So you’ve decided you want to make a home movie or short film. But do you have a plan? Do you have everything you need? In this post we’ll cover a few handy tips on how to make a low budget short film. In a way this post will serve as a plan of sorts, so let’s get started.
You Need A Script
Actually, before you can write a script you first have to have an idea; a plot. If you are planning on making the film with your friends, maybe you could all brainstorm ideas together with someone allocated to take notes. Then it’s a matter of refining those ideas and deciding on one to form a plot.
Is there are writer among you, someone who can write a half decent script with natural sounding dialogue? If not, you might need to hire a ghost writer from a freelance site to write the script for you. Some actually don’t charge that much, and if it’s only a short film of say 15 to 30 minutes in length, then it really shouldn’t cost you too much at all.
Your script will outline the following:
- The scenes
- The dialogue
- The action
Really it can just be a general guideline and doesn’t have to be adhered to rigidly. You can wing it a little and make it a little more ad lib and fun.
Another good idea is to make a storyboard, where you draw visuals of each scene. It makes for easier reference than looking through a script every time you want to have some idea of what comes next. Also, scenes are often broken up. For example, you might have a scene where a guy and a girl are chatting in a bar. That scene might then cut to a different scene with different characters before returning again to the bar scene.
Obviously you won’t shoot the first part of the bar scene, then go off and shoot the other scene, only to return to the bar to finish off the bar scene. You will shoot the entire bar scene while you are there on location. A storyboard with visuals for each scene will help you with organising your shoot and the sequence of events for the actual filming, rather than the sequence of the script.
Who Are the Actors and the Crew?
Now that you have a script ready to go you need some “stars” to act out the characters. Presumably if you are making the film with your friends, then you are probably going to be taking on the acting roles yourselves, as well as forming the film crew. The number of actors will obviously depend on how many characters you have written into the script. As far as crew goes you will probably need at least two people manning cameras for a variety of angles and someone doing the directing.
The most organised person among you will make the best director. And the most confident and the clearest speaker might make for a good lead character actor. Anyway, you’re probably not going for Steven Spielberg quality, so it doesn’t matter that much. The most important thing is to have fun with it.
Work Out a Schedule and a Budget
No film, no matter how short or how amateur the production, is going to cost zero dollars. Get together, pool your cash and work out a rough budget for the film and a deadline for completion. Also set milestones along the way, such as a schedule for when you want filming to be complete, music and sound done, editing finished, and a date for the completed and polished film ready for viewing pleasure.
Your budget will include some of the following:
- Gear – Cameras, lighting etc.
- Travel/location expenses
- Editing costs
- Sound design expenses
- Music sync licensing for effects and soundtrack
- Food and drinks
- Make up and effects
- Paying for any outside help you may need
There will be other expenses and they will vary from project to project, but make sure everyone involved has some idea of the costs involved and what the agreed budget will be.
I guess you could technically shoot a short film on smartphones, but you want it to have a bit of quality about it, so you will need at least two decent cameras. You could use GoPro cameras, video cameras, or take advantage of the video function on many still cameras and DSLRs. Many DSLRs come equipped with a top quality high definition video feature, easily good enough for making a movie. You will want to use some tripods. You don’t want the entire movie to look hand-held and shaky – unless that’s the look you are going for.
It’s best to attach proper microphones to these cameras though, or the sound is going to be a bit lacking. Alternatively you could use separate sound recording gear. You will also need some lighting on occasion and, depending on your budget, you could get away with some home lamps or gear used to light up an outdoor work area. Even those lights mechanics use can come in handy.
- At least 2 cameras
- Sound recording gear
- Video editing software
- A laptop or two
Before doing any shooting of the actual film, you will all want to rehearse your parts. This goes for the crew as well as the actors. Everyone needs to learn their role. That way, once the actual filming gets underway it will be more seamless and way more organised. Rehearsing isn’t just about actors learning lines. It involves everyone involved learning their role for each scene.
You will also find that many ideas become more refined as you rehearse everything. You’ll learn what works best and what to cut out of the script and scenes. Practice makes perfect. It’s a cliché, but it’s the truth.
See If You Can Hustle for Some Free Stuff
Tell people you are making a movie. Maybe visit your local hardware shop and see if you can do some deals for free lighting equipment, or at least a discount. You can always promise to give their business a plug in the film’s credits.
Maybe family and friends will contribute something to the film: Some cash, the loan of a camera, or maybe even doing some make up for you or creating costumes and props.
Another idea is to try and raise funds on a site like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Start a campaign, promote like hell on social media and anywhere else you can think of and see how you go. With Kickstarter you have to reach your funding goal or you get nothing. With Indiegogo it doesn’t matter whether you reach your goal or not. You still get to keep the money raised; and some money is still better than no money.
A Quick Mention of Legalities
Depending on where you are in the world, you may be required to purchase a permit to make a film, if you plan to shoot outside of private property. It’s also wise to get some public liability insurance or similar, just in case something doesn’t go to plan. After all, you don’t want an outsider getting injured because of your movie making and then suing you.
Also, are you planning on trying to get distribution for your film or perhaps enter it in a film festival? If it is basically just a home movie, then you can practically do whatever you like, but if you want to get it distributed in any way or entered into a festival, then there are some industry guidelines you will need to follow and paperwork to be filled out. Best to research all this before filming gets underway if that’s your plan.
Shooting the Film
Now that everything else is organised, the real fun part can begin – the actual shooting of the film.
Enjoy the process. Everyone has rehearsed and knows their roles. Do as the designated directed says and all the filming process should run rather smoothly. Make sure you have all your transport arranged beforehand to get to various locations where scenes will unfold, and don’t forget to take the costumes and props.
Editing the Footage
For this process you will obviously need some reasonably decent video and sound editing software. If no one in your team knows how to edit, or has the tools to do it effectively, then it might be something you will have to outsource.
Most editing software is not that hard to learn and they allow you to sync the video footage with the sound. It might be worth it to invest in some software and assign one person in the team to learn how to be an editor.
Sound, SFX and Music
You will need to sync the spoken dialogue with the acting. Sound effects can be added purely in the software and you can source many free ones on sites such as Looperman. Pond5 sell some SFX quite cheap.
You will also want music to put in your film; music to enhance the mood of certain scenes, as well as for the opening closing credits. If you are going to make a movie trailer, then you will need music and SFX for this as well.
Some sites allow you to use music tracks for free in your projects, but you have to be very careful of what the license to use the piece actually states you can use it for. You don’t want to have your film shut down or be sued for a breach of copyright.
The best bet is music licensing, where you purchase a sync license that allows you to freely use that track in a movie or trailer. One of the top sites with some of the best music for sync licenses is Songtradr. It’s definitely worth a look and the prices are not too bad.
Don’t skimp on the music. It really sets the scene, tone and mood of the film, no matter how short your movie may be. If you have no budget for music licensing, maybe you know someone who can compose and create the music for you, but if not, pay for a sync license. You want everything in your film to be legal. Sync licensing is an easy process with Songtradr and is no more difficult than buying music off iTunes.
On that point, you can’t just download an iTunes track and use that. You are only purchasing the right to listen to the music for your own personal pleasure. It can’t be reproduced or used in any projects, and especially not commercial ones.
It’s Time To Show the Film
Lay out the red carpet, grab the popcorn and drinks, get your friends and family together and view the completed film.
This is the real fun part, seeing all your hard work come together in a polished finished product. Once you’ve had your private premiere, it’s time to get it distributed, or into that upcoming film festival if that’s the end goal.
Enjoy your movie making.