Making Short Films – Are you looking at taking your first steps in becoming a filmmaker? While there are many steps, a beginner filmmaker can take to becoming a more established filmmaker, making a short film is one of the best ways to get your feet wet.
Why is making a short film a good idea for beginning filmmakers compared to making a full-length feature? Even though most audience attention goes to watching full-length features because of streaming services and theatrical releases, making a full-length feature as a beginning filmmaker is a daunting task.
I have been part of a few independent full-length films as an actor and co-producer over the past few years from first-time filmmakers that ended up going nowhere.
Why? Because they were shot with limited resources, limited crew, and a quick shooting pace. Heck, both of the full-length features were shot in 4 days. How can a filmmaker shoot a 70+ min film in 4 days and still be well received in the festival circuit or distribution market?
So if you are a beginning filmmaker looking to make a mark in the film industry, do you want to go all out and make a full-length feature that may not go anywhere? Think about the money, talent, and time that can be wasted if you lack the experience to make a full-length feature.
That’s why I always stress to ambitious inexperienced filmmakers looking to get noticed to start off making short films at the start.
I have made a few short films in the past. With these short films I have directed, produced, and even assisted in directing, and yet I still am not ready to take the big step in shooting a full-length feature film. Why? Because I don’t yet have the experience to make a full-length feature film, and that’s with five years of working on independent productions.
If you are a beginning filmmaker on the fence of deciding on making a short film or full-length feature film, this post will help you understand the pros of making a short film compared to a full-length film at the beginning of your filmmaking journey.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like I mentioned above that I have been part of two full-length features, that were shot in such a few days, that you don’t have time to realize your mistakes and learn from them because it’s too late.
I won’t mention the films in case the filmmakers see this post, but here is my IMDB profile link, the initials of the films are PP and CD. One of them is still not yet ready for release, even though I have heard it has made it into a festival somewhere around the world.
I enjoyed being part of both of those films, but if you are funding the projects yourself, you better make sure there is a return on your investment.
Besides me working as a set dresser on a major Netflix show, most of the projects I have been involved in have been short films.
What can I tell you about making short films? A whole heck of a lot. But what stands out the most in being part of these short films was the unavoidable failures and disasters. This knowledge has improved my confidence to begin producing and directing my next short film feature in the fall.
With the past short films I have made, I was flying by the seat of my pants, just winging it and hoping everything would turn out ok.
To me, the only way to learn something right is to experience the process of filmmaking from beginning to end and making mistakes along the way. This is the only way to gain the confidence you need to make your first full-length feature film. If you don’t have on-set experience, you are setting yourself up for failure.
So if you are thinking about making a short film, start small so you can understand the process of filmmaking. Get a script that is five to seven pages long, so it is easy to shoot in regards to the crew, locations, funding, gear, etc, so it is more manageable for you.
Then when you are done with that short film, make another, and another until you are ready to tackle a large project like a full-length film.
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Proof of concept
Have you ever asked your friends and family for money to invest in a short film project? Now, imagine asking film financiers to risk millions of dollars on a full-length feature film from a nobody.
Trying to get funding to make a full-length feature requires so many elements to come into play for a film financier to even think about scheduling a meeting to discuss the project.
Everything from intellectual property to famous actors involved in the project needs to be in play to persuade someone to spend money on a project.
So, what can a filmmaker do to get themselves meetings to get funding? Shoot a short film that is a proof of concept for a much larger project.
Here is an example of a proof of concept short film that the filmmaker ended up getting funding for a full-length feature.
While everyone he pitched the film to for funding loved the screenplay, they just didn’t see how there would be a return on their investment. So what did Damien Chazelle do?
He picked a scene(video above) from the screenplay, shot it, edited it, and then used that short film as a taste of what the feature would look like. From this, he was able to shop Whiplash as a proof of concept to film executives of what the tone of the full-length feature would look like. In the end, he got his film financed.
This is not the only short film that has been made as a proof of concept to get funding for a full-length feature version 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
Actors are always building clips for their demo reel, so why not directors.
Short films are a great way to make you stand out from the crowd compared to those filmmakers only using business cards to sell themselves.
Short films are great examples to present to producers and even agents of what you can do. Demo reels are great because you can pick and choose what are your best scenes shot and create almost like a greatest hits package.
Like I mentioned above, demo reels are not just for actors, they are great selling tools for cinematographers (like the video above), editors, actors, make-up artists, VFX artists, special effects artists, set designers, costume designers… the list goes on.
Sure, a business card works for networking, but to sell your visual work, you need a demo reel to impress those who are worried about taking a risk on an unknown.
Better Access To A Larger Audience
With social media platforms like Youtube, Vimeo, and even Ticktock, film directors can reach audiences across the world without having to worry about dealing with a distributor.
Online distribution is great for any length of the film and can be shown for free or even at a cost to the viewer.
Plus, you no longer have to worry about the length of your script, if your idea can be made into a short film of any length of time, shoot the script because there is an audience for the story you are wanting to tell.
When you think about the length of time it takes to shoot a 90+ feature from pre-production to post-production, it could take years. On top of that, you have to worry about whether or not it will get distributed, and if it will make any money or not.
Why not just shoot a script that ends up being 10 or 15 minutes, you will probably make some mistakes along the way, learn from the process, and then put it on social media for the world to see.
You have to network to get work. The film industry in an industry that is very tight, and to break into the industry, you need to gain trust from others to continue down the path of being a filmmaker.
Sure you can do this with a feature-length film as a set dresser, locations manager, and so on, but depending on where you live, feature-length films in production are few and far between.
But, if you get yourself in the short film community, you could be shooting a new short each month. This means you are meeting new people each time, which means the more trust you build, and the better chances of meeting the right people down the road.
For example, I moved to Victoria, BC, Canada a few years back and knew nobody in the city. Meeting new friends in this town was tough. But with my film school background, I decided to volunteer my time on short film productions in the area and began building relationships that over time have been helpful in my filmmaking career.
I have been able to work on a major Netflix production, produced an award-winning short film, and start directing again with a short film shooting in the fall of 2021. This all happened from short films, and just being nice to people.
Get Exposure In Film Festivals
Having a film selected for a film festival is tough in itself. The amount of money being spent on entrance fees for each festival, plus the fact that there are so many features being made independently that competition is tougher and tougher.
But what I noticed from being a juror in a film festival is that it’s much easier for a short film to be selected into a festival compared to a feature-length.
Why? Because with various lengths of short films made, they can fit into any festival program. If there are three 12 minute long shorts, fitting in two short films of six minutes each in between allows for the festival to offer more variety to its audiences.
Plus, if you make a film that gets into a film festival and is a major crowd-pleaser, most programmers will always keep an eye out for you the next time you submit a film.
Because that is all that a filmmaker wants, and that is exposure. With exposure comes new opportunities to do more projects, which could lead to full-length features.
I hope that this article gets your creative juices flowing and you seriously think about making a short film whatever your experience is. With so many new avenues available to filmmakers to have their projects shown to more and more people around the world, why wouldn’t you want to start shooting?
I will leave you with my favorite short film below to show you what a short film can accomplish.
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