Creating a Shoot list

Some experienced producers like to shoot from the hip without a shoot list. They may get all the various shots they need to tell a compelling story by simply pointing their camera and pressing record, but they may miss some vital shots. That’s why many producers use a combination of relying on their experience along with a story outline to help them record all the footage they need. A detailed shot list can be a very helpful tool.

The good news is that your shot list is easy to develop when you consider your list of characters, settings, and story outline. Think about the images you need to tell your story, and flesh out a list of shots to portray each part. In addition to these primary shots, you also need to consider getting “B-roll” or cover footage: supporting footage of settings, characters, and action that help tell the story. If you don’t shoot enough of this type of footage, you will end up with a film full of talking heads that will lull your audience to sleep. Plan on shooting a lot more cover footage than you think you’ll need to show your story.

Here’s an example shot list for our manatee film:


Establishing shots: Aerial views of the Florida coast (flyover), Google Earth, maps, NASA imagery
Wide shots of towns, water treatments, boat harbors, discharge outlets, manatee advocacy group headquarters, Department of Tourism offices, clearwater springs, research centers
Medium, close elements of above noted settings above that help tell story
Static shots, wide angle, of settings that connect foreground elements with background elements that show your story. Connect people, manatees, and action with settings.
Water, waves, beaches, coastlines, canals, pelicans, seagulls, lively elements of settings (from big stuff to fiddler crabs)

Characters (not your host)

Interviews of characters: Have experts and characters look “off camera” during their interviews. Only the host should look at and interact with the camera. (More on framing and shooting your experts during production.)
Characters in action, doing their thing. Wide and close shots of action that supports their stories and their interaction with other characters. Manatees in relation to their environment including the threats they face and possible solutions to these threats.
Places and things related to characters: boats, buildings, co-workers, laboratories, facilities, and agency buildings.
Close-ups of characters faces in thought, looking, working, interacting, reacting, hands in action, feet moving, picking up and putting down things relative to the action within the story.


Creative “action building” sequences of host getting to opening scene: arrives in car, unloads gear, takes off to meet expert, puts on gear to snorkel with manatee researcher.
End action sequence to pose “big question”
Bridge shots: between segments at locations with action; wrap one segment and provide lead to next scene or event
Wrap shot with “take-home message”
Similar shots to those of characters during host’s discovery and interviews.

Main Characters (Manatees)

Underwater shots, lots, medium and close – interactions and head shots
Above-water shots
Establish connections between manatees and threats or solutions
Connecting shots between manatees and various characters and host
Boat propellers: boats, engines, docks, wakes, wheels, boat related stuff & action
Fishing lines: people fishing, reels, rods, hooks, lures, casting, baiting
Affluent community discharge: facility, pipes, current, foam, water interface, fence, hand opening big valves, underwater interface
Coastal climate change: sun, moon, steam, smokestacks, electric lines
Sea grass impacts: sea grass, sea bottom, wastewater plant, water discharge
Sanctuary loss: human-dominated canals, dredging, boating, developments
Time ticking by: time-lapses, weather, clouds, tides

Another good resource for choosing shots can come from your experts during an interview. When the interview is over, you can get cover footage of crucial elements they discussed.

If resources allow, you could also have a two-camera shoot and have the second cameraperson collect the needed B-roll footage.

Written by Rob Nelson

Rob is an ecologist from the University of Hawaii. He is the co-creator and director of Untamed Science. His goal is to create videos and content that are entertaining, accurate, and educational. When he's not making science content, he races whitewater kayaks and works on Stone Age Man.

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