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  • Writer's pictureChloe Cobb

If there's An Emergency - Production Blog #4


If There’s An Emergency has a script. But how does that turn into a movie? What does a script look like? (It looks like a bunch of paper with words on it, but that’s not important right now)

To quote Martin Scorsese, “The storyboard for me is the way to visualize the entire movie in advance.” Storyboards are essentially a sort of comic book that allows for the Director and Cinematographer to decide what shots will be used to convey all of the different moments in the script. There are a lot of shots in a film, and this tends to mean that storyboards can be pretty long. For If There’s An Emergency, a roughly 17 minute film, I drew over fifty pages of storyboards.


I am not great at drawing. Well, that’s not completely true. I can draw some things pretty well, like a dog in profile or a velociraptor in profile or a train in profile. I am not great at drawing people or perspective. This seems like it would be an issue because movies tend to have a lot of people and have all sorts of different perspectives. Fortunately, my lack of drawing ability doesn’t matter for the storyboards and my first draft was actually made up of stick figures.

Can you tell what's happening here?

Like with a script, the first draft of the storyboard was useful in letting me read the script and actively consider how to translate it. Not focusing on making the images look presentable, I was able to sketch quickly and easily change things as I mapped it out in my head. 

For the second draft, I put more effort into the pictures to make them actually legible. Since I had the earlier draft to refer to, I could be much more confident that I wasn’t putting in unnecessary work.

See, you can totally decipher it now.

Importantly, these are still not the best drawings, but it does not matter because the purpose of the storyboard isn’t to look pretty. It’s to let the crew know what the film will look like.


Once I have the drawing style down, it’s time to actually translate the writing into shots. In the case of If There’s An Emergency, I am at an advantage because I wrote the script and have already had time to form a picture in my head of how scenes would carry out. But even if I was directing a script from a different writer, I would be going through the same process.

My approach typically involves me reading through a scene and considering a few things: What images immediately come to mind while reading this? What is the purpose of this scene? What is the most interesting way to portray this? What flows with what I have already planned? Sometimes the answers to this are easy and use basic setups. But sometimes more planning is called for.

For instance, in the beginning of the film is a short sequence in which Harper (the main character), after giving food to Patrick (one of the children she is taking care of) in the kitchen, brings food to Sarah (the other child she is taking care of) in the living room. On her way, she checks her laptop, which is currently unable to connect to the internet. This sounds like a very simple scene that would be very easy to just shoot in a few separate shots - one of Harper in the kitchen, one of her checking her laptop, one of her handing the food to Sarah - but this would miss the multiple purposes of the scene in the script.

The first two were listed above - introduce Sarah and show that Harper’s laptop isn’t working. But it also shows the layout of the apartment, letting the audience know how the different setups relate to each other spatially. Therefore, I decided the best way to convey this was with one long tracking shot following Harper out of the kitchen, to her laptop, then back to the couch where Sarah is sitting. 

Translation into shots is a tightrope between making an image look stylish and nice, making it easy to understand, and making it (relatively) easy to film. This requires careful consideration of the script, the purposes of every shot, and a full context of the entire film, but over time, it eventually results in a finished storyboard.


Crucially, the storyboard is just the initial visualization of the film and it does not reflect what the final film will look like. Considerations ranging from shooting schedule, location, equipment, acting choices, and new ideas will play into completely changing many of the shots that are recorded and even to different choices being made in the edit. But having a storyboard has allowed for me to have a working idea on how the scenes should all play out and therefore be more able to change things up, all while keeping the same intent.


Now that the storyboard is done, I am continuing with the pre-visualization process. I have already done camera maps of the more involved sequences (pictures and animations of the space and camera placements in a scene) such as the tracking shot listed above and I am starting work on the mood board/lookbook, which I will talk about more in my next post. If you don’t want to miss it, you better subscribe!

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