How to Make a Short Film
“There are only 24 hours in a day, and my top priority is working on my films, but I love short film experiments.”
Let’s start with why you want to make a short film. It’s doubtful you are pursuing a life-long dream of becoming a short film maker. More likely, you see the short film as a means to an end—to launch you on a career path of becoming a feature filmmaker.
NOTE: This is not to say there aren’t filmmakers who actually do want, or have succeeded in building, a career making short films. This article is not for them—it’s for the person who is making a short film to use as a stepping stone towards their goal of being a feature filmmaker.
In order to accomplish this goal, the fundamental requirement of the short film is that it actually gets made. Additionally, you need for your short film to showcase your talents as the filmmaker. The time constraints of the short film do not allow for lengthy character development, or complex storylines. They exist to capture an idea, a concept, a moment in time. Done right, they can be extremely impactful.
Some basic considerations will make your job of making a short film easier.
Logistics: Chances are you will be operating with a limited budget. This means the idea for the story in your short film should strive to keep things simple. No casts of 1000s of actors, no expensive locations, limited or no special effects or CGI. Like any film, a short film starts with an idea. In the case of a short film, this idea should be easy to execute—concentrate on the idea and the way you tell it, rather than try to achieve an extravaganza.
Signature: You want your short film to resonate with the audience. You want to have an impact on those that see your short. Be concise in what you want to evoke in your audience. What emotion do you want to leave your audience with? Do you want them to be afraid of the future, do you want them to cry at the ending or do you want to leave them angry or hopeful? Above all else, you want them to come away from your short as having experienced time well spent watching it and talking about the film. You want your audience to leave a slightly different person than they were prior to seeing your short film.
To get the best results for your career path you want them to talk about the film rather than the great acting performance or tremendous camera work. If they do that, then you have advanced the career path for your actors or your director of photography at the expense of your own career path. This does not mean you shouldn’t strive for great acting performances or camera work because you should. What it does mean is that the story and style with which it is told should not be overshadowed by great acting performances and camera work.
Distribution: Before you even start work on your short film you need to have a plan for getting it seen. What’s your plan? Do you have an existing YouTube channel with lots of subscribers and views? If so, that can be part of your distribution plan. By far, the most important audience will come from established festivals and contests designed for short films. One of the primary purposes of these festivals and contests is to expose new talent to the “big boys.” There are numerous film festivals you can submit to (there are usually submission fees) including several that are genre specific. Don’t ignore social media either. It can create a buzz if done right. Advance work in establishing a large social media presence can pull in dividends when you are ready to release your film.
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