This is the shot list format I have been using for years — I am offering it as a gift to my readers:
Shot listing tips and guidelines
The shot list is first and foremost a memorandum for the director. Although the 1st Assistant Director and Cinematographer must be given a copy, it’s less of a big deal to them, because they are both briefed in great detail during the tech scout, and on the shoot itself the Cinematographer and the crew members rely on fresh instructions from the director.
Therefore the shot list should aid the Director first and foremost.
What to include in the shot list
1. Every shot should be given a unique number. I do not recommend starting with number 1 again for each scene – this creates too much potential for confusion. You should instead give every shot in the project its own number – going from shot number 1 all the way to shot number 953 if necessary.
2. Each shot should be described concisely using terms that will be understood by professional crew members, but ultimately it is the director who has to feel comfortable with it, because during the shoot crew members will be receiving instructions from the director, not from the shot list.
3. Wise directors who have made the effort to develop a proper understanding of film editing should add remarks that have editing implications for each shot. If the director has a clear idea of how a given shot will be joined with the shots that follow and precede it, it is inevitable that there will be certain caveats that must be heeded on the shoot if those planned cuts are going to work.
For example, are you going to cut from a medium shot to a close-up when an actress takes a cigarette out of her mouth? If that is the case, you need to be aware of this when you shoot those two shots, to ensure that the action in the two shots matches well enough to be cut smoothly. You need to be aware of these issues on the shoot – it is too late when you are cutting the project.
4.Performance notes for the actors are also worth including in the shot list, as an ultra-concise reminder of the directions you plan to give the actors. This is not the place for long-winded descriptions, but brief notes are definitely worth including.
If you wish, you can give the Cinematographer a version of the shot list that does not include notes for the actors, as long as you ensure that the Cinematographer is given a fully updated version of the shot list when you make changes to it. The 1st AD, on the other hand, should be given the full version of the shot list, because part of the 1st AD’s role is to supply the director with an extra pair of vigilant eyes, ready to alert the director when a minor detail is overlooked.
Some directors like to include little storyboards in the shot list, keeping it all together in a single document. This is a good idea for those who rely on storyboards – I don’t use them, but if you do, adding a column to your shot list table and including little storyboards for every shot certainly won’t hurt.
Directors should not feel under pressure to conform to any particular format for a shot list – use my free download as a guide, and amend or embellish it as you see fit.
It is worth repeating that the shot list must first and foremost be as helpful as possible to the Director, because everyone else will be receiving instructions from the Director, not from a piece of paper. It is both a checklist and a cheat sheet.