The Short Guide to Making an Awesome Short

Part 1. Script Writing: Have a good story to tell
Part 2.1. Pre-Production: Be ready!
Part 2.2. Pre-Production: Keep on preparing!
Part 3. Production: Are you ready?
Part 4. Post-Production: The fun part!
Part 5. Release and Promotion

Part 3: Lights, Camera & Action!

So it’s almost Day 1 of production! Are you ready? This part is a bit harder to prepare for since all the preparations should come in the pre production, and every film requires different elements of preparation.

Short  Guide Production ChecklistLets start with some technical parts. Make sure you create a checklist of everything you need, especially if you are the one taking care of all the props. And if your not the one, make sure that the person doing the list doesn’t forget anything. This should also include a mechanical list (camera, lenses, tripod, crane, lights..) anything that you need on the set. For any rentals or pick ups try to have everything in possession the day before, if not possible, go as early in the morning as you can. And don’t forget to organize transportation of all your crew and equipment! This can all be done a day or two before production if you have a vehicle, if you don’t make sure to plan that as well.

Take good care of your actors!

Remember chances are they are doing this on their free time, for fun. If your location is in a difficult spot to get to, make sure you have someone go pick them up, and always offer them the service, even if they have their own car, at least you’ll be sure they’ll be on time. Also don’t forget to give them a ride back after the days is done.

Do not forget to feed your actors and entire crew! This will not only make you look professional as a production team, but will also keep your cast and crew happy. Shooting days are long, and even though you’ll be busy from beginning to end, most of your cast and crew will be on stand-by waiting for hours, so make sure you have a few chairs and snacks to munch on. Sandwiches and pizzas are great for lunch breaks. If you absolutely have no budget for food, make sure to warn everyone to bring their own lunch. Last thing you need is an actor passing out on set!

Back to technicalities

Be organized, have an assistant director next to you at all time with all the time sheets and shooting orders on hand. The assistant should always be one step ahead of you to prepare you for the next shot. Might not sound like a fun job, but this position is one of the most underestimated in the business. It can save you time, patience and money, ultimately making your film look better because your spending more time on the actual film.

Be patient with your shots and actors, especially if their not experienced. Make sure your shot is exactly how you want it, and don’t be pressured by actors on standby looking annoyed or tired while waiting for their scenes, if they are professionals they should know that’s how it is, if their not pros, make sure to tell them during the auditions.

Take Beautiful Shots

This might be coming back to story boarding part in pre-production, but I can’t emphasize it enough: create breathtaking shots! Avoid tripods and static shots, add movements to your shot, even they are subtle, it will ad a touch of life to the scene. Try to invest in a steadicam if you have hand-held shots, this can make all the difference in your film. If you can’t afford one, there are plenty of tutorials on how to make your own steadicam for under 15$ . Another thing you should make sure to include is focal depth, play with the depth of field, movement and depth will envelope your story into a new layer of texture that your viewers will certainly enjoy.

Breathtaking shots
Breathtaking shot from short film “032” The Canadian Affair by Thibaut Duverniex

When shooting a scene always start with the most difficult shot, and work your way down to the easy cuts and closer ups. Don’t be afraid to take extra shots or fill ins even if you know they might not be needed. Once in post production they can be very useful if a scene needs a cut or a better flow.

But the best advice I can probably give you for production is to EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED! Yes I bolded that because I want you to see it and remember it! No matter how much you plan, things do go wrong on set, besides the little things like a burnt light or a missing prop big things can happen too, like being kicked out of the location your shooting for not having a permit, or it’s not raining like the forecast said. These things can happen, especially in shorts with less budget, so make sure you have a backup plan, or at least be ready to move instinctively.

A few days before shooting After The Rain we went on out to do test shots. At our main location we got stopped by security guards to stop filming because we were in front of a government building. We lingered around and took a few more hidden test shots and then left. First thing we did after that was looking for a new location that can replace our original choice. On the day of the shoot we set up early at our primary location, we tried to go as quickly as we could of before getting kicked out, and luckily we got all our needed shots, but we were set to move quickly if we needed too. But we weren’t so lucky with other shots when the sun came out for almost an hour and dried up all the rain… We had to improvise with some shots planned for the next day with the actors available not to lose too much time.

Before moving on to another location, try to find time to review your shots on a bigger screen, a film monitor would be great, but if your shooting on DSLR a laptop will do just fine. Make sure you have free space on it, or an external hard drive so you can backup your shots as you go. Running out of memory on your card with a few scenes left is not fun, same goes for the battery.. Have backups!

Get Some Behind The Scenes Shots

Have a photographer on the set, and if possible a second camera to film the process. This is at your discretion, but remember that the more behind the scenes material you have the more people will gain interest in your project. If you don’t have an extra camera or photographer, make a crew member take photos with their smart phone, and maybe some short clips. If you can tweet or Facebook a quick photo of behind the scenes right away, and try to upload the rest of the photos on your blog, Facebook or Tumblr that same night.

Have a great shoot and make sure to utilize everything you prepared in pre-production! See you next week in post!

Part 4: Post Production