Shot Planning Vs. Shot Listing & The Benefits Of A Flexible On-Set Approach

Shot lists are one of the most essential tools for any film director, and I’ve used them extensively in the past myself.

But lately, I’ve been experimenting with a different technique I would simply call Shot Planning, and it has improved my creative workflow in obvious ways.

It’s been years since I’ve filmed a narrative project without a shot list. But for my latest feature film it made total sense.

On this film I am the entire crew – serving as the cinematographer and sound recordist in addition to directing.

The movie is also being shot in a very run-and-gun / cinema vérité style. Since there is no crew, we are shooting anywhere and everywhere, using natural light, and spontaneously changing ideas up until the camera rolls.

I tried using a traditional shot list for the first couple of days. It worked out fine, but it didn’t feel necessary given the type of production. If anything, I felt it limited certain ideas I may have otherwise explored.

After shooting one full day without a shot list (as another experiment), it was clear that I didn’t need one. Not on this project.

Coming in with fresh eyes, using instinct, and not being rigidly attached to any one idea is always a good thing for these projects. So many elements can change by the minute, so the more flexible you are the better.

Which is where shot planning comes in…

Shot Planning Is About “How”

Shot lists are great for telling you “What”:

  • What angle you’re on
  • What lens and focal length
  • What movement you’re using

And so on. These are basic (but crucial) decisions to make, and a shot list gives you a solid framework to keep them organized.

The question is whether you need to make these decisions in advance or not. And that really depends on how you like to work.

What’s more important to me – at least on my new feature – is that I capture the best material given the circumstances I am in. To get there, it’s not just about what I’m doing, but more importantly how I’m doing it.

Shot Planning Workflow

My shot planning workflow is done at the scene level, and tackles these three components:

  1. Practicalities
  2. Non-negotiable shots
  3. Style & Texture

I like to break down these categories on my notes app, writing bullet points under each heading. It might look like this:


  • Minimal camera rigging
  • Handheld with stabilization
  • No slate when recording sound

Non-Negotiable Shots

  • Master of entire scene
  • Insert of prop falling down
  • Transitional shot to next scene

Style & Texture

  • Backlighting
  • Tight framing
  • Use of negative space

This type of breakdown is far more helpful for planning out a scene than by simply shot listing alone. It creates a well rounded perspective on what needs to get done from a creative and tactical level.

Combining Shot Planning + Shot Listing

In a way, a shot plan includes a shot list of its own. It may not be as comprehensive or detailed as traditional shot list, but you still list out your “non-negotiable shots” – so you know your bases are covered.

But more importantly than the shots themselves are the other elements.

Practically – where are you shooting and what kind of issues may arise? How can you mitigate them through some strategic planning?

And stylistically – what are you trying to convey with the scene? What is the energy, the tone, the mood?

The point of the shot plan is to force you to think through the scene in a holistic way.

You can do this in conjunction with a traditional shot list too of course, and that may very well give you a best of both worlds outcome.

For projects like my current feature film, a shot plan is far more critical than a shot list. It’s about knowing what matters most to each scene, and determining how to get there no matter what gets thrown your way.

This article originally appeared in my Sunday newsletter.

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About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

1 Comment

  • Henry Larry

    The shift from shot listing to shot planning showcases the power of flexibility in filmmaking. Embracing spontaneity seems to have greatly enriched the creative process allowing for adaptability in a dynamic filming environment.
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