How to make a short film: 10 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
'63 Comet', Directed by Jason McKee

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?

A Stitch In Time (dir. Stephen Graves)
A Stitch In Time (dir. Stephen Graves)
Fred's Shed

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.