How to make a short film: 11 pro tips for movie-making

Short films are today's medium of choice for inventive storytellers. Stuff's resident movie mogul Stephen Graves shows how to direct your own mini masterpiece

Fancy yourself as the next Spielberg or Scorsese?

It's easier than ever to make a film – new technologies have brought costs down, while the internet's made it possible to track down like-minded film-makers instead of toiling away on your own.

Here's how to get started…  

What happens when?

How to make a short film: 11 pro tips for movie-making - What happens when? 2How to make a short film: 11 pro tips for movie-making - What happens when? 3

Making a film is divided into three stages – pre-production (scripting, raising funds and planning), production (shooting the film) and post-production (editing, grading and visual effects). What you do before the camera starts rolling is as important as what you do on the day. Script and storyboard your film, make sure you've budgeted for all your needs and get copyright clearances for visuals and music – otherwise you might not be able to show your film in festivals or get distribution.

Probably the most important part of the process is writing the script – you can take the best actors and the most expensive kit, and still make a bad film if the script isn't up to scratch. It's also the cheapest part to fix, so take your time over it.

Everyone starts small

"A common mistake is being overambitious," says Virgin Media Shorts winner Jason Wingard. "I have seen first time film makers trying to shoot 20-30 min dramas or even features far too early.  Shoot something simple."

Spike Island director Mat Whitecross agrees. "The mistakes I made tended to be trying to cram a narrative for a 2-hour feature into a ten minute film. The best shorts tend to be more like poetry versus the novelistic qualities of a feature. You can be elliptical and allusive - let the audience fill in the gaps."

If they haven't convinced you, remember: almost every great film-maker started out making short films. Check out Martin Scorsese's What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?, Christopher Nolan's Doodlebug, Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket and Neill Blomkamp's Alive in Joburg for inspiration.

Location, location, location

Draw up a list of available locations (home, workplace, etc) and write around them. Even mundane locations can be made interesting with a clever script – look at films like Primer (set mainly in a suburban house and garage) and Following (set mostly in houses and flats, with a couple of key scenes shot after hours in a nightclub).

Kit list

All you really need is a camera of some sort – there are some film competitions where you shoot on a single Super 8 film cartridge, editing in-camera. It's even possible to make your film on a smartphone. 

Phocus 2 case for iPhone 5s

You may not have a RED Epic, but film-makers are increasingly using DSLR cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III. You can even kit out your iPhone 5s with lenses that use a 37mm screw-on mount using the Phocus 2 case

"I have seen many films shot on smart phones that look fantastic," says Jason Wingard. "There are some real benefits to shooting on a phone – and the microphones in smart phones are also very good. Essentially a smart phone can also be used as a radio mic."

And if you do got he smartphone route, you're in good company; both Oldboy director Park Chan-wook and Dead Man's Shoes director Shane Meadows have shot films on phones.

To give your film a professional gloss, you'll want a tripod and lights, sound recorder and some sort of editing software. 

"Make sure you record good sound – it's just as important as the pictures," notes Mat Whitecross.

More after the break...

Use what you need

Don't go hiring kit on the off chance that you'll need it. Work out what you need to achieve the shots you want – like a dolly for tracking shots, or a macro lens for close-ups.

And don't be afraid to improvise. Sam Raimi famously stuck a camera to a plank for tracking shots in The Evil Dead. Nowadays there are lots more low-cost options for film-makers – like the Parrot AR Drone 2.0, which now features a Director Mode for sweeping aerial shots.

Network!

You'll need a crew – the absolute basics are a producer to handle the budget, a director to spend it, a cinematographer to light the scene and operate the camera, a sound recorder, and an editor to cut the film. Of course, you can double up on these roles. 

Fortunately, it's easier than ever to find fellow film-makers. "Film events are great to meet other film makers," says Jason Wingard. "In addition to that there are loads of forums and web sites that allow for film networking.  Above everything else though, if you really want to meet like minded people get on a film-making course or just nab a camera and start shooting. It won't take long before you meet like minded people." 

Websites like shootingpeople.org and raindance.org are a good starting point – with the help of the internet, you should be able to assemble a team in no time. So get out there and make your film – and, as Mat Whitecross notes, "Don't forget to take the lens cap off." 

Jason Wingard is a previous winner of the Virgin Media Shorts short film competition. The 2013 winners will be announced on November 7th at the BFI IMAX, for more details, visit: virginmediashorts.co.uk

Stephen Graves is putting his money where his mouth is and is making a short film, Fred's Shed. Find out more here.

The book: Into the Woods by John Yorke (£11)

Former Channel 4 head of drama and controller of BBC drama production Yorke sets out to analyse the patterns behind storytelling, explaining why the fundamentals of narrative have remained the same from Aristotle to Aaron Sorkin. A great starting point for anyone wanting to create a story.

amazon.co.uk

The website: Shooting People (£8/month)

A great resource for film-makers, Shooting People connects you with cast and crew, serves up monthly film competitions for members, and nets you discounts on entry fees to film festivals. It also features lots of resources for film-makers, including a comprehensive events calendar, blogs and Q&A section.

shootingpeople.org

THE FILM: Side by Side (£15)

Keanu Reeves' absorbing documentary finds the actor canvassing some of Hollywood's top directors – including Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Christopher Nolan – for their opinions on the shift from film to digital. Its account of how digital film-making has democratised the industry makes for inspirational viewing.

sidebysidethemovie.com

1/3 next last
You have to login or register to comment.