What is a short film?
A short film, according to the Oscar Academy(1), is an original motion picture with a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits. Apart from this textbook definition, the rules for making a short film aren’t set in stone. Usually, a short film is characterized by a low budget, a tight storyline, and often stars upcoming actors and directors.
Short films are a great way for newbie filmmakers and directors to try their hands on a project. It’s often used as a sort of portfolio, to show that you’ve got the creativity to thrive as a movie director or producer. Filmmaking students, hobbyists and beginner cinematographers also tend to try out their hands on short films, as a way to practice what they learn.
Also read: Best Camera for Filmmaking on a Budget
Short film checklist
What do you need to successfully make a short film? Certainly, there is a lot of equipment and software you’d be using in your filmmaking journey, we’d cover that in the later section. This short film checklist is to identify what it takes a filmmaker to make a short film. These are the things you should have before fully embarking on a short film project.
The story or plot behind a short film should be punchy, attention-grabbing, and easily relatable. Basically, you wouldn’t want a story with many twists and turns that wouldn’t properly fit into a short screen time. Ideally, a short film plot revolves around one main idea and seeks to evoke a particular emotion from the audience.
Even with a simple storyline, it can be difficult to properly enact a scene in quick succession to make a short film. Short films are a true test of creativity. You need to be innovative to make things work.
A good way to do this is to think up the shortest possible way to convey the main idea behind each selected scene. This is the work of the filmmaker or director, to communicate as succinctly as possible using creative cuts to grab viewer’s attention and allow them make connections in their mind.
You just can’t stress this enough when it comes to making a short film. A lot of beginners try to get overly ambitious with their plot. While that is good, you have to work with something within your means. Trying to achieve an off-the-chart film with limited budget is the easiest way to experience burnout on a project.
How to make a short film: Step-by-step process
Alright. Here’s the part where we double-down to teach you how to make a short film by yourself. However, it’s worthy of note that these steps are only fundamental, there’s a lot of intuitiveness and “going with the flow” that has to come from the filmmaker.
Here’s our process for learning how to make a short film:
Create a script
It’s one thing to have a storyline, it’s another to have a script. Movie script is how filmmakers can communicate their ideas to the actors that would play the parts in a movie. For a short film, the script is obviously going to be shorter.
Most times, a page of script equals about one minute of screen time. It’s also important to properly edit the script before proceeding to film. You would want to edit for tone, flow of thought, conciseness, and grammar.
In writing your script, you should take feedback seriously. It’s important to get an opinion of how other people might perceive your concept and know how to better present something relatable.
For cinematographers who just have an idea and don’t want to go through the stress of writing a script by themselves, there’s the option of hiring a professional script writer to help put your ideas into words. In other cases, videographers can decide to buy an already written short film script from online writers.
Visualize with a storyboard
A storyboard helps you to bring your story to life. It details character actions per scene (2). A storyboard is important because it would help you visualize how your short film would be acted, apart from the words of the script.
To go hand-in-hand with a storyboard is a shot list. The shot list takes the storyboard a step further by detailing how characters will be portrayed in each frame. Having a shot list and a storyboard will significantly make your job as director easier and more organized when you start shooting the film.
Pre-production is all about preparation
The best way to go into a short film production is to go in fully prepared. The process of making a film can be stressful on its own. So, making adequate preparations is vital to help you enjoy the process and have fun while doing what you love.
What are the things to get ready in preparation for making a short film?
Short films feature fewer actors than feature films. Depending on your budget, you can decide to cast family and friends for the roles, or if you can afford it, do an audition for the roles. If you’re hiring professional actors, you should also pay attention to the legal clauses that apply like compiling actor release forms.
Attempting to run the whole filming process on your own can be tiresome. Having a team or production crew usually pays off in terms of momentum for a project. You get to focus on getting the acting and story right, rather than being preoccupied with minor setups. At the least, you can get a co-director, a videographer, or a sound engineer.
- Equipment and gears
Again, depending on how much you’re budgeting for your short film, you can decide to use available cameras and gears, purchase new ones, or rent film equipment. You’d be needing a camera; could be your smartphone camera or a DSLR. Other equipment include microphones; boom mics and lavaliers, tripods and gimbals, lights, clamps, and sometimes, a green screen.
Securing a location is another important step in making a short film. The location you choose will determine the type of camera, lighting equipment, and microphones appropriate for your project. Also, in scouring a location, be sure to obtain all the permits needed in case you’re using a public or private property.
A great idea for a location for a short film is to bargain with small business owners or shops who have a serene environment. You use their space, and in exchange, you feature their product or service in your film.
Rehearse scenes before going over to filming (could be done on location; blocking the scene)
Shoot your short film
All the steps and plans in pre-production have led up to this part. Now it’s time to put the plan to action. Remember to stick with your filming schedule. Communicate ahead of time and send reminders to the cast and crew members of the date, time, and location for each shoot.
Use your shot list as a guide for the filming process. Do lots of rehearsals and filming till you get each shot right. Filming doesn’t have to be chronological. It’s best to shoot frames as cast and location is available. This would save time and the cost of having to revisit a set.
Some other important tips for successful filming is to always take more than enough frames and shot angles. Be safety conscious. And also try to make food, snacks, and drinks available for cast and crew, this would make people more comfortable and energized. Don’t forget to appreciate your cast and crew members, once you’ve checked every frame off your shot list.
Start post-production by reviewing footage
Once recording is done, you should waste no time in reviewing all the footage and audio you have. This involves uploading the raw files on your editing software of choice. The aim here is to go through the files you have to assess what you have and how you can make the raw files into the best version of your short film.
Bouts of editing
Learning how to make a short film isn’t complete without learning the basics of video editing. The editing stage is where you finalize your work. It takes time to do a proper edit. The motto for editing a short film is “cut, cut, and cut some more.” You have to make every scene and every second of screen time earn its place in the movie.
Pay attention to analysis of each scene, to get the best frames to use. Again, feedback from a second pair of eyes is important here. Allowing time and intervals between different bouts of editing is also important. Also focus on tightening the flow and pacing of the story, this helps to keep viewers intrigued and engaged through the film.
Finish and share your short film
Once you have the final cut of your short film, you can have a small show-party with your family, friends, and colleagues. You should give yourself a pat on the back for all the effort you’ve put into completing your short film project.
You can then choose how you want to distribute your work; maybe upload on YouTube or share on your social media platforms. You can also submit your short film to film festivals or competitions covering short films.
There is no general consensus on how long a short film should be. A short film can be as short as 5 minutes or run up to 40 minutes. Just focus on telling your story as clearly and as concisely as possible.
Yes, you can shoot a short film on your smartphone. Smartphones now have great video capabilities, some record up to 4K resolution. You can get a gimbal or a tripod to stabilize your footage.
Now that we’ve gone through how to make a short film with our step-by-step process, the only hurdle left for you is to implement. Start by conceiving a short film idea; you can get inspiration by watching successful short films from other filmmakers. Then put your creativity to work by making a short film of your own.
What has been your key takeaway from our guide on making short films? Have you directed a short film as a videographer? What would you advise a newbie? Let’s hear it all in the comments below.
- The Sheffield Institute for the Recording Arts blog. (n.d). What is the Difference between Short Films and Feature Length Films? Retrieved from https://www.sheffieldav.com/education/short-films-vs-feature-length-films
- StudioBinder YouTube. (August 7, 2017). How to Make a Storyboard (ft. Star Wars). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=238eypcdOzU