Sunset Boulevard, Storyboard
Storyboard Project (Final)
Directed by Billy Wilder, 1950
(all illustrations by me)
I'm not a visual artist, so when I was required to draw a storyboard for my final project in film class, I was nervous. But, I had a lot of fun doing it and learned a lot about film making and film making techniques. I hope you enjoy this!
Sunset Boulevard is Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece. On a small scale, it tells the story of a former silent film star (Norma Desmond, played by real life silent film actress Gloria Swanson) slowly losing her mind and aging not so gracefully and living in denial about her status as a has-been. On a larger scale, it tells the story of Hollywood as a whole being a cruel and uncaring place with an extremely short attention span; a real “what have you done for me lately” type of attitude. The film was nominated for several Oscars but won none. Many speculate that it was overlooked because of the film’s inherent slap in the face of Hollywood.
I decided to storyboard the scene in the film right after Joe (William Holden) stashes his car in the garage of what he believes to be a deserted mansion to avoid the repo-men and meets Norma Desmond for the first time. The reason I chose this scene is because this is where he not only first enters the mansion that will become his prison for the first time, but also where he meets Norma Desmond, his “warden”. Visually, the scene is stunning and represents Desmond well, showing her both as a garish and vain woman, and also as a decrepit and grotesque one.
Frame 1 is the first time we see Norma Desmond in all of her grotesque entirety. The interesting thing about this frame is that of half her body is in the light and the other half is in the dark. This shows the duality of Norma Desmond. First, the half in the dark represents the half of her that is in the dark about who she actually is in the present. The half in the light reflects the way she wants to be viewed (and views herself); glamorous and resplendent. Here, we also see the nearly ever present sunglasses and gobs of jangly jewelry that begin to introduce us to her obscenely garish personality.
The next frame shows Norma Desmond’s extremely lavish bedroom. Cherubs over her bed, lacy curtains, candles, etc. This room is very very bright and is a nice contrast from the extremely dark hallway we first see her in. This is the only frame where I drew Joe and it’s interesting because this scene is pretty indicative of how Joe is filmed: he blends in with the background. He’s easy to miss. Like his plain name, Joe is plain and unmemorable. He contrasts nicely with the garish black blob of a woman that is Norma Desmond.
The third frame we hear Desmond talking about the type of coffin she wants (a very elaborate and nice one!). Joe is still quite confused at this point. He is only here because he is trying to hide his car. He knows nothing about making funeral arrangements of coffins. Desmond is very dramatic in this frame and Wilder does a great job of capturing her facial expressions and still showing the background which, at this point, she almost seems to blend into.
“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
In the fourth frame, we finally see the creature that the coffin is for— or at least part of it. We see the arm of a creature that we find out in the next frame belongs to a dead Chimpanzee. This scene is very dark and images tend to blur and meld together. It’s a shocking scene, but not as shocking as the next one, where we actually see the face of the monkey. Frames four and Five were extremely difficult to draw.
In the fifth frame, we actually see the dead monkey. Norma loves this monkey as a child and it’s obvious that now that this chimp is dead, she is very lonely. This scene is also one of our first clues into the psyche of Norma as perhaps unstable and certainly eccentric. It’s also a very shocking and somewhat disturbing scene. It is certainly one of the first of many grotesque images seen in this film. It’s even more interesting because of the nonchalant way Norma speaks about the monkey—as if it’s perfectly normal to have a pet chimpanzee.
I chose my sixth and final frame because it is the first frame where we see Norma sans sunglasses. In her indignation about Joe's assertion that she “used to be big”, in typically dramatic fashion, she whips off her sunglasses, others a vile sneer and replies with perhaps the most recognizable and lasting phrase of the entire film: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” It’s our first verbal cue into her inflated sense of self. I also really like how Wilder frames the shot. He allows us to really see Norma's dramatic face without use of an extreme close up. It’s very well done.
All in all, this scene sets us up for the rest of the film. We begin to know our setting and our main characters. It lets us know we are about to experience something uncomfortable and intriguing.
Look for a full review of the film in a week or two. It's an excellent film.