For any beginner filmmaker, the challenge of producing a first short film can be daunting, to say the least. You might be a cinematography student or just an amateur enthusiast – either way, it’s unlikely to be an easy shoot.
However, this certainly shouldn’t deter you, not one bit. Small to zero budget and a lack of crew, actors, locations, and equipment are all limitations, sure, but not prohibitive to success. Some of the best artistic works get made when there’s a passion for telling a good story out of creative difficulty.
If you are big on ideas but small on help, take heart in the knowledge that the most celebrated filmmakers all started somewhere!
Defining your vision
Any project in any medium begins with a vision. What is the aim, what is the concept for what I’m trying to achieve? Are vital questions to answer at the start and stick to throughout.
Think carefully about how restrictions on resources might inform the work itself. Keep in mind that this is a short film, not a feature. Biting off more than you can chew in terms of scope and duration is risky, so settling on how long a short should be is important.
The New York Film Academy says 10-15 minutes is an ideal time reference, but there are no hard and fast rules, so stay modest! Keeping your film short will not only mean less production work but make it easier to share too.
If filmmaking can be broken into 3 stages, then the first is pre-production. For a first short film, you will find that the effort you give here will save struggle later. In formalizing the design of the film, assets like a script and storyboards will be invaluable from day one.
What’s great is that this bit often benefits from being a solo effort. Writing a script or screenplay tends to be done alone, with a typewriter or computer – even a pen and paper if necessary! Here you’ll develop story, narrative, dialogue, and each scene for yourself primarily, but particularly for anyone you may involve.
Storyboarding is more about sketching shots and how the camera will be shooting sequences. Some of the best are done by hand, but free software such as Storyboarder can be faster and more versatile.
Moving on from the writing stage, where it can be easy to let the project stall when working alone, the production bit is calling. This is where limitations on the crew, actors, props, costumes, locations, etc., may hit home.
An important first tip here is to use reality as much as possible. Think about how real places, real settings or environments, and even sequences can be used, manipulated, or blended with any staged dramatic action.
Secondly, during filming, be sure to get basics like lighting right the first time and shoot more footage than you need.
People and places
Many short films either star the maker exclusively, their family, or willing volunteers. For his debut movie Clerks (1994), director Kevin Smith used the convenience store, where he worked, as a set. His onscreen role as Silent Bob was a unique way to make a non-speaking cameo among a cast of friends and local acting hopefuls.
Much of the “action” was predominantly peopleContinue reading