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Learning how to effectively make a short film is an important part of developing your cinematic skillset for longer productions.

In addition to the technical skills and professional etiquette acquired, filmmakers also learn to overcome the inevitable obstacles associated with the filmmaking process.

As part of my professional career in the film industry, as well as serving in my current role as Program Director of the Film Production Master of Fine Arts degree program at Full Sail University, I have grown to deeply recognize and understand key points students and filmmakers should remember when practicing the art of short filmmaking. Classes such as Full Sail’s Story Development for Film, Visual Storytelling Techniques and Technology, and Filmmaking Concepts and Practices all teach and delve into the various skills important to all filmmakers.

There are six steps that should be taken to bring a short film to life. Here are the steps I discuss throughout the article that can help beginners streamline the filmmaking process.

  1. Create a plan
  2. Write a script
  3. Select collaborators
  4. Practice and brainstorm steps
  5. Film
  6. Edit

Six Steps to Creating a Short Film

Step 1: Create a Plan

In the filmmaking process, preparation is a must. Careful planning sets the foundation for a successful shoot. During this step, filmmakers should craft answers to the following questions:

  • Who will be involved?
  • What will be needed?
  • When everything will be happening?
  • Where will everything be happening?
  • Why is the story you’re telling worth telling?
  • How you will accomplish your short film goals?

To exhibit professional decorum, I always advise that a filmmaker at any level keep the majority of the time spent on their film in the pre-production phase–planning and mapping out each step for those involved in the production. Although everything will not go as planned, it is a good practice to have a plan in place, so things flow more easily.

Step 2: Write A Script

If planning is the foundation, then the script is the backbone of a good film. Writing a script is the most important part of the pre-production phase of filmmaking. Before moving forward, make sure you are happy with the storyline in place. Oftentimes, people try to fix their story while shooting, but that usually leads to missed shots, a confusing storyline, and at the very worst, an unsatisfactory film-watching experience.

I also like to remind my students of the importance of storytelling for the audience’s understanding and not the filmmaker’s personal perspective. If your audience is not clear on your film’s message, then you haven’t succeeded in telling your story visually.

Often people assume that writing a short script is easier than writing a longer script. In fact, this isn’t so! When you are writing a long script, you have a lot of time to develop your story. But if you have to introduce your characters, have obstacles to overcome and only a few pages to do so, it can be extremely challenging.

Therefore, to successfully write a short script, keep your story simple, your concept unique and don’t forget a twist at the end! The unexpected twist is the secret to successful short film scripts.

Step 3: Select Collaborators

During this step, filmmakers are figuring out who they would like to get involved in their film, if they plan to use anyone. Although collaborators are not a necessity in a short film, I tend to recommend them to my students at Full Sail.

Everything is very collaborative in the industry. Having practiced on a smaller scale helps filmmakers learn how to accept constructive criticism. Including various collaborators on your project will result in a project that exhibits everyone’s best during the final product.

Step 4: Practice and Brainstorm Steps

There are several tactics filmmakers can take during this step to improve their short films. Each of the practices listed will help you avoid missing important details during the actual filming of your work.

  1. Table Reading: During table readings, the cast reads the entire script together. This tactic is useful because you will be able to more effectively identify holes in the script that can be altered before filming begins.
  2. Storyboarding: You do not have to be an artist to storyboard. I tend to draw stick figures. Storyboarding is drawing out a sequence of events to help visualize shots.
  3. Previsualization: Much like storyboarding, previsualizations assist in building shot lists ahead of filming. I recommend using your phone and taking photos of the shots you would like to accomplish.

A budget is also a large part of the brainstorming and practicing step. Figure out what you can afford, what you want to accomplish within that budget, and work to align the two as much as possible.

Step 5: Film

The next step in making a short film is the actual filming. If you have a larger cast and crew, I recommend not doing more than 10 shots a day. At the end of each shooting day, it is a good practice to watch the film to make sure you got everything you needed out of those particular shots.

During this step, feeding your crew may appear unrelated, but providing meals during long days of shooting is a must when you are filming. As a beginner in short form filmmaking, the bulk of the money you spend will go to feeding your cast and crew. Your cast and crew should be fed at every six-hour mark and have plenty of snack options to choose from within that time span.

Also, with COVID-19, be sure to follow guidelines and take all the safety measures necessary to ensure your cast and crew remain safe during the filming process. For more information about safe filming procedures, please consult your local film commission office.

Step 6: Edit

Think about where you want to go with your short film while editing. It helps determine the length of the film. For example, if you want to go to a film festival with your short film, they may have specific requirements, so knowing that you would likely edit your short film according to those guidelines and restrictions.

Additionally, it’s important not to cut your short film to a temp track of music. It will often cause beginner filmmakers to unconsciously choose shot length based on the beat, instead of cutting to serve the story.

What Everyone Creating a Short Film Should Remember

  • Keep your cast and crew in mind when making decisions because professional decorum is vital in building a positive reputation.
  • Spending the bulk of your time in the pre-production and planning process makes for a smoother experience during the filming and editing process.
  • Collaboration in the short form filmmaking process helps filmmakers learn how to take constructive criticism.

The goal in any profession is to work smarter, not harder. With the six steps discussed throughout the article, you can gain a better understanding of the processes veteran filmmakers take to streamline their efforts. Short filmmaking is an enjoyable art form and will ultimately build your skills in the long run.

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