Making Short Films – Are you thinking of starting your career as a filmmaker? While there are several paths a beginner filmmaker can pursue to become a more experienced filmmaker, shooting a short film is one of the most effective methods to get started.
When compared to shooting a full-length feature film, why is making a short film a beneficial choice for new filmmakers? Even though full-length features receive the majority of viewer attention due to streaming platforms and theatrical releases, making a full-length feature as a first-time filmmaker is a difficult task.
Over the last few years, I’ve been a part of a few independent full-length films as an actor and co-producer from first-time directors that have gone nowhere.
Why? Because they were shot on a tight budget, with a small team, and at a fast tempo. Both full-length films were shot in under four days. How can a filmmaker shoot a 70-minute film in four days and yet have a successful festival run or distribution deal?
While it is possible, you must be familiar with every aspect of filmmaking from pre-production to post-production for it to be successful.
So, if you’re a budding filmmaker seeking to break into the profession, do you want to go all out and make a feature picture that may or may not succeed? Consider how much money, talent, and time you could be wasting if you don’t have the experience to develop a feature film.
That’s why I usually tell aspiring inexperienced filmmakers who want to establish a name for themselves to start with short films.
In the past, I’ve made a few short films. I’ve directed, produced, and even participated in the direction of these short films, but I’m still not ready to take the major step of shooting a full-length feature picture.
Why? Because, despite five years of working on independent productions, I lack the experience to develop a full-length feature film.
If you’re a beginner filmmaker debating whether to make a short film or a full-length feature film, this post will help you understand the advantages of shooting a short film versus a full-length film at the start of your career.
Practice Makes Perfect
As I previously stated, I’ve been a part of two full-length films that were shot in such a short amount of time that you don’t have time to realize and learn from your mistakes because it’s too late.
I’m not going to mention the films since I don’t want the filmmakers to see this, but here’s a link to my IMDB page; the films’ initials are PP and CD. One of them is still in the works, even though I’ve heard it’s been featured at a festival somewhere in the world.
I had a lot of fun being a part of both of those films, but if you’re funding them yourself, make sure you get a good return on your investment. Aside from my job as a set dresser on a major Netflix show, the majority of my projects have been short films.
I’m not sure what I can tell you about making short films. Quite a bit. But it was the inescapable failures and disasters that stood out the most as a result of being a part of these short films. This information has given me more confidence in my ability to start producing and directing my second short film feature in the fall.
I was flying by the seat of my trousers with my previous short films, just winging it and hoping things would turn out well.
To me, the only way to learn something correctly is to go through the entire process of filmmaking, making mistakes along the way. This is the only way to build the confidence you’ll need to direct your first feature film. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you don’t have any on-set experience.
So, if you’re thinking of making a short film, start small to have a better understanding of the process. Get a five- to seven-page script to make it easier to shoot in terms of crew, venues, funding, and equipment, and to make it more doable for you.
Then, when you’ve finished that short film, make another, and another, until you’re ready to take on a larger project, such as a feature film.
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Proof of concept
Have you ever enlisted the help of your friends and family to fund a short film project? Imagine asking film financiers to take a chance on a full-length feature film from a complete unknown.
Trying to acquire finance for a full-length feature film involves so many factors to come into play before a film financier will even consider meeting with you to discuss the movie.
To persuade someone to invest money in a project, everything from intellectual property to famous individuals involved in the initiative must be in play.
So, how can a filmmaker set up meetings to secure funding? Produce a short video that serves as a proof of concept for a larger production.
Here’s an example of a proof-of-concept short film that resulted in funding for a full-length feature film.
Damien Chazelle, the filmmaker of La La Land, had a feature-length script ready to peddle around when he was trying to get Whiplash made. While everyone he pitched the picture to for finance appreciated the screenplay, they couldn’t find a way to make money off of it. So, Damien Chazelle, what did he do?
He chose a scene from the screenplay, shot it, edited it, and then utilized the short film as a preview of what the feature will be like. As a result, he was able to pitch Whiplash to film executives as a proof of concept for the tone of the full-length feature. In the end, he was able to secure funding for his project.
This isn’t the first time a short film has been developed as a proof of concept in order to secure funding for a feature-length adaptation of the script.
Another fantastic example of a proof of concept film that ended up becoming a full-length feature was the short film Glory At Sea (video below) directed by Benh Zeitlin, which ended up being Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Great Demo Reel
Why should directors be any different? Actors are always creating clips for their demo reels. When compared to filmmakers who only use business cards to advertise themselves, short films are a great method to stand out from the crowd.
Short films are excellent samples of what you may do to show producers and even agents. Demo reels are useful because they allow you to pick and choose which of your best moments to include in a bundle that functions almost like a greatest hits collection.
Demo reels aren’t just for actors; they’re also terrific selling tools for cinematographers (as seen in the video above), editors, make-up artists, VFX artists, special effects artists, set designers, costume designers, and so on.
A business card is fine for networking, but if you want to sell your visual work, you’ll need a demo reel to entice individuals who are hesitant to take a chance on an unknown.
Better Access To A Larger Audience
Film directors may reach audiences all around the world without having to deal with a distributor using social media platforms like Youtube, Vimeo, and even Tiktok.
Online distribution is ideal for films of any length and can be viewed for free or at a cost to the spectator.
Plus, you don’t have to be concerned about the length of your script; if your concept can be turned into a short film of any length, shoot it since there is an audience for the storey you want to convey.
When you consider how long it takes to shoot a 90-minute feature film from pre-production through post-production, it can take years. You also have to consider whether or not it will be circulated and whether or not it will be profitable.
Why not just shoot a 10- or 15-minute script, make some mistakes along the way, learn from the experience, and then post it on social media for all to see?
To find work, you must network. The film industry is a highly tight-knit community, and in order to break into it, you must acquire the trust of people in order to continue on your journey to becoming a filmmaker.
Sure, you can do this as a set dresser, location manager, and so on on a feature-length film, but feature-length films under production are few and far between depending on where you reside.
However, if you join the short film scene, you can find yourself filming a new short every month. This means you’re meeting fresh individuals every time, which means the more trust you create, the more likely you are to meet the appropriate people later.
For example, when I moved to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada a few years ago, I knew no one. It was difficult to make new friends in this place. However, because of my film school experience, I opted to donate my time on local short film productions and began to form relationships that have proven to be beneficial in my filmmaking career.
I’ve had the opportunity to work on a large Netflix project, produce an award-winning short film, and return to directing with a short film scheduled to shoot in the fall of 2021. All of this came about as a result of short films and simply being nice to people.
Get Exposure In Film Festivals
It’s difficult enough to get a film selected for a film festival. The amount of money spent on festival entrance fees, along with the fact that so many attractions are created individually, means that competition is becoming increasingly fierce.
However, as a film festival juror, I’ve discovered that selecting a short film for a festival is considerably easier than selecting a feature-length picture.
Why? Because short films come in a variety of lengths, they can be incorporated into any festival programme. Fitting in two short films of six minutes each in between three 12-minute shorts helps the festival to give more diversity to its audience.
Furthermore, if your film is accepted into a film festival and is a big hit, most programmers will keep a look out for you the next time you submit a film.
Because a filmmaker just cares about one thing: visibility. With increased visibility comes more possibilities to work on additional projects, maybe leading to full-length films.
I hope that this essay sparks your imagination and inspires you to consider making a short film, regardless of your previous experience. Why wouldn’t you want to start shooting now, with so many new opportunities for filmmakers to have their work seen by a growing number of people all over the world?
To demonstrate what a short film may accomplish, I’ll leave you with my favorite short film below.
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About the author: Trent (IMDB | Youtube) has spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.