“How To Make Your First Short Film”, (part 1 of 3)


a screen grab from our upcoming film, “The Minute Glass”.

Howdy there, partners! I’m blazing hot off the trail of finishing my first (official) feature-length screenplay, a western, entitled “The Legende Immortal”. Now I know I’ve been talking a lot about this film in particular, so I thought I’d move to more refreshing subject matter. The matter of the short film.
As you may know, my first official short film, “Numb” –a story about the inner monologues (thoughts) of a man that take place while he is killing his wife, then subsequently chopping up her body, and putting it into a body bag, before contemplating his own suicide– was nominated for a Best Short Film award. The film was completed for a budget right under $5. A lot of people have asked how it was done, and my last article sort of, kind of, perhaps possibly maybe, covered that. In short, the article spoke of writing scripts for the assets you already know you have. In my case, I had a couple of friends, a gigantic trash bag, a saw, and some fake blood. These were things that I already had lying around, and so I put them to the best use I could. This usage got me my first nomination, 4 out of 4 review, and even an interview.

So how do you go about making your first short film? I am now onto my official second short film, called “The Minute Glass”, and I’m going to use it as a vehicle to help you all out with your own short film project, including a soon to come, in depth, behind the scenes video that will cover our process from start to finish. In our case, I have amassed a large array of cool objects to be used as props. But even if you, personally, do not own a bunch of cool items, don’t fret. Just find things you DO have and put them to the best use. One problem I have that is of ill-fortune is that, typically, I will never know your particular circumstances, therefore, I cannot write your script for you. But with ingenuity and creativity, you should be able to pull off something great. Find some friends (or A friend) willing to help you, either behind, or in front of the camera, and use your script and adapt that to the screen as best as you can. Keep in mind that equipment isn’t particularly the most important of matters. In fact, on your first several shorts, you will usually be forgiven for bad video/audio quality as long as the actual story quality is there.

A few things you should know, whether you are shooting on a home video camera with no external microphone (meaning, you are using only the built in camera microphone, and not an audio recorder or other recording source), or filming on a cell phone, or even if you have the latest high tech, prosumer gear like the Canon C300, with the highest-end Sennheiser shotgun and lavalier microphones, one of the most important things to ever remember is called room noise.

Room Noise.

Room noise is that particular background frequency you will pick up, no matter how great your microphone is or isn’t. The better the mic, the less background noise, of course, but never fear. If you’ve cut some footage, and noticed a very clear and obvious difference between audio recorded from one cut to the next, there is a fix. Even if you filmed in the same room, just different angles for different actors, there will ALWAYS be a noticeable difference in background frequency. Here is how to fix it:
Take your microphone (or camera with built in audio), and sit it stationary, either on the tripod, table, etc. Let the camera or audio device record for a while, without moving it, touching it, or even making a sound. Leave the room if you can. This is what you will layer under all of the audio shot in that particular location. If you are outside, do the same thing. Take at least one minute’s worth of blank audio in EVERY SINGLE LOCATION!!! Even if the scene is longer than one minute, you can always loop the same track multiple times in post-production. This technique is used on every film you’ve ever seen, and will help your audio out tremendously, in-lieu with good audio mixing skills. “But we’re talking about film, not audio.” Keep in mind that audio is either just as important, or more important, than video, depending on who you ask. The best looking footage in the world will look like crap if the audio sounds like crap. It is not always necessarily the same when the roles are vice versa. Bad video can only be improved by great audio, as long as the video isn’t “that bad”, whatever that may mean.

Shot Lists.

When you’re finished with your script, one of the most basic things you can do is to write out a shot list that is easily interpreted by your cast, crew, and most importantly, yourself. A great, and typical way of labelling the shots for your slate, is to assign a letter to each scene, and a number to each shot within that scene. Therefore, the first scene, hypothetically taking place in “Billy’s Room”, would be “Scene A”. The first shot of “Billy typing on his computer”, would be “Shot 1”. So you would label the shot as “1A”, and so forth. Scene 2 would be “Scene B”, and you would start over again at “Shot 1” for that scene. “1B”, “5C”, “8D”, so on and so forth. Other things to include in your shot list might be your actual shots, like if you plan to film Billy with an extreme close up, you would label it as “ECU”, and then specify if there are any camera movements, such as an upward pan, left pan, or a simple static shot, labelled “static”. Then, if you wish, place a description of the shot next to the other information.


Another thing that helps the entire film tremendously is music. In my case, I happen to be a long-term musician (going on 8 years), so I know how to compose the scores for any type of film I do. Perhaps that is not your case. If you can’t compose your own music, there are plenty of websites where you can either buy, or get music for free. And they have large libraries of music to choose from, so you’ll be in a good position to find the music that’s right for your film.
Other finishing touches (aside from the edit, which you control), are sound effects. As afforementioned, there are also websites where you can either buy, or find for free, great stock sound effects, ranging from gun shots, punches, blood squirts, cars zooming by, tires squealing, and much, much more. The sound depends on your project, as does the music. If it is horror, blood squirts and gun shots might be exactly what you need.


This is the end of this article, but there will be much more to come as we move forward on our short film in the forthcoming days, and I will share our behind the scenes in-depth video, as well as the actual short film, on July 9th. I hope these tips have been of help! If there are any topics you would like for me to cover, don’t be afraid to speak out in the comments section!

Written by Kyle Oliver, 6-23-14

Copyright 2014 by Kyle Oliver

Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated filmmaker for his first short film Numb, which he wrote and directed. He is also the CEO/Owner of Vintage Image Films. You can find him on Twitter @ThatKyleOliver, and Vintage Image Films on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/VintageImageFilm


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