Film & TV

Film 101: What Is a Shot List? How to Format and Create a Shot List

Written by MasterClass

Jun 7, 2019 • 3 min read

Shot lists are the tool that keeps every production organized, from big Hollywood blockbusters to small indie films. Formatting and creating a shot list is no easy task, however. In addition to understanding what a shot list is and how to read it, every burgeoning filmmaker should know how to create and format their own shot lists.

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What Is a Shot List?

A shot list is a detailed list of every camera shot that needs to be captured in a scene of a video production. Created by the director and the cinematographer during preproduction, it outlines the precise specifics of every shot—such as the camera, shot size, and shot type—so the cinematographer and assistant director know exactly what needs to be captured to tell the story visually.

Why Shot Lists Matter

Movies are not often shot sequentially, as that would be inefficient and slow down the production. The shot list helps determine the most efficient shooting schedule possible. For example, if a scene requires multiple shots with both a 50mm and 85mm lens, the crew can save time and group the shots according to lens setups.

A shot list also keeps every department on track and ensures that all crew members, across every department, know which scenes are being filmed when. It determines what equipment the camera crew needs, what lighting setups need to be created, call times for the actors, and what locations, set pieces, and props need to be ready.

12 Elements of a Shot List

Every director formats their shot list slightly differently, but they all contain roughly the same information, including:

  1. Shot number: the reference number assigned to each individual shot.
  2. Shot description: a short description of the action and/or dialogue.
  3. Shot size: how big or small the subject is in the frame.
  4. Shot type: the camera angle, or how the camera frames the subject.
  5. Movement: how the camera does (or doesn’t) move within the shot.
  6. Equipment: the type of camera that captures the shot.
  7. Lens: the camera lens used to capture the shot.
  8. Frame rate: the frequency at which the frames are captured.
  9. Location: where the shot is captured.
  10. Actors: the actors included in the shot.
  11. Sound: how the sound and/or dialogue are captured.
  12. Extra notes: remaining anecdotes the director wants to convey to the crew about the shot.

How to Create a Shot List in 5 Steps

A shot list is an important document to a film production, but it’s also a creative exercise for the director and cinematographer. It challenges you to think about how particular camera angles can tell the story, make a moment more impactful, or reveal something about a character.

Create your shot list in a spreadsheet so you can organize and easily rearrange the details of what’s required for every shot. When anyone from the crew looks at the shot list, they should quickly understand the director’s vision and know what they need to do to help bring it to life.

Here’s how to create a camera shot list:

  1. Choose a scene from your script and open a new spreadsheet. The 12 elements listed above are the columns, and each individual shot gets its own row.
  2. Break down how you want to capture every individual shot in the scene one-by-one. Using your knowledge of shot sizes, shot types, and camera movements, consider how you want to capture each shot and fill in the columns on the spreadsheet accordingly. For example, note where you’ll do the establishing shot, where you’ll do individual coverage, and where a medium shot or close-up shot may be necessary.
  3. Give each shot a unique number, starting with 1. Every time you start a new shot, create a new row in the spreadsheet.
  4. Make sure you assign every part of the scene its own shot.
  5. Draw rough sketches or a storyboard of your shot list to better visualize how it will come to life and tweak as needed.

Filming Beyond the Shot List

While your shot list is your guiding document, as long as you’re capturing everything listed on it, there’s usually time to capture bonus footage not included on it. Every film needs breathing space, and in the editing room, you may discover the need to show the passage of time, evoke a space, or simply transition between locations. Throughout shooting, plan to collect a bank of images that don’t necessarily fall strictly under your scheduled shot list but could come in handy and provide options during editing. Work with your cinematographer to make sure they understand what visuals excite you and encourage them to explore the potential of each filming location to capture these bonus pick-up shots.

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