How to make a short film – a guide for filmmakers
Jaine Green’s views on what makes a great short film
(1) Your film making short film budget – be realistic
Prepare a detailed budget for the entire short film before you start. If you can’t make the finances work, restructure your idea or raise more funds. A five minute well-made movie with high production values is far better than a 10-minute badly made one.
(2) Have an attention grabbing opening
Audiences decide to stick or twist in the first few minutes of any film, so make sure the opening is interesting, and well-shot and that the music is engaging and original. With your movie script, make sure the pacing is right. As well as a strong start, make sure that you don’t lose the audience with unnecessary scenes.
(3) Filmmakers need to create a plan and stick to it
Advanced planning for filmmakers is essential to keep a movie on track and on budget. Don’t shoot everything that moves in the hope you will ‘make it work’ in the edit. Recce locations, screen test, rehearse, storyboard.
(4) The crew – thanks but no thanks
When working on a tight budget it’s likely you’ll be pulling favours. But many hands do not always make light work so limit the amount of crew you have to those you need or location costs will spiral. Also make sure that people can actually do the job you need. Just because they are your friend does not mean they can act or use a camera.
(5) Know the film festival market for your movie
Before you start shooting, think of why you are making your movie. If it’s for the festival market then research your festivals in advance and make sure you are hitting the festival requirements. Film festivals often have genre and length specific requirements, so know what these are before you start the process of making your movie.
(6) Have ambition for your short film
Most filmmakers would like to get distribution for their films so make sure yours is ready. Use original or cleared music – commercial music can make a movie too expensive even impossible to distribute. Get location, release, and permission forms signed – even from friends and family. When making a short film, limit archive unless you have world-wide clearances in place.
(7) Use script writing to keep your short film short
When it comes to film festivals, schedulers want to screen as many films as possible. So if your short film is 25 minutes long it means it’s replacing 3 or 4 shorter movies so it will need to be significantly more entertaining to justify that. As a scheduler, a film under 15 minutes in length is ideal under 10 is a joy .
(8) Think sound
Too many short films are let down by poor quality sound. Employ a professional sound recordist and make sure they are included in all pre-production meetings and know what ‘s happening in each shot. Never shoot without sound unless you know why and are sure you won’t need it. Always get clean room atmosphere and additional sound snippets just as you would cutaways.
(9) Be nice when making your film
It’s likely you will want to work with the same people time and time again so be respectful and thoughtful everyone. Keep the entire crew informed of the day’s activities, give them time to prepare, breaks and a reasonable wrap time and stick to it. Feed your crew well, be mindful of weather conditions and keep them safe. Limit working days to 14 hours max – preferably under 12.
(10) Make it count
Making a film is hard work. It involves long hours and keeping your crew on track and motivated can be both tiring and stressful. So make your film count, make it as well as you can, to the highest quality you can and pay attention to detail. You are not just making it just for you, you are making it for all the people who have helped.