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How to make and write your own short film.

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Short film making advice:

A brief guide to the basics- both creative and technical by Award winning filmmaker and screenwriter Indra Bhose.

Youíre going to make a short film. And thatís what it needs to be- short and a film. So, not 27 or 52 minutes long and not an illustrated radio play or an extract of a full length movie.

Story - Yes, you need one of these. Iím sure youíve got loads up your sleeves. A successful short should have a complete story- with a set up, development and, very importantly, a pay off or conclusion. Itís a bit like a gag.

Length- If youíre making a short yourself, you want people to see it. Thereís lots of methods for showing your film- festivals, TV, the Net- but the most successful films on internet shorts sites tend to be very short. Check some out first. Look at:

Complexity- You want to make a film, and you want to make it now. Bear this in mind when writing. Normally, advice to anyone writing a film would be to write whatever you imagine, donít be constrained by anything. A short is totally different- youíll probably be funding it yourself- or getting very little money from other sources- so keep it simple and possible.

When I wrote my short A PARTY POLITICAL BROADCAST BY H.M. THE DEVIL, I sourced my raw materials first, then wrote the script based on that. I rounded up a bunch of actors and knew what locations I had access to. Then I wrote parts for the actors I knew I had and placed the story in locations I knew I could film in. As a result, I wrote the script in 2 days and filmed it in the next 5.

Before you start filming- have a completed script. Go by the old Hollywood maxim-
ĎIf it ainít on the page, it ainít on the stage.í
Get organised. Filming is 1% creative and 99% military operation. Make a shooting schedule before you start- this will tell you and everybody else what scenes youíre filming on any given day and when and where. Donít overestimate how much you can film in a day. If this is your first bit of filming, I wouldnít attempt more than 5 minutes a day. A rough guide is that 1 page of script = 1 minute of screen time.

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

Oh, and did I say- prepare. Read the scene. Think about how it will look on the screen. Is it going to be all on wide shot? Are you going to have closer shots to show the actors in detail? Are you going to move with the actors from one room to another? Not all of what you want will be possible. But you should have a plan of what you want.

Now youíve got the basics of the creative side, hereís a few technical guidelines.

You need:

A camera.
A microphone.
An Apple Macintosh computer with the iMovie software.

If you have these or can beg or borrow them, you can make a movie.

The most common format to make no-budget films is Mini DV, which gives you extremely high video quality images. Prices range from couple of hundred to thousands- get the best you can afford. It needs to have:

  • An option to attach an external microphone
  • Firewire (iLink) connection to connect the camera to the computer to enable you to down your images for editing
The thing that lets most no-budget films down is the quality of sound. I recommend you use an off-board microphone. Ideally- use a professional microphone- you can hire them cheaply from film workshop places.

The seamless, pain-free way to edit your film without any previous experience is to use an Apple Mac, equipped with the iMovie editing software, which Apple give away free with new models. BUT you can download it for free from the Apple website. Itís simplicity itself- take your camera, attach it to the Mac with a Firewire cable, and the editing software will start up all by itself. Your rushes will download automatically and then all you have to do is play around a bit and youíll get the hang of the basics in about ten minutes. Promise! Itís as simple as that.

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