Treatment evolves into a breakdown, or if you must a shot list but I avoid the term shot list because to focused on development of a list of shots might suggest one can skip over the story design and treatments are an essential part of the process.
The screenplay is usually the initial stage of a film’s development and it becomes a filmmaker’s choice to build a document which is rigidly structured or loosely framed. I teach to structure as it allows control during pre-production. The planning process consumes a small portion of the budget however if given sufficient time there will be payoffs at the production stage.
The non-fiction filmmaker quickly finds scripting tedious as a tool in designing a production they see as primarily b-roll. Treatments allow you a level of production control equal to Singleton’s production breakdown model. As with a script breakdown you start with coding which is done by marking up the treatment.
In writing the treatment there should be well defined scenes setting out an image … what will be seen and only a suggestion of the dialogue or what will be heard … from this well written picture you’ll find a location which needs scouting. Location planning is pretty much an essential task, from which is built a survey. To me this needs to be a paper document, with a detailed drawing of the “floor plan”, notes on site qualities, potential action lines and in contact information. There should also be a detailed digital file folder with images and recordings as reference to the sketched material. This planning is the basis for your breakdown and the starting point for organizing ‘coverage’ for you production.
Line your treatment. Take a pencil and break it into scenes or locations, make use of the survey work you’ve done so you can visualize the action in the context of location. Generally you can apply an establishing shot to each lined out scene and that will start the visualization process. However you might also find that you like to break down some of the very basic shot angles at this time as well. My treatments tend too have the scene broken out as a paragraph so the line and scenes are very simple to accomplish.
From the location scout and this lined treatment (or outline of plot points) you can develop an “initial sketch up” marking out camera placements on the location drawing ‘set-ups’ and lighting notes ‘lighting plot’.
Treatment sent you to a location and that will effect how you plan, basically a set up is just the camera placement, which will establishing the axis on which you’ll shoot. Filmmakers don’t think of a camera as covering 360 degrees from an original point but rather an “angle of view” defined by lens, iris and subject. A set-up placed on the survey is dependent on action or defined by the action characters take across or along the camera axis. Pulling a single shot from a single set up after all the work of finding and lighting a good angle is a monumental waste of time. If it helps think about shooting master scene and second angle is insert material.
Now for Schommer’s Three Rules of coverage. Rule #1 every set-up needs a second angle. Rule #2 every angle gets a minimum of four shots … Establish, Med. Shot, Close-up, Close-up. Eight shots over two angles of coverage gives your editor lots of places to cut on action, any action. Oh, rule #3 don’t break the rules.
Pull scene numbers from the treatment and then label camera placements on your location plot. Next create a list of the shots needed and rules dictate along the axis of that setup.
Each shot is tagged by scene and shot number which can be tracked throughout the production. This “shot list” ties the treatment to the production plan and offers a level of confidence that if all these shots are captured you’ll have coverage. Then move to the second angle, create a new set of numbers and repeat. If your setting lights add that plot information to your survey as well.
Non-fiction film doesn’t always lend itself to running a scene multiple takes, so you need to look for repititative action in your subject. Find setups that will cover the repeated action while allowing you two angles. It’s matter of covering the action in detail from one setup and then doing getting second angle on the points of repitition from the second angle. This requires detailed knowledge of the process being filmed. A third angle will offer another edit point for continuity issues and often is an establishing shot bringing subject into or out of a scene without close-ups. So yes you can break the rules with a stand-alone angle if this gives better coverage for complext subject action.
… next is a discussion on scheduling using this breakdown as a list of shots in viewing order and the locations survey / plots it’s a simple enough process to design how you’ll approach this shoot. js