How to Make Your First Short Film

Today, taking the first steps in film directing is easier than ever: you can shoot directly on your phone (after all, this is what Sean Baker, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and many other successful directors did) and submit to film festivals via the Internet, or just upload your work to YouTube and win millions of views. The first logical step for an aspiring filmmaker is to make a short film.

And how to shoot it as cool as possible, we will tell you in our article.

There is one very important point in finding a topic – it’s crucial that you get goosebumps from the topic when you think about it. It’s not your storytelling skills that matter, but the emotion and energy you radiate from your topic: that’s how you’ll attract like-minded people.

There is no universal recipe for choosing a theme. It happens that the topic just falls out of nowhere, but it also happens that you torture yourself to find at least the grain of inspiration. Get out of your comfort zone more often, walk more, eavesdrop on random people, take notes and sketches. Relatively speaking, find something that will greatly interest you.

Step #2. Scriptwriting

The script is the backbone of any film. Even if there are only explosions on the screen, all this exists at the level of the script and should be engaging even in the form of text or visualization. At least, that’s what everyone in the industry says. And this is true, so learn how to write the script.

The narrative in the script should be based on the following outline:

  • Exposition: explaining the setting, the protagonist, and the conflict.
  • Introduction: an event that changes the usual rhythm of the protagonist’s life.
  • Action development: the development of characters and relationships between them.
  • Climactic scene: the most dramatic moment in the film.
  • Collapse: the protagonist faces the aftermath of the climactic scene.
  • Outcome: the conflict is resolved, and the heroes get or don’t get what they want.

The script can be written in programs like Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Movie Outline, or other tools.

After you write the script, you can show the finished pages to your friends so that they can help weed out all the unnecessary. And be sure to protect your files with the final version so that your brilliant short film ideas don’t leak.

Step #3. Search for Location and Actors

Start by choosing locations for shooting according to the objectives of the scenario. Most often, novice directors like students take on projects where there are only one or two locations, and preferably this is the interior. Arranging shooting in someone’s apartment or finding a suitable option on special platforms is a convenient and budget-friendly way.

If you are shooting outdoors, that is, on the street or in public spaces, it is advisable to obtain permission in advance.

Actors can be found in theaters, theatrical and film universities, in public on social networks. Go to theater websites, everyone has a “troupe” section, look there, if you like someone, find them on social media and offer roles. Give ads with references and descriptions of the type, people will send you their photos and videos. By the way, you can find a suitable type among friends as well.

Step #4. Planning and Filming

After you have decided on the location of the shooting and agreed on everything with the actors, draw up a calendar and production plan, make a director’s script, call lists, and so on. In order to shoot successfully, you need to have a shooting schedule, a director’s script, a shot time in seconds, a storyboard, and a dialogue sheet of actors on hand.

On the day of the shooting, everyone should know what to do.

Now a few words about the best film equipment. The most important rule is to finally have a high-quality picture, and what equipment you use for this is really crucial. You can shoot on an iPhone, but it imposes a number of restrictions, such as focus shifting, but if you use what you have correctly, that will be enough. The main thing is the idea.

The same cannot be said for sound equipment. Make sure you have really good sound gear. Your working arsenal for recording audio should include a directional microphone, a microphone boom, and an audio mixer.

Bonus tip: when shooting a film, it is better to shoot more than less. Even if it seems to you that the frame lasts longer than planned, don’t rush to shout “stop”. Sometimes an actor does something unexpected. Or a bird will fly across the landscape. Life puts things in perspective. Better hold on.

Step #5. Postproduction

A film is truly born during video editing.

If you are the editor yourself, then choose the program that you like most – there are a great many of them. For example, Adobe products. Reviews of these programs and technical opportunities can be easily found on YouTube. For macOS, FinalCut is a good fit – it’s an editing program that many studios use.

At its core, all editing programs are arranged in the same way: cut and merge, so the principle of operation of any tool is clear. Having mastered the basics, you can go further and try to work with color changes and soundtracks.

Final Step – Conquering Short Film Festivals

There are many festivals, so there is always a chance to get somewhere. You can act independently or through agents who, for an additional fee, take care of all organizational issues: monitoring festivals, submitting applications, tracking results, feedback, and so on.

It might be worth trying out on your own: there are plenty of online platforms where you can upload your movie. Go to the main page, register, and upload your work.

Once again, there are a lot of festivals, everywhere there are different contexts, programs, preferences, and different people who select films. So if ten festivals ignore your movie, the eleventh will definitely not.

Final Say

It is not necessary to have specialized education in order to make an excellent short film. But you need to study all the time. It can be anything, from articles and videos on YouTube to some kind of work on the spot.

Learn, practice, and then one day your film will be seen by the whole world.


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