Make a short film before you make your movie

My original plan: no short film

Charlie Chaplin

I was planning to skip the “make a short film” step and go right into pre-production for my feature. Luckily, fate intervened!

Listening to the On the Page podcast, I heard about Kim Adelman’s Making it Big in Shorts: Shorter, Faster, Cheaper: The Ultimate Filmmaker’s Guide to Short Films (affiliate link).

The motto is in the book’s title: Shorter, Faster, Cheaper.

Kim Adelman used to produce short films for the FX Movie Channel and, amazingly, got shorts accepted by Sundance four years in a row.

Many successful feature directors got started by doing shorts – it’s what got them noticed.

Some successful filmmakers still make short films where they can experiment. This gives them complete creative control.

Plan a short film that you can shoot in a weekend which is a low barrier to entry. Get it done quickly to be sure you finish it!

Making shorts is great practice for your feature film effort.

You can make mistakes on your short film when your investment is super low.

If your first short film effort is terrible, don’t make your movie just yet. Make another short film.

As you produce shorts, you can build your team of cast and crew. These are the people you will be able to count on when it’s time to make your feature.

Enter you short in film festivals. Film festivals are great places to network and get noticed.

Adelman’s book contains a lot of great  advice. For example:

  • Be sure you’ve got a good twist in your short
  • Avoid opening credits
  • Make your script as good as possible before shooting
  • Be sure it has  good sound
  • Your film must also have good acting

One chapter,  Fifty Filmmaking Tips, is chock full of useful tips for the independent filmmakers.

My favorite tip : Don’t shoot locations with white walls. This looks amateurish.

Pull the furniture away from the walls so your shots can include foreground, middle ground, and background. Pay attention to this when you watch TV shows and movies.

More short film tips

Your short should be related to your feature. This might be a secondary character’s story or another situation in the world you’ve created.

Be careful if you decide to shoot the first few minutes of the film – it may not really be a short.

Don’t be tempted to shoot a short version of the movie. It won’t work.

I highly recommend the book. And it’s short!

In addition to the the book:

  • Watch a lot of shorts – science fiction and otherwise
  • Make sure the short tells a satisfying story – many do not!
  • Keep it moving. Don’t dawdle.
  • Don’t give the audience a reason to quit watching
  • Make sure the short has an active protagonist – many do not! Sci-fi shorts, especially, are guilty of this. Some have great special effects, but without an active protagonist you can identify with, viewers will not be engaged.

Alrik Bursell’s short film, Brother, is a great example of a short film with an engaging story populated with interesting characters.

You may need to make more than one short before you make your movie.

Making short films will only make your feature better!

Once again: Shorter. Faster. Cheaper!

As always


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