Tools & Toys: Back to the Drawing Board

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ShotMaster may not be the ultimate piece of software for storyboard artists, directors and screenwriters, but it's

pretty darn close. Even if you can't draw a straight line, ShotMaster's drag-and-drop palettes of backgrounds, props and characters make it easy to create visually sophisticated storyboards for film, television and commercials production. The software comes out of The Badham Company, founded in 1975 by director John Badham (WarGames, Saturday Night Fever, Blue Thunder and others), and it's obvious that this is a productivity package designed and created by someone with a deep industry background. In fact, Paul Messick, the author of both the Mac and Windows versions of ShotMaster, has directed several short films of his own.

Now for some historical background: "When I was starting out in the mailroom at Universal, I used to sneak onto the set of Torn Curtain and watch Hitchcock work from his storyboards," Badham recalls. "Hitchcock believed that by the time the camera started rolling, the preparation for a film should be complete, down to the last storyboarded shot. All that was left was to transfer it to film." Later on, while directing WarGames, "I learned the power of the computer," says Badham. "When I looked for a program to help me prepare for production, I couldn't find one." So he made his own.

On to the program: click New Shot and get started. Tear-off palettes of background scenes, male and female characters and props can be opened with a mouse click. Drag-and-drop functionality lets users quickly construct scenes. Characters and props can be resized and repositioned with ease. Separate text entry fields allow the user to enter descriptions for each shot, for the story, the location and any special requirements needed to complete the shot. Visualization tools include basic drawing capabilities, a palette of camera angles, and the ability to import pre-exisiting graphics as pict or bmp files.

Several nifty productivity features make it easy to work with complex storyboards for long-form productions. A button called Juggler provides an easy way to rearrange the order of scenes simply by dragging them into a new order in a list. The Jump To command allows the viewing of scenes in the shot list with a quick double click. And forward and back navigation buttons lets users simply page through each scene in sequence. Print functionality is just as robust, with the ability to print storyboard views or a shot list that includes thumbnail images along with all descriptions.

ShotMaster is a joy to use. The tools are so simply and intuitively laid out that it's possible, after downloading a 30-day free demo from, to be up and running productively within a matter of minutes. Moreover, the purchase price is a very reasonable $99.95. Badham himself is using ShotMaster for his upcoming feature, Ocean Warrior - hell, it was free.

There are already plenty of screenwriting programs on the market to complement ShotMaster; now if they just made a piece of software that would get Michael Ovitz to return your call.

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