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How to Create a Stage Plot for Your Video Shoot

In order to make best use of talent and crew time when you’re shooting video, you need to have a clear idea of the setup of your lights, audio, and camera gear ahead of time. The stage plot is an essential part of this plan.

In this short video tutorial from my course, The Instructional Video, you will see how to put together a detailed stage plot for your shoot.

 

Sketch Out Your Shoot Plan

We start our stage plot with a simple sketch. The purpose of the sketch is to help you imagine your
shoot, and to make sure that your space, camera, lights, crew, actors and so on are all actually
appropriate for what you have in mind.

As a video maker, the only thing worse than showing up for your shoot day to realize it’s not going to work as you planned is realizing what you’re trying to do is just not going to work at all. The stage plot helps avoid that.

Now, normally, I don’t get hyper-detailed with my planning, but it is important to measure out your space so that you can draw (and imagine) things to scale. If you’re working by hand, a pad of graphing paper can help. If you regularly work in the same space, consider making up some printable outlines. You can leave it rough for small shoots, or turn it into something more polished if you need to coordinate a larger crew.

People and Cameras

After you’ve sketched the space and it’s contents (a large counter, in my case), add your players: actors, cameras, and enough room for your crew to move.

I was going to have Cheryl stand behind the counter to do her baking demonstration, and I wanted to do it in a way that still let me see the stove in the background. I planned to position the first camera directly in front of her, across the counter, and the second camera to the side, with a good view of the cooking ingredients, pointing toward the window.

Large window just behind the subject

Natural Light

Now think about the lighting. Is there natural light? How will you take advantage, or mitigate, as needed?

In the example shoot we had a big window, about five feet wide, and a doorway with another window. Especially because of the time of year that we shot this video—the middle of winter here in Western New York—every ground surface was covered in two feet of snow, which is extremely reflective.

So I knew from my plan that I had to do something about the snow-glare. I could either cover the windows in some way, or block them out entirely. In the end, I measured the window glass, then cut some pieces of vellum and taped it to the window. Covering the window in vellum did two things. One, it diffused the light, and made a nice soft lighting source. Two, it knocked down the intensity of the light, by probably about half, because vellum is not a very efficient diffusion material.

Artificial Light

Knowing what kind of natural light you have—if any—now sketch in your artificial light.

Because I knew that I was going to have light coming in from the window, I wanted to initially put in a nice large light source coming from the general same side direction as the window light. The problem was that I couldn’t really fit the lights in the way that I wanted. There was no room to get the light stands in and get them positioned while still keeping them out of the shot of the camera. My sketch showed that I basically had to pin the light right up against the wall in order to keep it out of the frame of the camera. Not good.

I changed things up a little bit instead. I thought, well, if I can’t have it there, what I’ll do is make it look like there’s another kind of big lighting source coming from the other direction. That made the window into a nice side-light. It wasn’t ideal, but I basically had to work with what I had available.

I had an idea that I wanted an LED light as a little side light. The plan with this was to give a little bit more highlight, edge, and clarity to the ingredients and the cooking surface.

A rosco gobo for spotlights
a gobo, a lighting modifier for creating a natural-looking light pattern.

I also thought to do something with the background. What I wanted was to make it look like there was light coming in through a tree and then shining through a window. I planned to use a spotlight with a gobo so that it would basically cast some nice little specs of light all along the background.

Lastly, I wanted to have a hair light for Cheryl. I would have needed a pretty beefy boom stand to get a spotlight up and boomed overhead. Instead of trying to boom it, I thought I might set the light on the top of my cabinets with a super-short little light stand.

Final plan diagram of lighting sound cameras subject

Sound

Last but not least: sound! I planned on getting the mic stand in and booming that out over Cheryl as best I could.

You might have a sound technician on your shoot, in which case you need to think about where that person is going to stand, how they’re going to move, what they might need to do in order to reach the talent, and so on. When in doubt, talk to your soundperson, they’ll tell you what they need. It helps if you can come to them with sketch in hand.

Watch the Full Course

Instructional videos are a great way to convey information about your product or company in a way that can be much more entertaining than text.

But how do you create one in a way that looks professional and polished? In the full course, The Instructional Video, I’ll take you through that process step by step. You’ll learn about the essential planning and pre-production steps, and then I’ll take you through the shoot itself. 

By the end, you’ll be ready to create the perfect instructional video for your own business or for your clients.

And if you need extra stock footage or effects, you can find plenty of useful video resources on Envato Market.