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No budget? No problem!
(why a bunch of wooden manikins might be just the job for you)


So you've got a script to shoot, but no money for storyboards.

And there's quite a bit of multi person dialogue. Constantly changing eye lines, conversations moving between several people. A potential nightmare if you can't get it all figured out beforehand.

You could hold your breath, shoot it all any old how and let it be the editor's problem.
I'm guessing you'll make the editor look bad along with your disintegrating story.

Or you could find a way to plan it all out, shoot it efficiently and make the editor's life easy and have your project look good.

Without a storyboard budget.

Work with what you've got.
Especially if you have a bunch of small manikins, a video camera and a computer.
You won't end up with drawings, but you can certainly make great use of your manikin shots.

Sometimes, when I have a complicated scene to board, I'll plan it in a three stage process.

First, I do a simple overhead plan on paper showing where the people will be.
Then I work out my shots based on who is talking to who, bearing in mind that any shots with reverse angles should be on the same side of the line that connects the eyes of the people talking.

Any time one person changes who they're talking to, have a shot showing them shifting their focus, and establish new camera angles based on the new eye lines.

Create wide shots that clarify who is where, bearing in mind the other camera positions so things don't get confusing.

Don't forget some coverage and reaction shots.

I number all these on a page, then on to stage 2.
As you can see it's just for my benefit, and in no way looks pretty!

Second step: I set up manikins and shoot them with a video camera according to my overhead plan.
Another good thing about this step, especially if you have any inkling at all about your location limitations, if that you can constrain your shots to fall within what might be available for real. For instance, don't shoot any zoomed in shots from far away if your room will be small and won't allow for it in reality.

Third step: Import into iMovie and either save the shots as jpegs, and print them out in bunches on a page (I use 'contact sheet' mode in iPhoto), or chop it all together and see how it plays in iMovie.

This really helps you figure out how to get the job done right on the day, since if it doesn't look right, you can re-shoot your manikins and see what you missed.

After I'd spent years getting my drawing chops down to the point where I could draw any one doing anything from any angle to a pretty consistent degree, I moved my attention to film grammar.
Namely, I got a copy of Daniel Arijon's 'Grammar of the film language', and using puppets I quickly fashioned in sculpey and dressed alike with black socks for bodies, set about videotaping dozens of formulas laid out in his book to see how they'd play on camera.

I recommend several great books on my education page to improve your storyboarding knowledge. All my editing was done in camera (pre computer days - at least for me!), and I just played it back on the TV.

There is so much you can learn by doing this, with gazillions of different ways of shooting groups of people talking.

There's parallel camera positions for instance.
It's a great way to keep everything organized and clear for the audience.
I demonstrated it for a bunch of students in a storyboarding class in the context of shooting a good cop/bad cop scene as viewed through one of those windows from an observer's point of view.

Over the shoulder shots with reverses, changes bridged by key moments of eye line change with appropriate wide shots inserted to maintain clarity is another way to go.

I transitioned to this when returning to the viewing room, in my demonstration of a good cop/bad cop scenario.

Basically, learning all this got me examining scenes I was watching on TV or at the movies to see the methods in practice, and when things started to fall apart (not everyone does it well) I could see what was going wrong and understand why.

So I'd recommend that book and that way of learning to anyone.
It certainly worked for me.
And even if you're working with trial and error, if your errors are confined to a few hours of experimenting with some wooden manikins instead of a whole bunch of people that you probably wouldn't be able to re-assemble if things didn't work out, I'd say you're way ahead of the game.

It might be worth spraying a few manikins different colors for easy identification, and leaving bit parts to look like wood.

Similarly, it might also help to draw cross shapes on the faces to indicate where they're looking (you can turn their heads from side to side).

You could do that on the actual manikins, or draw it on to your print outs (or use photoshop).

Obviously there are limitations, and you might have to get a bit creative with bits of cardboard and boxes and what not to stand in for your sets and locations, but you'll be way ahead of showing up unprepared and shooting on the fly if you've figured it out first.

You can put your manikins on things if there's necessary height differences, or one needs to look like it's sitting, or standing, etc.
Despite the limitations I've found them really helpful, and I'm sure you will too.

Get your cast of manikins and bring your script to life.

Get your hands on a camcorder and a computer and you're off the races!

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