How to make a short film: from shooting to editing

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If you’re wondering how to make a short film but don’t know where to start, read on. We’ve put together this simple guide to making your own short film using your home as a studio. After all, not all of us have the budget for a Hollywood blockbuster, and sometimes knowing the simple tricks to success may be just what you need to get started.

You might need a voucher camera for video (opens in a new tab) to start, but there are options for all prices, and get a decent price 4K camera for cinema (opens in a new tab) fortunately is no longer a budget breaker. Read on and, with the help of film enthusiast Maria Jose Meneses, we’ll show you how to plan, shoot and edit your own short film.

Maria Jose Meneses is a marketer and does content marketing at Porch. She writes, makes films, travels, makes music and writes about films. That’s why she’s put together this movie guide! “I decided to write Your home, your studio: your own short film (opens in a new tab) to give advice to newbies like myself younger on how they can shoot their short film from the comfort of their home”

A short film is a film that does not have enough running time to be considered a feature film. It can range from 30 seconds to 45 minutes. On average, a short film lasts between 5 and 15 minutes.

Otherwise, they are no different from feature films. People usually choose to make short films because they cost much less than feature films, or because they want to show off their skills in filmmaking or sell a concept. This is how they created the movie Whiplash. Screenwriter Damien Chazelle wanted to prove his feature film was viable, so he adapted it into a short film with the same premise.

Shorts tend to fall into three distinct categories. First, a narrative is a scripted short, whether fictional or based on a true story. A narrative short film shows a story rather than presenting facts like a documentary. All of the Pixar shorts you can watch are narrative shorts.

A documentary is another short film presenting facts about a certain topic. These are still non-fiction and aim to educate on topics you may not know about.

Finally, avant-garde films, very experimental or abstract. These focus more on mood, theme, aesthetics or tone. You’re more likely to find these films at major film festivals, which can vary greatly in how an audience experiences them.

Whatever the desired result, let’s see how to make a short film yourself.

storyboard a short film

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Before rolling the cameras: pre-production

The more prepared you are before shooting a movie, the smoother your day will go. The more in-depth your pre-production set is, the less you’ll have to deal with when the cameras are rolling.

The scenario – Writing a screenplay can be daunting, but there are some basic principles that make up a solid short film. You need a protagonist (the main character) whose routine is broken by a problem. You’ll want to know a beginning and a middle, add a fun twist here, and then have an ending. A good rule of thumb is to have your characters fight to get what they want. If you can’t find a script but have a great idea, consider looking online for a scriptwriter to help you.

Scenario-board – Storyboarding involves taking each scene and drawing what you want to see on a sheet of paper. This shows the team, including your cinematographer, what you imagined. By doing this, you help get everyone on the same page, so you can work together to bring your vision to life. The best part is that the designs don’t even have to be very good. Stick figures are often some of the most professional storyboards.

How to make a short film

(Image credit: Pexels/Joseph Redfield)

Budget creation – A solid movie budget will help ensure that your movie doesn’t cost much more than expected. The best budgets will be realistic. You want to save money by using your cast and crew’s time as efficiently as possible. If you have an actor at the beginning and end of your movie, you might want to shoot their scenes side by side so the actor doesn’t have to wait two days.

The same principle applies to locations. It’s better to film everything you need in one place before moving on, rather than going back and forth. It takes a lot of time to set up and time is money. The more efficiently you can plan your shot, the more you’ll save during the long fun. Don’t forget to save money for contingencies and on-set insurance.

Recruit your crew – If you have already seen You better call Saul, he is a master of the minimalist film crew. He has his cinematographer and he has his sound engineer. With these two people, it can record images and sounds. When it came time for Saul to grow up, he found himself a makeup artist. Saul had a strong core team, but shorts aren’t easy to pull off, and some other core team members can make all the difference.

The executive producer will be the financier, an on-set producer will take care of any issues that arise and hopefully handle issues before they become an emergency. A 1st AD (assistant director) is also extremely helpful. They help move the crew around, plan meals, tell everyone how much time is left between takes, and get the director out of the way so he can direct. A gaffer is in charge of lighting, and a great one can make a big difference. Don’t forget to put someone in order for the food. They will be a real hero when your crew’s morale drops after a long day.

Casting actors – Actors (actresses also use the term actor) can be found by organizing a casting call. There are actor groups on Facebook, which is a great place to start. During your casting call, you should explain the concept and a few descriptors about the character’s personality and appearance.

You will need a time and a place to watch the auditions, or you can ask people to submit. If you have a budget for your cast and crew, write it down during the casting call. Many filmmakers like to make their casting calls aesthetically pleasing and tone-friendly to fit the short film.

How to make a short film

(Image credit: Pexels/Ron Lach)

Get the right equipment – Technology has come an extremely long way in a very short time. You no longer need to spend crazy amounts of money to buy huge cameras. You can professionally shoot a lot of short films on best DSLRs for video (opens in a new tab) or even camera phones. (opens in a new tab)

Some films shot entirely on iPhone (opens in a new tab) have participated in major festivals, such as the Cannes Film Festival. If the budget is tight, spend it on sound first. People can forgive bad visuals but can’t ignore bad sound. Consider renting the equipment rather than buying it.

Location scouting – This is home moviemaking, so your scouting should start (and hopefully end) there. How can you turn that side of the coin into something else? You can completely transform spaces with a great decor scheme (see below). Don’t forget your yard, your garage, and maybe even that attic or basement. Your house is very versatile, although you may need to move some furniture.

Lighting and sound – We have already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. Quality sound is essential to the success of your short film. The cameras don’t have great built-in sound recording, but you can get shotgun pickups that capture incredible sound for relatively cheap. You will need a device to record this sound (opens in a new tab)too.

Zoom is the most common, but there are wide varieties. These handle sounds, so the camera can do what it does best. Three lights are generally needed for a shot: the main light which illuminates your subject, the fill light which dispels shadows and the backlight which separates your subject from the background.

Arrangement of sets – Also called Set Deck or Set Dressing, this is one of the most creative aspects of a vastly underrated movie. A dresser will change a space from what it is to what you want it to be. They do this by reading the script, considering who the characters are, and considering what kind of house that person lives in. Then they create it. The configuration of your living room will be very different if you live alone or with your family. Your child’s toys will be different depending on their age. Colors can also make a big difference in aesthetics and dressing.

Build something more – If you need something specific for your set that you can’t find at home, you may need something built. If you are a DIY enthusiast, this is a great project to take on. If not, you can always consider hiring a handyman to help you. This gives you time to worry about other aspects that need your attention.

Special effects – For special effects, you will need a green screen (opens in a new tab). It’s a big green canvas that an editor can overlay whatever you want. You can ask a handyman to create a DIY version of it, but be sure to talk to a VFX editor beforehand.

green screen backgrounds

(Image credit: Video)

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