Shot Lists: An Expert’s Guide

+ Free Shot List Template

Ask any filmmaker, and they will describe film production as organized chaos. When working on a tight schedule, filmmakers do not have the luxury of creating the film's visual look on the spot.

To fully realize the script's potential, the director and cinematographer must plan and collaborate during the pre-production phase. This process of creating the film's visual language is known as shot listing.

A shot list is a creative and strategic document that details how the filmmakers plan to portray the story on screen. The director and cinematographer collaborate to determine how to shoot each scene. Think of it as a playbook or game plan for achieving the filmmaker's creative vision.

In this article, we will layout the shot listing process from start to finish so that you can create shot lists like a veteran filmmaker. Download our free shot list template to follow along!

Let's dive in!

Key Takeaways

  • Collaboration is Key: Shot lists require collaboration between the director and cinematographer during the pre-production phase. They are an essential planning tool that informs the creative and logistical elements of production.
  • Format Matters: Shot lists must be easy to read and are therefore created in spreadsheet format. They should include important production information, shot details, and a tentative shooting schedule.
  • Build For Scheduling: The shot list is a stepping stone to the shooting schedule, which ensures that productions stay on time and within budget. The shooting schedule organizes the shots into a chronological shooting order that can be followed on set.
Download Free Shot List Template

The Shot List

The shot list is simply a list of every shot you plan to film. It should include vital cinematography details such as framing, angles, lenses, shot type, composition, etc. A good camera shot list should be easy to read and clearly communicate the director and cinematographer's vision.

But you might be wondering...

How Far in Advance Should I Create the Shot List?

Filmmakers create a shot list during pre-production. In an ideal world, you can begin shot listing once the shooting script is finalized. However, this might not be possible if the studio or producers call for script revisions.

At a bare minimum, make sure that the script is scene-locked before shot listing. This ensures that the shot list generally matches the script. Filmmakers can also tweak the shot list based on the script's revisions.

Having at least a preliminary version of the shot list will inform the shoot's schedule and logistics. Furthermore, shot listing helps the cinematographer determine what camera and lighting gear they need. You want to give the production team as much time as possible to plan the logistics, so don't wait until the last minute.

Who Creates the Shot List?

The shot list is a collaboration between the director and cinematographer. Sometimes, producers might be involved to ensure that things are progressing smoothly.

Team collaborating in a meeting room with sticky notes on a board.

Pro Tip: If you're working on a short timeline, consider including the first assistant director (1st AD) in the shot listing process. This allows them to start scheduling simultaneously, which could save valuable time.

Do I Always Need a Shot List?

While shot lists are encouraged, they might not be as crucial to a documentary or reality TV series. So, the answer to this question is that it depends on the type of project you are shooting.

Even if a shot list isn't always necessary, it is vital to have a plan of action before stepping on set. A shot list can act as this plan during the shoot, helping you make informed and confident decisions in the heat of the moment. Without such planning, there is a risk of running out of time before you can capture everything you need.

Shot List Templates

When creating a shot list, you'll need to start somewhere. Here are a few options:

Create a template from scratch

Creating your own shot list from scratch can be daunting, but if you decide to do so, ensure it is easy to read. Most shot lists are created in a spreadsheet format using something like Excel or Google Sheets. Each column of the spreadsheet should detail exactly how the shot is supposed to look on camera. Cinematographers and directors should be able to easily understand all the information at a glance so they don't waste precious time on set.

Download this free shot list template for Google Sheets and Excel

Save time and hassle by downloading SetHero's prebuilt film shot list template. Our battle-tested shot list, crafted by professionals in the entertainment industry, is a much more efficient way to shot list.

SetHero's shot list template can be downloaded as Excel spreadsheets or Google Sheets. This allows filmmakers to customize the shot list to their production's specific requirements. Best of all, it's free to download, so you'll save time and money!

Download Free Shot List Template

Breaking Down the Shot List Template

For this example, we'll break down the structure of our free film shot list template. This template can be divided into three main sections: production information, shot list, and schedule.

Let's look at each section and the subcategories in more detail.

Production Information

A shot list template in spreadsheet format.

Scene #: Shots are categorized by scene on a shot list. Therefore, it is vital to list the scene number as written in the script. This allows you to quickly refer to the script sides if needed.

Scene Description: The scene description should cover three pieces of information: Is the scene taking place in an interior or exterior location? What is the scene's location in the film's world? And finally, does it take place during the day or night? This information will already be listed on the script at the start of every new scene, so just copy it to the shot list.

Page Counts: This refers to the number of script pages the scene spans. It is listed in eighths (i.e., 2/8 pages). This information will help the 1st AD determine how many pages and shots to shoot each production day.

Total Setups: Setups refer to the different lighting and camera setups. You most likely won't be able to shoot a whole scene with a single setup, as different angles and movements require different lighting setups. Once again, this information is essential during scheduling, as it allows the 1st AD to allocate the appropriate time for each new setup.

Scene Notes: This is a blank space for the director or cinematographer to list any helpful information they might need to remember on set. Having a visual reminder ensures that you remember all key elements during production.

The Shot List

Close-up of a shot list template with details.

Setup #: A "setup" refers to any time you will have to relocate the camera or do a significant amount of work to adjust lighting, equipment, etc. Group shots by setup to aid with scheduling and to determine the total number of set-ups required to shoot the scene.

Shot number: Shots are listed alphabetically. The first shot is A, the second shot is B, and so on.

Subject: List the names of the characters seen on camera. Also list any featured extras or background characters if needed.

Framing: Also known as the shot size, this refers to the size of the frame relative to the subject. It can range from close-ups (CU) to medium shots (MS) to wide shots (WS) and more.

Camera: This column is only relevant if your production uses a multi-cam set-up. To avoid confusion during post-production, highlight which camera (A cam, B cam, etc.) captures the shot.

Angle: This refers to the position of the camera in relation to the subject. Filmmakers have various options based on the intended effect. Some basic camera angles include low angle, high angle, POV, eye level, and dutch tilt.

Movement: How will the camera move during the shot? Different camera movements create different effects. Some well-known camera movements include static, Steadicam, dolly, crane, zoom, rack focus, handheld, and tilt.

Equipment: What equipment will the cinematographer need to capture that particular shot? It's essential to write this down so the crew can prepare accordingly.

Lens: Camera lenses come in different focal lengths and can vastly change the look of a shot. Lenses are categorized in millimeter format. They can range from 14mm to 85mm. Other types of lenses include fisheye or telephoto.

Sound: Will you use a boom mic, LAV mic, or both? Plan ahead so you won't mistakenly rent unnecessary equipment. Any shots without audio are listed as MOS.

Description: Note down any vital information about the scene. This could include the blocking, stunts, special effects, etc. Avoid detailed descriptions and be concise when writing in this column.

Importance: This column is unique to the SetHero shot list template. Assigning a level of importance to each individual shot allows you to prioritize on set. If you are running behind on time and need to combine or cut shots, this column will help you decide.

Schedule

A shot list template showing timing and setup details.

Shoot Order: Very rarely do filmmakers shoot the script chronologically. So, you have to plan the order in which you want to shoot. The shoot order is usually based on the location, setting, and time of day. Listing this out helps the 1st AD when they get to scheduling.

Setup Time: Collaborate with the cinematographer, production designer, and director to predict how long it will take to set up all the required elements for the shot.

Shoot Time: Approximate how long it will take to capture each shot. Give yourself enough time to do at least 3-4 takes of each shot.

Start Time: List the time of day when you are supposed to begin the shot to maintain the day's schedule.

Planning Your Shots

How Many Shots Should I Shoot Per Scene?

The number of shots per scene depends entirely on its complexity. That said, filmmakers should always ensure that they get enough coverage of all the dialogue and action. While the cinematographer is responsible for creating the shots, the director needs to think about how the shots will come together in the edit.

For example, let's detail the coverage required for a basic dialog scene between two people. You want to ensure that you have single or OTS shots of each character as they deliver their lines. You will also want a wide or medium shot establishing the general space. With these different angles, you can edit a basic dialog scene together. Therefore, thinking ahead to the editing process while creating the shot list is vital.

Should the Shot List be Separated by Scenes or Kept in One Document?

Once again, this depends on the type of project you are working on.

Longer-form narrative content, such as feature films or TV series, contains multiple scenes and hundreds of shots. In such instances, it is a good idea to separate the shot list by scenes. Having one massive document with hundreds of shots will be difficult to read and might confuse the film crew.

Close-up of hands using a tablet with shot list.

For smaller productions, such as music videos or commercials, you might be able to combine the shot list into one document because fewer shots are listed. In this instance, having all the information in one document is much easier to read.

For single-day shoots, you can combine the shot list and shooting schedule into one document to consolidate information in one place.

What labeling systems work best for shot organization?

On a shot list, scenes are listed as numbers that refer to the shooting script, and shots are listed as alphabets. So, the third shot from the first scene is written as 1C.

Different filmmakers will have different systems they are comfortable with. You can only find what works best for you through trial and error. If you use a different system, just ensure everyone is on the same page – especially those in the camera and editing departments as well as the script supervisor.

Should I Also Create a Storyboard?

If you have the time and resources to create a storyboard, do it!

Three storyboard sheets showing a film scene.

Creating a shot list based on a storyboard allows the filmmakers to imagine the scene's visual look before committing to a particular type of shot. Some directors might not need to storyboard because they already have a very clear vision in their heads. But if the director or cinematographer cannot imagine what the shot is supposed to look like, a storyboard will help immensely.

For continued reading, check out this beginner's guide to storyboarding + a free template we put together.

What are overheads or "top downs"? Do I need them?

Overheads or top-downs are diagrams of the shooting location from an aerial viewpoint (sorta like a floor plan). Think of them like a bird's eye view of your set that maps out the placement of the camera, lights, and actors in physical space.

Creating overheads during pre-production allows the crew to imagine what the camera and lighting set will look like in the shooting location. Having your set-ups mapped out beforehand allows you to be more efficient during production. These diagrams are also particularly helpful when shooting big scenes with multiple moving parts, such as special effects or stunts.

How to Use AI for Shot Listing?

Using AI tools such as ChatGPT to create the shot list might seem much more efficient than traditional shot listing. However, it cannot create a style or unique visual look.

Instead, you can use AI tools to supplement the shot-listing process. Once the shot list is created, AI tools can review it and suggest ways to get more coverage. They can also be used as a brainstorming tool to find new types of shots that convey a specific meaning.

Scheduling the Shooting Order

As mentioned above, the shot list is a stepping stone to the shooting schedule. All the details on the shot list inform the stripboard shooting schedule, which is vital during the production phase.

How to best schedule the shot list depends on the number of shots and setups. The process can differ from project to project depending on the budget and scope. For example, bigger studio films could spend an entire day or longer on a single shot. However, indie productions don't have that luxury and must work on a tighter schedule.

Try to create a schedule that fits your budget and stick to it as best as possible. Aim to give a minimum of 1 hour for set up and wrap at the start and end of each day.

General Tips

#1: Avoid company moves: Avoid scheduling company moves during the middle of the shoot day. Company moves can kill momentum, and you would also be committing time to setting up and wrapping out of each location.

#2: Plan around sunlight: When shooting exteriors, consider the time of day and the sun's position. It could massively influence the lighting conditions.

#3: Location scout: If possible, do a location scout before creating the shot list and schedule. Knowing the space allows you to more efficiently stack the schedule, especially if you are shooting multiple scenes in a single location.

#4: Put easier stuff first: If you are shooting for multiple days, do not schedule the most important scenes on the first shooting day. The crew needs time to gel together and get in the swing of things. Similarly, you should give the cast time to develop chemistry before shooting the most emotional or climactic scenes. Start with some easy scenes and build momentum as the days go on.

#5: Plan cover sets: A cover set refers to an alternate filming location in case your first choice is unusable. In case of weather issues or any other unforeseen circumstances, a cover set ensures that you don't lose more time and money.

Distributing and Updating a Shot List

Who Receives the Shot List and How?

Once the director and cinematographer have finalized the shot list, it is sent to the 1st AD, who converts it to a working shooting schedule. Then, the shot list and shooting schedule are distributed to the heads of each department. This ensures everyone is on the same page about what and how you plan to film each day.

A film set with crew members and equipment.

In the digital age, shot lists are almost always sent as a PDF via email or text. Sometimes, they are also sent out along with the call sheet. However, it is also best practice to print multiple physical copies and have them available on set.

How to Handle Revisions and Version Control?

Production is never straightforward, and there will always be unforeseen challenges. For instance, filmmakers might have to rework the shot list due to budgetary or logistical constraints. Revising the shot list is fairly common, but you have to ensure that everyone is up to date on the revisions.

Digitally, version control is straightforward because you can add the version number to the document. You can also color code and write the date of the revision on the document. That way, you can be sure that everyone is using the same version of the shot list by simply referring to the date or the color code.

Give it a Try

Ready to transform your film's production planning? Download SetHero's free shot list template now and start crafting your visual story with precision and confidence.

Download Free Shot List Template

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need special software to create a shot list?

Not necessarily. You can create shot lists using any spreadsheet software such as Excel or Google Sheets. If you want to try dedicated shot list software, a few options to consider are ShotLister, Boords, and Studiobinder.

How detailed should my shot list be?

Try to include as much detail as possible. The goal of a great shot list is to guide the production on set but also accommodate any revisions.

Is a shot list required?

It depends on the type of content you are producing. Narrative content almost always requires a shot list, whereas documentaries might not. Regardless, ensure that you have a plan of action before shooting.

What's the difference between a shot list and a shooting schedule?

A shot list outlines all the shots planned for production, whereas the shooting schedule organizes these shots into a chronological shooting order.

What should I do if we're falling behind schedule?

If you find yourself behind schedule, prioritize shots based on importance. You can also consider combining shots and setups to catch up.

Is the shot list created before or after the storyboards?

Usually, filmmakers create a storyboard first to lay out their vision for the scene.

What are the seven types of camera movements?

The basic camera movements include pan, tilt, dolly, crane, handheld, static, and steadicam.

Which lens should I use?

Your choice of lens will depend on the intended visual look. For example, a close-up shot requires a lens in the 85mm to 135mm range, whereas a wide-establishing shot requires a lens in the 14mm to 24mm range.

Does everyone on the crew need to know the shot list?

It is vital that everyone on the crew, especially the heads of each department, knows the shot list. This ensures that every department can coordinate and execute efficiently during production.

Making a film soon?

We can help you organize your shoot. Check out our Digital Call Sheets and Cast & Crew Management software.

Shiv Rajagopal

Shiv Rajagopal is a filmmaker and writer based in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. With a background in producing indie films, music videos, and commercials, he now writes about the entertainment industry. He co-founded Forgotten Films, an indie company making films about lesser-known superheroes from the golden age of comics.

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