Features and short films are two very different beasts. Features are longer, more complex journeys, and short films are simple anecdotes. One of the biggest challenges facing independent filmmakers with big ideas is being able to finance their features, so naturally many of them will start off with more affordable short films. If you’re about to take your first steps into your own project, here are some tips for assuring it’s a success…
Audition, Audition, Audition
You may have written the best short screenplay to come along in decades, but this is only half the battle. Anyone can read lines off a page. You need actors who are actually going to make your short film come to life. You need to leave a lot of time for holding auditions, and do a lot of networking to secure the best talent you can. Audiences can smell an incompetent or otherwise self-aware actor from a mile off, and using one will kill your short film a few seconds into the first scene! Your casting, especially for your lead or leads, will be a huge part of your finished product, so don’t rush it and do a half-hearted job. While you may not be able to hire Tom Hanks, I’m sure you’re resourceful enough to find a decent cast!
Take your Time on Cinematography
The camera work, lighting, lenses, filters and other factors that go into the cinematography of your short will also have a major impact on how the finished product comes out, and is probably the second most important factor after getting good actors. If you can create something that really looks worthy of the big screen, you’ll do yourself, your cast, and your audience a huge favour. Before you start setting to work, make sure you have all the skills you’re going to need to make your short film come out the way you’ve envisioned. If you’re a little shaky on improving sound quality, different file formats in Premiere Pro, or using popular lenses, then do your homework. It may turn out that you need to budget for more gear than you initially thought. I know you’re probably raring to get some shots done, but brushing over this stage has the potential to end in disaster. Get it right the first time!
Keep the Running Time Short
Short films can be up to 45 minutes long. That is, can be. Try to set a cap on the running time, at least for your first ever short film. Obviously, you’re passionate enough about filmmaking to undertake this kind of project, but if you want something that will resound with audiences, you can’t risk over-writing or over-directing. Every good director will have cut hours of material that they absolutely love, but simply didn’t mesh well with whatever project they were working on. Shoot whatever you want, but make sure you know when to cut things for the sake of the film. I know it’s a cliché, but less really is more. Keep things short, sweet and to the point, and you’ll have much less trouble gripping a typical audience.