Why Creatives Should Storyboard (and How)

Seriously effective creative elements take seriously effective planning. One of the most helpful tools I’ve found for planning large creative pieces is the storyboard. It sounds quaint, but I personally believe it’s one of the most vital elements of the planning process.

Imagine you have a special event (i.e. Christmas or Easter) or a conference coming up. As with many churches, we love to start with an ‘opener’ – something creative that draws people in, sets up the rest of the event and most importantly, fixes our eyes on the real reason that we’re here: Jesus. These openers often combine music, video, dance, drama, technology and stage design in a way that just wouldn’t be possible on a week to week basis for the average church. For this reason, they are frequently highlights for me as the creative team gets to go to town with our imaginations!

The only problem is, there are a lot of moving parts. To try and get your head around each element is no small task. When all the information is swimming around your head, it can be difficult to distill exactly what you want things to look like. By planning the piece with a storyboard, it suddenly becomes much easier to visualize everything that is needed to make the creative dream a reality, and perhaps just as importantly, it helps other people to catch the vision and join in with the project. There are no lone wolves in large scale creative elements!

The Process

There are a few steps to the storyboarding process. I’ll run through how I go about planning openers, using an example from the REAL 2012 Women’s Conference (my apologies that there isn’t a more recent one, but I wanted an opener with a video of the output as well as a copy of the storyboard and it seems I only have one or the other!).

ONE: Understand the theme of the conference and the message that needs to be conveyed.

Remember, the creative arts is never about doing flashy things just because they look, sound or feel great. They must always serve the greater purpose: pointing people towards Christ. The theme of the conference in 2012 was “Rhythms”, looking at the rhythms of life and how to serve the Lord in every season.

TWO: Define your starting point.  

Are you going to perform a drama piece? Is it going to be a dance?  What song will you work with? What are the technological capabilities of the church? What are your financial restrictions? Understanding these details will give you a bare-bones starting point from which to start.

In our case, this part was reasonably simple. Back when we started planning this opener, Hillsong United’s album “Aftermath” was reasonably new and as soon as I heard the word “rhythm”, I thought of the song “Rhythms of Grace” from that album. A bit of research drew me to the Message translation of Matthew 11:28-30, which fitted perfectly with what our women’s pastor was hoping to communicate. We had our song – this was our starting point.

THREE: Block out everything else and put your imagination to good use!

At this point, no idea is off the table. If, as we were, you were starting with a song, listen to the song over and over, processing the lyrics, picturing your team playing it on the platform. How could dance emphasize the message? What about drama? Or video?

For me personally, this is where I stick some headphones in my ears, shut my eyes and start imagining all the possibilities!

FOUR: Storyboard time – be as specific as possible!

Now you have a bunch of ideas (maybe even scribbled down), it’s down to put them into a coherent structure. This is where a storyboard is incredible! Use as many boxes as you need to get what is in your head onto the page. Use notes where necessary, use pictures where possible. Be as specific with timing as possible.

The document below is the actual storyboard we started with for our opener. I brought a few copies of it to a planning meeting, and we went from there. With the storyboard, it was easier to eliminate misunderstandings and to make sure we were all singing from the same hymn book.

Real Opener Idea Storyboard

Real Opener Idea Storyboard_Page_1Real Opener Idea Storyboard_Page_2Real Opener Idea Storyboard_Page_3

FIVE: Now plan accordingly

With the storyboard agreed on, you can distill the piece into smaller elements and delegate leadership accordingly. In our case, we had a number of areas to look at:

Me: Instrumental Music
Person 2: Choir
Person 3: Filming and editing video
Person 4: Organising volunteers for filming
Person 5: Making props for video

Given all my other general responsibilities, planning all of this alone would have been too much. By having a clear sense of outcome, we were able to split the project into much more manageable pieces. Importantly, although it was scary to let go of the vision I had created, it was so much more rewarding to see the outcome!

SIX: Execute! 

Once all the planning, editing and rehearsing is complete, the only thing left is to make it happen! The storyboard process is a huge part of both planning and executing the creative project. However, remember that it is just a guide – sometimes it is not possible to stick exactly to the storyboard. And that’s ok. If you’ve arrived with roughly the same vision and it compliments the message well, drawing attention to our Creator, it’ll be a win!

In our example, not everything went perfectly to plan, but you might be surprised to see how close to the storyboard the final opener ended up. Time constraints were the biggest issue we faced but ultimately we were happy with the results. I recommend downloading the storyboard above and working through it as you watch the video below for reference.

All the best with your own storyboarding processes – I’d love to hear your experiences or questions below! Perhaps you even have your own storyboards that you’d like to share? That would be great!


3 thoughts on “Why Creatives Should Storyboard (and How)

  1. It’s also worth noting that the slightly confused mess at the beginning is because that part wasn’t storyboarded. The video we made came up shorter than the track being played and we had a hole to fill and no time to fill it. We scowered the free stock footage sites trying to clips that showed the differing rhythms in life. Not entirely convinced it work but a vital lesson learned (check your timings!). In fact looking at this again there are a lot of things I’d change and that’s a good thing. If you look at work you did a few years ago and not want to make any changes, might be a sign you are not growing much in your craft.

    1. You’re right. It was kind of talked about but not fully specified like other parts.

      Totally agree with you Andy (for those reading, this was the guy who edited the video). Five years is a long time as far as creative thinking goes – we do grow in our craft like you set but even style trends change quite a bit in that time too.

      However, the core idea of storyboarding are still vital in my opinion!

  2. Absolutely, storyboards help make collaboration and execution of an idea that much easier. There are loads of free templates available on the internet and you don’t have to be the worlds best drawer (no offence Dave) to make them work.

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