How to make Storyboards for Hollywood Blockbusters: 17 Boards for a perfect scene of ‘Straight…

Storyboards are an essential tool for filmmakers, allowing directors and cinematographers to conceptualize a scene before cameras roll, especially when an action-heavy sequence needs to be presented in a way that makes sense for the audience.

A Still of ‘Riot’ from Straight Outta Compton

For one of this summer’s biggest hits, Straight Outta Compton, Jeffrey Errico (no relation to this author) was brought in to visualize one of film’s key sequences: The Detroit riot sparked at an N.W.A. concert when the band performed “F–k tha Police” in direct violation of police orders. His boards manage to map the action in a way that reveals Errico’s onetime desire to be a comic illustrator. Page through for an excerpt of the original storyboards for that scene, along with the artist’s commentary.

Warning: this slideshow contains material that some readers might find objectionable.

Storyboard 1: Trouble in Motown

Storyboard 1: Trouble in Motown

The scene, a galvanizing moment in N.W.A.’s history, is set at the Joe Louis Arena, and features the explosive mix of uncompromising artists, the band’s impassioned, disenfranchised young fans, and a no-nonsense police force.

Storyboard 2: Setting the Scene

Storyboard 2: Setting the Scene

After being hired, Errico received a copy of the script and had meetings with director F. Gary Gray and cinematographer Matthew Libatique to discuss the Detroit riot scene. “Gary had a strong sense of what he wanted to convey and then we all pitched in our ideas to elevate the scene in the best way possible. After the meeting, I would go do a first pass of thumbnails gave those to Gary and company to view, after which it was dance of back-and-forth revisions until we had it pretty locked in. Afterwards they’d give me the next scene and repeat the process.”

Storyboard 3: The Camera’s Eye

Storyboard 3: The Camera’s Eye

Since the storyboards attempt to replicate camera angles for the film, the boarder and the cinematographer work closely together to conceive the action. “Matty Libatique, the D.P. [director of photography] was very helpful in communicating what he thought would work best and how he could shoot it best so I took a lot of cues from his input and made sure to implement his suggestions into the boards, along with the blocking and shooting axis of where he thought the camera would be in a given location.”

Storyboard 4: Speaking the Language

Storyboard 4: Speaking the Language

In addition to movement cues and camera direction, the boards include several common abbreviations, including CU (close-up), MCU (medium close-up) and OTS (over the shoulder).

Storyboard 5:Building Suspense

Storyboard 5:Building Suspense

Everyone in the movie theater knows what’s coming, but as originally conceived by the filmmakers, there’s a slow burn before Ren, Ice Cube, and Dre defy the police order and perform their incendiary signature rap.

Storyboard 6: The Money Shot

Storyboard 6: The Money Shot

“There were definitely a few key shots that Gary wanted,” says Errico. “The main one being where Ice Cube gives his middle finger to the cops, and it’s a cable cam shot that goes around the [Joe Louis Arena]. There were a few others that got cut, but that was the big one.”

Says Errico: “I did about six or seven different drafts of that sequence before they signed off on it, but the film version is shorter.”

Storyboard 7 :Keeping It Real

Storyboard 7 :Keeping It Real

“They had a researcher who worked on the film, and her office was like down the hall from mine,” explains Errico. “They had actual people [involved in the riot] come in, and she interviewed them and got first-hand accounts of what it was like, and what happened. She shared her notes and stories with me, so I had an idea of the big shapes that took place.”

Storyboard 8: Re-creating the Past

Storyboard 8: Re-creating the Past

Errico says that after conferring with the researcher, Gray, and Libatique, they decided how to shape the scene based on the real events. “And then we added some movie magic to that.”

Storyboard 9: Re-creating the Past

Storyboard 9: Re-creating the Past

Errico says that after conferring with the researcher, Gray, and Libatique, they decided how to shape the scene based on the real events. “And then we added some movie magic to that.”

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See the other 8 Storyboards on the Next Page: Click Here