Short films are weird little things. And most of the time, nobody really wants to watch them. So then why make them, you may ask. Why bother?
As a film student and a director of two short films, I can say that short films are important for two things: practice and film festivals.
Trust me when I say that you don’t want to start off by tackling a feature film as a beginner, you’ll just sprain your creative muscle. Feature films are complicated beasts and they require a lot (and by a lot, I mean a LOT) of patience, money, ability, and time. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, and want to make it big in the movie industry, then you better start honing your craft and getting your name out there. And the best way to do that, is through short films.
And, I’m here to tell you about my tips for how to bring your cinematic vision to life.
First of all, have a vision.
I know, this may sound self-explanatory but you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to pin down the exact film you want to end up with. Do you want a thriller about two friends discovering the existence of unicorns or a zombie chick-flick about a diseased princess stuck in a tower.
I don’t know, but you better do.
This will influence everything: The script, the cast, the location, the soundtrack, the way you look at the world.
Second, get a decent camera and editing software.
Or find a way to rent them. You don’t want your short film to look like a home video shot on iPhone 6 (unless that’s the style you’re going for) so you better start investing on some equipment. I have a Lumix GH4 but you can start with a cheaper (or a more expensive) camera. As for software, I’d recommend Final Cut Pro, iMovie (free), or Adobe Premiere Pro.
Third, take your time on the script.
Make sure you know how to read and write a script before you start yelling ‘Action’ in people’s faces. You have to know the exact imagery you want, the exact shot, the exact angle, the exact emotions, the exact everything. That’s your job. Also, make a storyboard, so it’s easier for everybody on the day of the shoot.
For example, a storyboard I sketched on the back of an extra copy of the script of my latest short film came in very handy. More than I ever thought it would. My sister and I relied on it to figure out what shots we wanted to have and how we wanted the actor positioned. It’s also very important to have a digital copy of the script and the storyboard. You just never know when someone will forget their script.
Fourth, make sure you have lots of batteries for the camera on set.
It’s going to take hours to shoot a few minutes of film, so you want to be ready when that battery decides to quit on you. Trust me, you don’t want to be shoveling through quarter of a mile of snow just to get batteries from your car.
And finally, have fun.
Chances are, your first short film will stink worse than your Uncle Johnny’s armpits. But guess what? Done is always better than perfect.
As long as you have fun and gain experience that you can’t glean from reading theory books, consider your project a success. Then make another one and another one and another one. Make a feature film. And another one. And before you know it, you’ll be the next James Cameron.
Ok, maybe not exactly before you know it.
I received this golden word of advice at a producers’ workshop my sister and I attended a few months ago. One man came up to us and, after congratulating us for pursuing our dreams, said: “If you want to submit to a film festival, make sure that your short film is around 10 minutes because the board likes films that can fill the 30 minute gap between the feature films.”
And if you’re serious about film making, don’t let anybody stop you from going after your dream. Not even yourself.
Keep writing, keep filming, keep creating.
Also, in case you were wondering, this coming Saturday, I’ll be sharing one of my short films with you (spoiler alert, it takes place in the frigid woods of Minnesota), so be sure to stay tuned.
I promise it doesn’t stink like my uncle Johnny’s armpits.
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