Now to the storyboard. The best way to explain a storyboard is to describe how it’s used. Let’s say we were going to do a TV commercial about a particular hotel. We are standing in front of the building ready to shoot, when the actor who is going to recite his lines positioned in front of the hotel says: “Wait a minute. I did a spot something like this a couple months ago, and instead of my just talking to the camera with the hotel in the background, after a few sentences the camera went inside and showed the viewer the swimming pool, restaurant and conference rooms I was describing.” The cameraman pipes up, “Are you saying I have to drag my equipment from room to room in that place, it’s not what I budgeted for.” The lighting specialist is complaining he didn’t bring the right kind of gels for indoors, and the sound engineer is yelling (he has earphones on), “Do you only want the talent’s voice or also ambient sound in each of those rooms, or what?” It’s anarchy…with everyone being paid a couple hundred dollars per hour, besides. To alleviate this, before going on the shoot, the director creates something that looks like a comic script, called a “storyboard.” It is a way of thinking through the creative decisions on paper–figuring out how the visuals and the words fit–before involving the expensive technicians in its execution.
As a writer, you’re also in the pictures and words business, even if your pictures are verbal ones. And a storyboard, as we’re going to do it, gives you a chance to make some of the creative choices before investing the time in writing them out. Have you ever agonized over something for hours only to discover when it was too late that another approach would have worked better? This saves you that frustration. Should you write without a structure or should you plot out the story and then write? The answer is you have to do a little of both (and get practice in both), but always be more willing to go where the characters take you than to try making them to conform to a preconceived plan. Don’t be firmly locked into a structure too early, no matter how inspired.
I’m going to give you an example, then ask you to select one of your own. We’ll work through the different stages of the storyboard step-by-step together. My example is based on a couple I knew when I was managing a restaurant years ago. Tim, a cook, and his girl friend were expecting a child. I often wonder what happened to them; however this turned into a story idea when I imagined the couple, not in Madison, Wisconsin, but stranded in a country like Puerto Rico–a twist on people from a poorer country trying to survive here.
As you see, the example under Part A says, “a Midwest couple stranded without any money in Puerto Rico are expecting a child.” That is followed by three choices, one of which you are welcome to alter and use for this exercise: A. boy rebelling against his invalid mother who is raising him; B. middle-aged man is jealous of his wife’s relationship with her associates at the office where she works, C. woman entering a retirement home after years of being very independent. D, E and F are for three story ideas of your own. Whether or not you use one of them, for the sake of the exercise, write down three of your own examples. These can be based on the first and second writing exercises we did or on some other experience or person you’d like to spend some time writing about. Story ideas, like scenes are everywhere. We don’t have to use our imaginations, only observe our surroundings. Here are two more story ideas I’ve recently been thinking about. I worked at a small ad agency in which I, at fifty-three, was the youngest male employee. A senior copy writer and senior designer and myself were sitting at a meeting reviewing a new ad for a client. The copywriter turned to me and said, “Is it me or does this type look too small and hard to read.” The miffed art director then commented, “What is it with this guy, whenever he talks he mumbles; I can’t hear him.” I thought what a funny story idea: an ad agency of all senior citizens who are working on hip commercials for young consumers–sort of a Thirty Something meets Golden Girls.
Here’s another story idea. At the end of March, I was looking for a new used car. The weather was incredibly nice for Wisconsin. I bought a Mustang convertible. As luck would have it, when I picked it up a few days later it was snowing. I called my daughter in New York to tell her that I got a new convertible in the snow. She wasn’t home so I left a message on her machine. At midnight she called back and said that that was the greatest April Fools Day joke (I hadn’t realized it was April 1st). She was so inspired by my “prank” that she called her mother and left a message on her machine that she was eloping and going to live in Nashville. Meanwhile my son had become really frustrated with his job and his live. He and my ex-wife were involved in an intense discussion on how he might leave town right away and start all over in Cape Cod. What is true? what is false? and what is false that becomes true all on April 1st, April Fool’s Day?
I’ve been giving you time to think. Now it’s your turn. Before you turn to the next part write three story idas of your own.