For any beginning filmmaker, the challenge of producing a first short film can be overwhelming, to say the least. you may be a film student or just a hobbyist enthusiast; Either way, it’s unlikely to be an easy shoot.
However, this certainly shouldn’t deter you, not one bit. a small or no budget and a lack of crew, actors, locations and equipment are all limitations, sure, but not prohibitive to success. Some of the best artwork is done when there is a passion to tell a good story from creative difficulty.
If you like the ideas but it doesn’t help, take comfort in knowing that the most celebrated filmmakers started somewhere!
defining your vision
Any project in any medium starts with a vision. what is the goal, what is the concept of what I am trying to achieve? These are vital questions to answer at the beginning and keep them throughout the process.
Think carefully about how resource constraints might influence the job itself. Please note that this is a short film, not a feature film. Biting off more than you can chew in terms of range and duration is risky, so it’s important to decide how long a short should last.
the new york film academy says that 10-15 minutes is an ideal time reference, but there are no hard and fast rules, so be modest! keeping your movie short will not only mean less production work, it will also make it easier to share.
If filmmaking can be divided into 3 stages, the first is pre-production. for a first short film, you will find that the effort you put in here will save you from the struggle later on. When formalizing the design of the film, resources such as a script and storyboards will be invaluable from day one.
The good thing is that this part often benefits from being a solo effort. writing a screenplay or screenplay tends to be done by yourself, with a typewriter or computer, even a pencil and paper if you have to! here you’ll develop the story, the narrative, the dialogue, and each scene primarily for yourself, but particularly for anyone you might involve.
storyboarding is more about drawing shots and how the camera will shoot the sequences. some of the best are done by hand, but free software like storyboarder can be faster and more versatile.
moving from the writing stage, where it can be easy to let the project stall when working alone, the production part is calling. this is where limitations on equipment, actors, props, costumes, locations, etc. they can hit the nail on the head.
A first important tip here is to use reality as much as possible. think about how real places, real settings or environments, and even sequences can be used, manipulated, or combined with any staged dramatic action. alien worlds are not out of reach for your film location, but you may need to consider virtual production to make it happen.
Second, when shooting, make sure you get the basics like lighting right the first time and shoot more footage than you need.
People and places
Many short films are starred exclusively by the creator, their family, or willing volunteers. For his debut film Clerks (1994), director Kevin Smith used the convenience store, where he worked, as a set. His on-screen role as Silent Bob was a unique way to do a non-speaking cameo among a cast of friends and aspiring local actors.
much of the “action” consisted mainly of people talking, and amateur performances and cheap black-and-white camerawork were considered classy. the follow-up effort mallrats (1995) added polish but again showed how real locations can drive a simple narrative when the universal backlot isn’t available.
Unless you’re planning a Pixar-style animated short film, you’ll need some kind of camera. here there are two problems; what device to use on a budget and how to operate it if you are a director and a star!
Thanks to modern smartphones, the recording of high-quality video footage has never been more accessible. At the top end, for example, the iPhone 12 shoots 720p, 1080p, 4K, and even HDR at rates up to 60fps. Features like auto-focus, cinematic video stabilization and time-lapse, etc. also help greatly to automate filming.
smaller or older apple or android phones will still work fine, so the trick is to experiment. test session and watch the results appear on larger screens.
Unless you want mtv-style handheld camera work, you’ll need a tripod or clamp and an external microphone to capture better sound.
Your software can be like a virtual team when you work alone. A free mobile app like CamTrackar for iOS can help during filming by capturing motion tracking data from the 3D camera along with the video. Putting the power of post-production on your phone, camtrackar is a godsend for compositing 3d models, graphics, or animations into scenes.
With enough footage collected and shooting complete, you’ll then need an editing suite. None are more affordable and easy to learn than HitFilm, free to download for Windows and macOS.
hit movie in hand
Essential to finish any video project, hitfilm provides many hands not only for editing your short film but also as free visual effects software. Regardless of how ambitious the project, the suite can spread blockbuster stardust on a low-budget solo shoot.
Five hot HitFilm features most pertinent to short success:
- Adaptive Trimmer: Shorten times with the ability to trim shots and re-trim clips already added to the timeline.
- color correction & Gradation: Correct unbalanced footage in terms of exposure or levels of white, contrast, and color. grading applies a cinematic tone or style, with presets that ensure consistency between clips.
- keying & Extraction: When using green screen, location limitation no longer exists thanks to broadcast-quality chroma keying. put what actors you have anywhere!
- built-in audio recorder: add voiceovers or storytelling from the editor before adjusting all sounds and adding effects with the mixer.
- import animation: use a combination of media incorporating and composing animated elements, effects and blender models in the main 3d formats.
Far from being an exhaustive list of the tools you’ll use, hitfilm also includes important options like text and titles. The ability to start and end with a snazzy intro and credit sequences can’t be understated, along with extras including jittery footage fix and settings for GoPro 360-degree video.
ready for launch?
with hitfilm harnessed to edit a short film into shape, your film will be ready to share in no time. Fortunately, getting any creative content to an audience is just as easy and affordable for budget blockbusters.
showing your movie on a platform like youtube is especially interesting because viewers can post comments, opinions and suggestions. Rub shoulders with inspiring channels like Film Riot and Digital Runner that air epic short films made on shoestring budgets.
Reddit communities like r/filmmakers or r/hitfilm and filmmaking blogs can similarly provide support or technical advice to lonesome producers, as well as our very own forums.
how to make a short film by yourself
and remember: all the icons of modern independent cinema had their formative years. With some vision and ingenuity, you never know, you really could be the new Steven Soderbergh or Sofia Coppola!
Learn more about making movies on the fxhome youtube channel or check out our top 11 tips for making movies on a budget.