Video content is increasingly important in the communications toolkit for nonprofits. With smart phones and cheaper video cameras, organizations are more and more looking to develop this content themselves – and there are a number of ways that nonprofits are using video to communicate their message.

A shot list is a recipe for success for developing your video content.

It lists a number of ingredients, and outlines when they need to be added.

When shooting your own video, a shot list helps ensure you will come out of the event or activity you’re recording with the pictures needed to tell your story.

As when you are making a meal, you need to do a bit of preparation.

Here’s how to create a video shot list in five steps:

Step one: Gather your ingredients

An event or activity timeline

If this is a formal event (a fundraising gala or public talk), the event planner will be able to give this to you.

If this is a program or activity (such as a school group visit, or volunteer tea), you may need to interview the activity organizer in advance to get the particulars of what is happening, when and where.

A list of key individuals attending or participating

Who is going to be at this event? Who are the key players in the activity?

The event or activity organizer should be able to provide this.

Step two: Determine your story

You want the images you capture to tell a visual story.

Give your video a working title – a single sentence which encapsulates “what the story is” and which includes the key actor (the subject), the action being recorded (active verb) and the result (a “because statement” that outlines the impact).

This title will help focus your video – ensuring that you shoot what is needed for the story, and not other extraneous details.

For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll use the example of a group of schoolchildren coming to paint a mural on your building.

WORKING TITLE: Mr. Raj’s class paints a mural on our building because it will make the area attractive as a play zone.

Key actors: Mr. Raj and his students

Action: painting a mural

Result: a more beautiful place for a play zone

Step 3: Make a storyboard

Now that you know what the key elements are of the story you want to tell, and have a focus for your story…  make a STORYBOARD – a visual outline of the story you want to communicate. Look at your working title and its key elements to guide you.

Need help? Here’s how to make storyboard.

The storyboard does not have to be complex – it can be as simple as a couple of pages scribbled in your notebook. Not an artist? Just use stick figures. The purpose of making a storyboard isn’t fine art – it’s to help you conceptualize your video, and ensure that you get everything you need to tell your story.

Some questions to consider as you outline your story:

I.) What is the nature of the event or activity you are recording?

Is it one which unfolds over time, like painting a mural on your organization’s building? This kind of activity has a beginning, a middle and an end – all of which you will want to capture.

Or is it a key event activity? For instance, a ribbon-cutting, or announcement – something where there is a pivotal moment which is “the point” of the event.

II.) Which individuals do you need to capture to tell the story?

Who are the key actors in the activity you are recording?

Is there a key speaker?

A major donor?

Notable beneficiaries of your organization? or partners?

Do you need to interview one or more of these individuals to tell the story?

III.) Are there any important details you will want to highlight?

A new medical device? A small ancient artifact in a display? A particular plant in the community garden?

When you are sketching out your storyboard, check to see if you have considered and included these elements.

Step 4: Make a shot list

Your storyboard will provide the framework for you to develop your shot list. Look at each cell and determine what the shots are that you need to illustrate that one aspect of the story.

Some basic terms:

  • WS – wideshot: a broad perspective of a scene, often used to establish a location
  • MS – medium shot: typically a shot with two or three people in it
  • CU – closeup: a tight perspective of a person or activity
  • MCU – medium closeup: typically a “head and shoulders” shot of an individual
  • XCU – extreme closeup: a detail
  • CUTAWAYS: images of activities or objects which you can “cutaway” to in editing, if you wish to shorten the interview clips of an interviewee
  • PAN: a camera move which starts at one point in a scene, and moves across to the left or right, to end on another
  • ZOOM: a camera move which takes the viewer from a WS to a CU

It’s a good idea to get a solid understanding of these and other camera terms.


Let’s use the example of a group of school kids painting a garden mural on your building to develop a basic shot list.

This story:

  • centres on an activity that unfolds over time
  • the key subjects are: Mr. Raj and the kids in his class
  • the impact is shown by: the finished mural
  • the impact is expressed by: your CEO

Here’s how that story could be constructed in a shot list:

WS  Mr. Raj and kids arriving at the side wall of the building, blank wall

MS  2 kids opening paint cans

CU  open can of blue paint

MS  Mr. Raj handing out paint brushes

INTERVIEW CLIP: MR. RAJ – the kids are excited to have this opportunity to be part of making this play area.

CU  kid dipping brush into paint can

CU  kid painting bird on wall

MS  several kids painting on wall

XCU one child’s hand with paintbrush, painting flower

INTERVIEW CLIP: KID PAINTING FLOWER – we’re painting a garden, so kids will want to play here.

WS  mural part-way

MS  several kids painting an image of a child

CU  kid painting smile on face of child

INTERVIEW CLIP: YOUR CEO – we’re grateful for this wonderful art

CUTAWAY PAN: camera moves across a section of the mural

INTERVIEW CLIP: YOUR CEO – we hope the mural draws lots of kids to play in this new children’s area at our building.

WS  mural finished, all kids standing in front and waving


Step five: Shoot your video

Now you know what you have to shoot – and all you need to do is get out there to do it, keeping a few key video creation tips in mind.

A SPECIAL NOTE: Do you have permission(s)?

You will need permission sign-offs from every person whose face you capture, and plan to show in the video. Bring a stack of permission forms for signature with you.

For children, you need the permission of the parent or legal guardian. Many schools and summer camps have these forms signed off during registration. However, it is important to check with the activity leader. If you know you will have children in your shoot, and their guardian will not be present, you need to contact the guardian in advance of the event to get written permission.

Now you’re ready to start planning your video!

I hope this helps get you on your way. The next time you need to create a video, start with a carefully planned shot list to get the best results.

Carolyn Jack

Carolyn Jack

Carolyn Jack is a communications consultant and former national broadcast journalist, with nearly 20 years experience in multi-medial production.
Carolyn Jack
Carolyn Jack

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