Storyboarding ‘The Butterfly Tattoo’
by director, Phil Hawkins
“A film storyboard is essentially a large comic of the film to help film directors and cinematographers visualize the scenes and find potential problems before they occur. A storyboard provides a visual layout of events as they are seen through a camera lens.” – Wikipedia
It’s early July and I’ve been storyboarding the film for a little over two weeks now. Storyboarding a feature film is no quick and easy feat… I’ve still got over half of the film to complete! Some directors can spend a long time meticulously drawing every frame of the film where as others don’t storyboard at all!
I can’t really understand this. For me, storyboarding a film is an essential tool. The director of photography, production designers, producers, set builders and even sometimes the actors need to see what’s going on in a director’s head and drawing each shot on paper is the best way to communicate these ideas. It’s as important as having a finished script… the storyboards are a visual intermediary of the script before you step onto set.
It’s also a great process that involves a lot of thinking. During this process you have the time and freedom to think through the film scene by scene and figure out the best way of communicating the emotion of the film through the choice of shot. I regularly play out the scenes in my head, thinking of the environment around the actors, what to capture and why.
So how do I go about storyboarding? I start off by ‘blocking’ the scene on paper; writing down where the actors are going to move and stand to play out the scene. Once I know this, I think about the best way of capturing the performance and make a list of shots. From this shot list, I begin creating the storyboards.
This is where a director can really make their vision for the film known to the rest of the production team. As I director I love letting performances play in continuous takes where I can. Let the actors do their jobs and capture it! Overly shot and standard over-the-shoulder-shot films really annoy me. Every time you cut, you can loose something between the actors… a building energy, a natural pace between dialogue…
For ‘The Butterfly Tattoo’, I’m blocking and storyboarding in this way. Thinking of interesting cinematically framed shots which can capture and contain the performance of the actors. After all, the film is about the relationship between Jenny and Chris. We want to see this relationship develop from the nervous energy between the two early on in the film to their loss later. By not cutting the camera too much and changing angles the performances feel more naturalistic and involved. You just have to ensure the actors really know their lines!
Probably one of the major reasons why directors tend to shy away from storyboarding their films is that fact that they can’t draw. Well, neither can I. I get hopelessly frustrated at trying to translate a beautiful shot in my head to stick-men figures and scribbles on paper! For major studio feature films, the producers would hire a storyboard artist to spend the time with the director drawing out these images but, being an independent film, we don’t really have this luxury.
Thank god for technology! The storyboards you see on this page are being created with ‘previsualization’ computer software. ‘Previz’ is becoming a popular tool for independent and major budget features alike. These differ to hand drawn storyboards because they’re generated using virtual cameras and 3D sets that are optically correct to real-life lenses. Basically you get your 3D actor to stand in front of a ‘camera’ set at a particular lens size (say, a 17mm) and export the storyboard frame. Once you get to set, put your real-life actor on the same lens you’ll have exactly the same shot! Clever stuff, eh?
I’ve spent a lot of time building the sets in this software and adding the detail that I visualise. Well, I am a perfectionist and a bit of a geek!
Previz-ing (is that a word?) The Butterfly Tattoo in this way has also come in very handy. For our canal boat interiors we’ll be building a set because of the natural confines of the space. This software gives me the ability to build the set in 3D to exact dimensions the set builders can work to so we’ll all happy when we get to set and there are no surprises!
Last bit of advice (to myself, I guess!), storyboards are great but don’t let them blind you. Keep your eyes open on set you may see a fantastic angle or the actors may surprise you with something you hadn’t thought of capturing in the performance… anything can happen!
Right… back to scene 53…