Shot list – Part 4: How to make a (good) promotional film
Shot list – Part 4: How to make a (good) promotional film

Shot list – Part 4: How to make a (good) promotional film

This is the latest instalment in our How To Make A (Good) Promotional Film series. If you missed previous posts or want to go right back to the beginning and find out what it’s all about, click here.  New instalments will be released every Friday. Click here to have them emailed straight to your inbox the moment they go live.


So, you know what your story is, you’ve defined your key messages, and you’ve thought about what you want to say with your visuals and your audio. To translate that into the structure for an actual film, you’re next going to make a shot list.


What is a shot list?

A shot list is very simply a list of the shots that you want to take. It’s incredibly important to plan this out because, aside from your interview, the shot list is your film.

Putting together a shot list helps define what you want to show. It helps you think creatively about how you might want to show it. The shoot day itself will be far too busy for this kind of creative thinking, so you need to plan in advance.


How do you start?

You’ve already thought about your main story, and you’ve thought specifically about the visual story and how that complements the key spoken messages that you’ll capture in your interviews.

These are your tools for planning your shot list. We’ll go through it step by step, using a real client example.


Lighting Control at the National Gallery

A few years ago now, we made a film about lighting control in the National Gallery. The gallery opens to the public seven days a week at 10am sharp. So we only had a few early morning hours to capture all the footage we needed. A carefully planned shot list was crucial.


Step one: Get your story straight

The client here was the company that made the lighting controls. But we knew that the interesting story focus was the National Gallery and the challenges they faced. Firstly, the National Gallery is more interesting to a viewer and secondly, this conveys the key underlying message – if the National Gallery chose to work with these guys, so should you.

The overall story

The National Gallery holds one of the most important art collections in the world. Light damages the paintings, but you need light to see the paintings: a constant challenge for all galleries. The gallery had recently installed energy efficient LED lighting, and they chose Open Technology to manage this new lighting with their intelligent controls.

The audio story

The audio story here was going to be based on interviews with Open Technology; the contractors installing the technology; and the National Gallery. The key messages we were looking for were:

  • Lighting is critically important at the National Gallery
  • They have now installed energy-efficient LED lights
  • They have sensors that can detect if a gallery is occupied
  • They have sensors that detect ambient lighting levels
  • The controls have different pre-sets for open and shut hours
  • The lights will come on when someone walks through the gallery
  • They control daylight blinds to optimise daylight in the galleries
  • They will adjust the lighting to exact set levels on the paintings
  • And all of this was easy to install and very well managed.

So, most importantly for our shot list, what’s the visual story?

The visual story

The visual story was a chance to both back up what was being said, as well as really show the impact. The overall visual story we were aiming for was an atmospheric tour of the hidden sides of this well-known landmark.

IMG_9585National Gallery case study

Step two: rough shot list

Now it’s time to think about the actual footage you might need.

The general setting
We want to get a feel for where we are. We need to appreciate the history and grandeur. So we want to see some of the artworks, and the architecture of the building.

This is a film about lighting, so we need to see some lights. Specifically lights dimming/raising in response to changing conditions.

The people doing the talking
As well as the fixed interview to camera, it is always good to see interviewees doing something. This gives us a feel for who they are and what they do. So, in this case, we chose to see the three key players checking the controls and discussing their function as they walked through the gallery.

Behind the scenes
Anyone can go into the main galleries. This was our chance to get behind the scenes, or more specifically, up in the roof space. This would enable us to show viewers the hidden aspects of the galleries where all the systems are. It also gave us a chance to get nice and close to those automated roof blinds.

We know we’re going to hear talk of blinds opening and lights coming on, so we want to see as much of this as possible.


Step three: refining your shot list

You’ve now outlined the main areas you want to cover, but it’s still not a shot list. Now you break those general ideas down into specific actions/sequences:

The general setting

  • Shots of whole galleries to see full setting (at least two different spaces)
  • Close-ups of different paintings
  • External shot of the building


  • Lights going on and off
  • Lights dimming

The people talking

  • All three interviewees walking through the gallery together
  • Looking at data on a laptop or tablet screen
  • Pointing out relevant sensors and control boxes

Behind the scenes

  • Contractor climbing into roof space
  • Contractor opening control box to show the control system
  • Client talking to technical staff in offices looking at data on screen
  • Looking down into gallery from roof space


  • Gallery manager walking through dark gallery and lights coming on in response to his approach
  • Gallery manger stepping over rope to check hidden control box
  • Manager holding up sensor to check ambient light levels
  • Daylight blinds opening


Step four: an actual shot list

The above is a more detailed description of what we want to shoot, but it still isn’t a shot list. The above might be enough to suit your purpose, but if you want to be really detailed and organised…an actual shot list would look more like this:

Gallery 1

  • Wide on full gallery, lights low
  • Mid on archway opening, horse painting in background, gallery manager walks into shot and stops
  • Close up on gallery manager face as he turns

Gallery 2

  • Wide looking from gallery 1 into gallery 2, manager walks towards camera. Lights come on as he walks all the way towards
  • Mid or close covering same action
  • Change angle mid, same action, manager walks left to right past camera



Finished result

Want to see how that translates into the final film?


Worth the effort?

Now you begin to see the detail that goes into making a film. You may not need to go as far as making an actual shot-by-shot list. A good cameraperson can translate a list that describes all the places and action you want into specific shots on the day. The more time you have, the more loose you can be with your shot list. At the National Gallery we had no room for error.

And this helps to explain why filming is (as one of our clients put it) ‘like watching paint dry’. Because what appears in a finished film as – Gallery manager walks through the gallery as lights come on in response to his presence – can in reality involve any number of shots; from 3 to 30.

It may seem like a laborious task, but the process of stopping to think about what you want to shoot will lead to a much better film. It also helps you be realistic about timings when you plan your filming schedule, which we’ll cover soon.


But first, talking of working with a good camera person, next up is Part Five: Your team of professionals.


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