Techniques for getting your crew and yourself on the same page ahead of production.
Film is a visual language – and expressing yourself in that language is not just about what you say, but how you say it. Collecting references is a great way to articulate what you want to express – for you, and for the people you’re working with.
Examples can help to both nourish your vision and communicate that vision to your collaborators – not necessarily literal images from your story, but more general elements: colours, aesthetics, textures, props, costumes, lighting…
Stills and Scenes
Many of the best-known films steal from films before them. A great way to prepare is to collect stills and specific scenes from movies that have done things you want to do – or want to do differently:
Theme, Character, Tone
- Theme – informs choices such as locations, production design and overall style
- Character – personality and past (“who”, outside the story) inform action, dialogue, performance, wardrobe and more (“why”, inside the story)
- Tone – a playlist to listen to, and a lookbook to look at, to help create a feeling during writing, which in turn informs the other two boards, Theme and Character
This process isn’t only useful for narrative films – documentarian and cinematographer Mark Bone talks through his “three layers of pre-production” (words, images, audio), offers a look at pitch decks and treatments side-by-side with final films, and demonstrates the online resources he uses to create his mood boards:
What’s the difference between taking inspiration from, stealing from, and adding to the conversation about other movies? We look at ways famous directors reference other films:
When your visuals are in service of a story, it helps to clarify the beats of the story by putting together a beat sheet: