Short films are a great way to hone your skills as a filmmaker and those who have taken my field production class know I have instilled the 5P's, proper preparation prevents poor performance. In addition to being prepared, there are a few hard and fast rules to getting in the game and turning a love of film watching into a career in filmmaking. Here are six pieces of information that I'd like to pass onto you as you begin your journey.
#1 Rules of the Game - The first thing you need to know is that there is no one way to do it. There are really no "rules" on how to accomplish the goal of creating a short film, however as with everything practice makes perfect. Almost every filmmaker you know and respect started out making short films of some sort, and the more they made, the more they learned about the craft.
#2 Length - A short film does needs to be, you guessed it, “short." According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a short film is an original motion picture with a running time of 40 minutes or less, including credits. We’ll pay more attention to the “...or less” part and stick to 10-15 minutes. This is definitely the case if you plan on getting into the film festival circuit, which is something you should consider. Today there are hundreds of short film festivals (and many right here in NYC) and getting your film into a festival gives you more exposure and best of all, experience.
#3 Tell a story - The story is the most important aspect of a film and in a short you have to keep it simple. There’s insufficient time to introduce a bunch of characters and their individual back stories. Keeping explanation out of dialogue helps if you can visually show a character’s personality and traits. Why spend precious time with saying something if a person’s action tells the story. It is often said, “Never say what you can show.”
#4 Casting - Your casting choices also have to be spot on. If you don’t have J Lo or Idris Elba in your contacts, that’s ok. They wouldn't make believable high school seniors if those are the characters in your short film anyway. A twenty “looking” year old isn't a believable neurosurgeon either, unless your character is a Doogie Howser. Sure you can stretch truths in your own made up world but in a short film you have to establish the norms of that universe really, really quickly. So if children are the adults and adults are the children in your film’s world, make it abundantly clear at the very start. When it comes to casting don’t settle, and be sure to take your time in casting the right person for the role.
#5 Sound matters - The quickest way to turn off a viewer is by having poor audio. Good sound quality is imperative whether it be the dialogue or ambient sound; you have to nail this one the whole way through. If your footage is a bit jarring people will still be engaged if they can clearly hear the sights and sounds, think The Blair Witch Project.
#6 The Final cut - Now let’s get into post-production. Editing is the glue that binds. Without solid editing techniques a story can be lost when incorrectly assembled. It is also helpful to take breaks when editing in order to return with a fresh pair of eyes. Watch some of your favorite movies and pay attention to how one shot goes into the next, how one scene transitions into the other. The best editing is one that controls your attention and manipulates your emotions while allowing the story to flow smoothly.
Whatever you do, know that you are going to make mistakes. Learn from them, you’ll become a better filmmaker because of those mistakes. "You’ll never hit a home run if the bat stays on your shoulder.” Go Yankees!
Now go film something…and be sure to share it with me, and the entire world too.