Guidelines

Making a short film isn’t as daunting or intimidating as it may sound. If you have a story to tell, a vision of how to tell it and a drive to tell it… then all you need is to organize yourself and stick to a rough outline of an action list. Today with digital cameras and smartphones, making a short film is easier than ever. However, ease of available shooting medium doesn’t mean that one can do away with other aspects of filmmaking. The means and avenues may have become simplified… but the process remains the same.


One of the first things that you must do is decide whether you want to make a narrative fiction film or a non-fiction documentary. For this, you must know your subject and deliberate if it can be best served by telling it as it is (documentary) or by fashioning a screenplay around a story (narrative).

If you are going the script route, there are several screenwriting softwares out there that can be very helpful. Celtx is one example- it is convenient and free to use.


Even if you are planning a documentary, it is always wise to have a basic outline of a script.

Try and make your characters as interesting as possible. Use references from everyday life to colour them and base your scenes on. Scenes help move the plot forward. Even in a documentary, plot development is essential. An audience must always feel a sense of forward plot movement. In fiction, plot development can be either effect or cause of a character arc. An arc for a character is where s/he begins and eventually ends. An understanding, a renewed will, sense of loss, eventual triumph and so on are some character arcs. There are several such arcs that one can explore.

Once you are done with your script, you get down to shooting. For a fiction film, somewhere prior to this is the casting. For a short film, you can enlist your enthusiastic friends and/or eager acting students from nearby schools or colleges.

While the art and science of cinematography is complex and can take time to master, when starting out one will do well to look at available media and see the different types of shots employed. It is generally agreed to have an establishing wide shot before moving to a closer shot. When dealing with two characters in a scene, a two-shot is desirable where back-forth dialogues are captured over-the-shoulder. When capturing a solo character, both in a narrative film and as a subject in a documentary, it is preferred to use the rule of thirds. In other words, break-up the width of your shot into three vertical columns and have the subject placed in the farthest right one-third of the frame or the farthest-left one-third. Populate the remaining two-thirds with an interesting backdrop or one that offers information to the audience about the subject/character.


There are several other shots such as the tight close-up, the mid-shot, the tracking shot (difficult to execute with a mobile phone unless you have a stabilizing gear) and so forth. One can read up about filming techniques and employ what best fits your requirement and ability. Do not be overwhelmed. Understand that a static frame can also be just as interesting. Try and play with angles when challenged with constraints. Shots and angles help make a film dynamic. They act as embellishing aids in telling a story. But overdoing it just for the sake of it can also kill your film. You do not want to employ a shaky camera movement unless there is a sense of unease or gritty realism that you are trying to project. Choose shots that will best tell your story. Ideally, the shots must serve the story and not the other way around. This is why a shot-breakdown or storyboard is essential. Once your script is locked and you have rehearsed with your actors, work on a breakdown.

Breakdown sheets can be of shots, props, locations and other such variables. Breakdowns help one in knowing exactly what all will go into a production and prepare for it accordingly. It is the most important aspect of pre-production.

The pre-production phase is also one where you lock your crew. Apart from yourself and the actors, you will require a cinematographer, a camera team, a sound unit and production runners. Now, for amateur short films, many of these roles double up or are performed by the same individuals. So do not be concerned of not having the resources for an extensive crew. If your camera sense is strong, and you have a fairly decent understanding of light, you could shoot your own film. It is ideal however to have someone specialized for being your director of photography. S/he is quite frankly the most important person on your set to help you execute your vision. There are various camera rental outfits that supply their own cameraperson, and more often than not they can be relied upon to help you block your frames and capture the shots as you have envisioned them.


The sound design can comprise of a single individual or a team of recordists and mixers. Again, for a short film, a single recordist with a couple of lapel microphones should suffice. Like with cameraperson, most camera rental outfits provide sound recordists as well. An important aspect to remember while shooting talkie scenes is the ambient noise. For short films, one may not have the budgets for wind-jammers and other noise reducing accoutrements; so when planning your scenes, account for the ambience. You do not want to be staging an important conversation in a crowded exterior, only to have your character’s voices drowned out by the ambient noise. Also, with small budget films you may not have the luxury to clean these unwanted sounds in the post-production sound labs. As a practice and general rule even, one shouldn’t err during a shoot and lazily rely on rectifying them in the post-production… be it lighting correction or sound removal. Try and cultivate a spirit of shooting discipline right now.

You may or may not require set designers, depending on the scale of your film. For short films, even a carpenter on stand-by can suffice. Production runners are essential, even though they may not seem so initially. You do not want to be thinking about setting up the next shot and ensuring if all the things needed for it are in place while you are shooting the present shot. This is where production managers and runners come into play. Along with your direction assistants (if you have the luxury to have one or two, especially to maintain a log book or continuity which will come in very handy during editing), the production facilitates the smooth running of a production. Once done with the shooting, they will also help in transporting footage to the edit suites and coordinating deliveries. This brings us to editing and general post-production.


You wrote your script, you planned your shoot and you have shot your film. Now what? It is not for nothing that it is said that a film is made on the editing table. Editing is not merely putting all that you have shot in the script order. It is not also just trimming a film. Editing is a creative art- one that is honed with experience. A film can be rewritten on the editing table. An inspired editor could make you see the sense of changing the entire linear narrative of your script. Most importantly, an editor will find just the right tone and pacing for your film. As always, do not get alarmed. As a beginner, you may have to edit your own film. Nowadays, there are several editing softwares readily available to be installed on home computers even. Adobe Premier is a good option. Depending on how heavy your shot data is, you can edit your film on your laptop even. It would be ideal to do it in a professional setup, but learning the craft while cutting your own film is a sweet deal as well. The editing is also the stage where you may realize that there are large chunks of a scene or entire scenes even that you don’t require. This is why any filmmaker who thinks like an editor has the advantage of never overshooting.

You will begin laying your music and adding other sounds during editing as well. Ensure that your dialogue and music levels are properly arranged so that one doesn’t overpower the other. Once you are done editing the film to your satisfaction, and the sound and music have been mixed… decide upon placing front credits or an end-credit list or both; and your film is ready for it to be shown to the world.


If you are still apprehensive, the following links should calm you and get you roaring to go towards making your short film-

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Short-Film

http://www.businesstoday.in/gadget/mobiles/smartphone-short-film-shoot/story/184451.html

http://www.filmmakingstuff.com/filmmaking-lesson-8-make-some-short-films/

Now that your film is ready, and you have all the necessary release forms signed... click that upload button and submit your film to us. Deadline 2359 hours, 30th of April, 2017

All the best!

- Abhishek ‘Abzee’ Bandekar


o Festival Director, DRISHTIKON

drishtikon