want and any camera movements. They can also find out what shots I can do without if we run out of time.
I also go over this list, in detail, with my director of photography. We can plan out the shots and figure out the blocking of the actors. We can also get creative with what I need: moving the camera, changing the angle, getting a better shot. In being prepared with my shot list we can use our time to get creative, instead of figuring out what shots I want on the day of shooting.
Having a shot list also helps the crew know what to expect. When I meet with my department heads they can get a clear vision of what I am looking for. They then get the call sheet and know exactly what will happen that day. On the days of shooting, if things don’t go as planned, I am prepared with my shots that I can quickly adjust to deal with the situation at hand. Everyone else can also act quickly in any given situation and we can remain on schedule.
I’ve been on set when there was no shot list. It was very unorganized and ran longer then it had to. So as a director and producer I say, to all directors out there: please make sure you have a shot list. If you can’t make one then maybe you are not ready to shoot.