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Teach Yourself - Getting A Project Off the Ground

So you’ve got an idea for a first film... Where do you go from here?

Illustration from Directing the Story by Francis Glebas

You've come up with an idea for a film - congratulations! That's a great start, and it can lead to all kinds of exciting developments. But how do you get this project off the ground?

You have to be able to communicate your vision, even at this early stage, to others. To actually move a project into production, you’ll likely need funding, production support, post-production assistance, etc. And to get that, you’ll need to ensure that those with whom you’re sharing your vision will become as excited with it as you are.

Even if your funders are just family and friends, you want them to visualize your film in a way that is as close as possible to how you see it. And the best way to do that is to get it down on paper, or set it up in digital format, so they can “see” what you’re talking about.

How do you do that? Well, some of it is instinctive. Remember back in kindergarten, when you drew your family? You were describing how you perceived your world in a very natural way. You’ll need to do basically the same thing here, but in a more sophisticated way. When you drew your family, you created one image that brought together all your impressions of that subject. A film storyboard, however, also addresses how the story unfolds over time, which camera moves you need to heighten the drama, how characters interact on screen, and even how colours and textures will most effectively communicate the story in an exciting way. A board can address everything you can think in relation to the film, and more.

Many industries besides animation use storyboards to visualize a project. Advertising, live action film, special events, Cirque de Soleil performances all need to have a shorthand visual reference with which to discuss how a project will be developed, then to shape it, check it for continuity and fluidity, assess stages of production, and finally to figure out what kind of funding will be needed. It's interesting to note that some directors, like Alfred Hitchcock, drew their own boards, often in addition to those of the storyboard artists on the pre-production team.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of books for would be animators who don’t have access to college or art school courses. There are many how-to books out there that cover the basics of storyboarding techniques – among them one of the best I’ve come across is Mark Simon’s “Storyboards - Motion in Art.” The book I want to focus on here is not so much a how-to of drawing the board as it is a how-to of visualizing a story. 

Cover image of Directing the Story by Francis Glebas.

Writing from the point of view of the director, the person who has the whole film in their mind’s eye, “Directing the Story” by Francis Glebas (Focal Press) is a veritable bible of visual storytelling techniques and advice. Loaded with pictures, the book is set up like a storyboard for the material he wants to convey. Covering everything from why we watch movies to the most effective ways to build and maintain drama, he teaches how to keep your audience riveted to the screen. 

And if you’re worried that you may not have the drawing chops to create good storyboards, don’t worry - he’s on it. Even if you can’t draw a straight line, he teaches how to use whatever you’ve got, the barest minimum of drawing skills, to create the most effective boards you can imagine. 

Ever wondered why you look where you do on the screen? It’s not a coincidence, the director is pointing your attention in very specific directions. Glebas doesn’t just tell you how to direct the eye, he explains the why of it - how our brain works and how the director plays with those elements to convince us that what is taking place on screen is real; and not just real but urgent and dramatic.

The book covers everything a director needs to know in order to prepare the storyboard for an effective and memorable film. All you have to add is your story!

Highly recommended for the following areas of study: Animation, Theatre, Film Studies at the high school, college, and university levels. And it’s a must buy for libraries that collect texts on these subjects.