Some filmmakers put storyboards, those comic book-looking shot plans you sometimes glimpse in making-of documentaries, at the center of their creative process. Terry Gilliam, he of Brazil and 12 Monkeys, has described storyboards as the one thing he can safely “lock onto” during the complicated, ever-shifting shooting process. Other filmmakers, such as the heartily improvisational Werner Herzog, have dismissed storyboards as the tool of “cowards,” of “those who lack imagination,” of “those who are bureaucratic and nothing else on the set.” Having spent seven formative years in art school, Alien and Blade Runner director Ridley Scott develops his films by thinking as much through the framework of visual art as through that of cinema. In the video above, a laid-back Scott, cigar in hand, discusses how storyboards, sketches, and other pieces of hand-drawn imagery help him make movies.
Telling how he’s found locations, envisioned scenes within them, and used drawings to build those scenes, Scott offers an insight into the look and feel of his own work and useful advice to fellow creators, whether or not they work in a visual medium. His inspiration begins with an activity as simple — but nonetheless a source of “great enjoyment” — as looking at industrial landscapes out the window of a car. Sometimes he even begins thumbnail sketches then and there, in transit. Not only does his drafting background enable him to do that, but it leads to closer working relationships with his professional storyboard artists. Conferring with them mentally prepares him to “hit the floor” and shoot the scene. He reveals that, whether you’re directing a $120 million motion picture, painting a painting, or even writing a blog post, you face the same challenge: “Get rid of the white canvas. Get something right across the canvas. Otherwise you’re always looking at that area of white, which is like a blank sheet.” He notes that his methods have led to some calling his films “overdesigned and over-thought out,” but admits that, at this point, “I’ll probably just stay with the plan.”