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

We’re back, for the third and final piece in this short filmmaking series of articles. In the first two pieces, we discussed music, (some) audio, lighting, shooting, writing, and a bit of acting. This time around, we will dicuss the final pieces- sound recording, video editing, and audio editing.

Now, I’ve already gotten a lot of feedback about the “raunchy” and “nasty” and “disgusting” sound effects in our short film, “The Minute Glass” (found here). The sounds include a straight razor scraping against someone’s neck, and the razor actually cutting into the neck, with a bit of a blood squirt sound added here and there for effect. Let me explain how it is we did that:

Sound Recording (AKA, foley)

Foley is the art of recording sound effects for a film to recreate everything happening on screen, as these sounds are typically either not picked up while filming, or at least, not picked up very well during filming. After the edit is complete, a list of all required sound effects is built, then given to the foley artist to go out and reproduce. In our case on “The Minute Glass”, we required a phone ringing, a straight razor scraping a neck, a straight razor actually cutting the flesh on the neck, blood squirts, boots walking on hard tile, etc. Most of these are very easy to reproduce, and require very little work or thought.

However, the cutting of the throat is what we’ll refer to here. For this, it was very simple, yet it took a bit of creativity (and coincidence). The creativity part was a simple idea- record a watermelon being cut into, then subsequently, being ripped open in half. The lucky coincidence was it being summer, and we had just purchased some watermelon during the day of our shoot (specifically to eat, so we kind of got two birds with one stone!). Layered in with the edited video, this sound improved the scene drastially, though it needed a little bit more. For this, I added Video Copilot’s Action Essentials 2 blood squirt sounds, which I only peppered throughout a bit. To make things more intense, we recorded my heart-beat with our Zoom H4N. We added in the heartbeat, and, with some audio-editing techniques, made it speed up as he was cutting his throat, then come to a halt as he finished. Combined with music (see the first article here), the scene was tense, and I was very happy with the outcome. Audio editing and mixing is a vast subject, worth many articles of explanation on its own, so we’ll save the rest of this subject for another time.

Video Editing

Now on to the actual editing. You will need some sort of video editing software. We use Sony Vegas Pro 12 right now, but are trying out Avid Media Composer on our next project. Windows Movie Maker, or iMovie can be used to an extent, but I would reccomend something at least a little bit better. Sony Vegas Movie Studio starts at $49.95, and HitFilm 2 Express is in the $150 range. These have color correction and grading tools built in, so you will have everything you need to get started making professional-looking short films, and for a cheap price, as compared to the $600+ price range for programs like Vegas Pro, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, or Avid.
Learn to use the editing software as best as you can. For this, there are tons of tutorials on YouTube that will show you how to do specific things in whichever program you need to learn in. Take your footage, and compile it in one folder, titled “Insert Film Title”, Footage. Provided you used an external audio recorder, do the same, but “Insert Film Title”, Audio. This is the setup we use, and it is very easy to simply drag from your card’s storage into these new folders. As soon as that is done, it is best to immediately backup this footage and audio, on either a flash drive, secondary SD card, or an external hard drive. You never know what can happen in the cyber-realm. Once that is completed, I usually open my video editor, and create my titles (which usually just starts out with “Vintage Image Films Presents”, and some sort of textual description). After that, I immediately begin dragging my footage into the program. Since I keep my camera’s built in audio turned on, it drags in an audio piece attached to the video. I keep this here so I can sync up my external audio later on. I take the first shots (not necessarilly the first clips we shot, but the first scene for the film, at least. We shoot out of order completely) and begin to trim them as I see fit.
This process will be further covered in our upcoming behind the scenes for the film.

Color Correcting The Footage

After I have at least one scene trimmed, chopped, and pieced together, I start my color correcting. Don’t confuse color correcting for color grading. We’ll get to that. The coloring process is where I take the visual color tones that I had decided upon (it is always best to decide what look you want before filming, so you can light and shoot for that particular look), and bring them out. I use a basic three-way color wheel. It has color tones for the highlights, mids, and shadows (in Vegas Pro, these are labelled “low” “mid”, & “high”). Typically, I balance the lows to the dark or light blue range. It gives a very subtle dark, psychological look to the footage, but it can make skin tones look too pink. To counter this, I take the mids into the yellow-green range, bringing back the skin tones, and not affecting much other aspects of the clip. Afterward, the highs are either put also into the blue range, or the green range, depending on what the background was, what lights I used, and what color of clothes the actors wore. In this color correcting plugin, I also have control of saturation, gamma and gain. I really enjoy what is called a bleach-bypass look. This was a technique used on film stock development where they would intentionally the bleaching of the negative. It has what could be called a very “filmish” look, and works for horror films, and psychological thrillers very well. To achieve this, I reduce some of the saturation and gamma, which removes some color and adds more contrast to the shadows, then I boost the gain, which blows out the whites and “over exposes” them. To me, it looks very pleasing when used in dark films with deep, psychological themes.

Color-Grading (not to be confused with correcting)

Now, the part about the bleach-bypass look technically fits into the grading category, and not the correcting. Color correcting is where you use the color wheels to match each clip’s color tones to each other, making a seamless transition between to different angles that probably had at least slightly different lighting, which in turn, creates at least, slightly different color ranges. Color grading is where a lot of the actual “look of the film” comes full circle. To do this, I open up several other plugins. Brightness & Contrast, Unsharpen Mask, Sharpening, and sometimes, Color Curves. I really don’t use the “brighten” tool inside Brightness & Contrast, instead, I only focus on the contrast. I add just a bit to make the colors, highlights, and shadows pop more vividly. After this, I add some sharpening, to bring out scars/marks on the actors faces, as well as to remove what might look “blurry”, or “fuzzy” to some. This results in a very sharp, slightly grainy (which I love) HD image that will surely pierce the hearts and minds of audiences. No? Okay then, moving on. Unsharpen mask is a tool that basically does the same thing as sharening, only, instead of focusing mostly on the image as a whole, it will, more or less, only sharpen the outlines of objects within the frame. After this I open up my Pan/Crop, unclick “maintain aspect ratio”, and drag the frame into each other a bit, which adds the faux widescreen bars (even though I am shooting in 23.976fps, 1080p, 16:9 widescreen, the bars do not show up on YouTube, which, for the time being, is the main place I am releasing my stuff). And below, you will see the before and after of a raw frame, to the corrected frame. Voila! And that is how it’s done!


Image16  before corrections & grading

Image15 after corrections & grading



Stay tuned for our upcoming making of, which will show the making of our film, interviews, and most importantly, will give you knowledge on how to make your own.

So if you feel I’ve shorthanded you on this article, don’t fret. There will be a long documentary to help you even further!

Written by Kyle Oliver, 7/16/2014

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


“How to Build An Essential Filmmaker’s Kit Under $1,000”


A lot of people these days are wanting to make movies, videos, short films, music videos, vlogs, and all sort of other things, and with good reason. Current technology has made it easier and more affordable than ever to get your hands on the gear you need. Be weary though, and prepare to be thrust into an ocean of decisions. There’s lots of equipment to choose from, so where do you start? That’s where I’ll hop in. I’ll go through the different types of affordable cameras and break down the pros and cons, as well as with microphones. I’ll even explain my own setup for you, but in the end, I am only giving you my own opinions. You must decide what works best for you.

1. Cameras- We’ll obviously start here, since this is a “movie maker’s” reference. There are TONS of different cameras to pick from! Where to start? To give you a short course, there are two main types of cameras used for low/no-budget film these days: camcorders & DSLR’s. A camcorder is your typical home video camera, but in the higher price range, these things can shoot some high quality video! A nice one to look into is the Sony HDR-FX1 HD Professional Camcorder.                                                                                          Image

Here is a nice quality test video of this camera, courtesy of habitatskater89 from YouTube: This camera is in the $900 range- not too bad, but still kind of expensive for some low-budget filmmakers. Another good option is the Panasonic HC-V520 for under $400, which actually has exceptional HD quality for its price. The pitfall with camcorders for filmmaking is that they look too much like video, and require a bit more coaxing in the editing room to give that extra “film look” it needs, but it can be done quite successfully. Another disadvantage is the deep depth of field. Depth of field can be very briefly explained with a physical test. Put your hand about one foot away from your eyes. Look at your hand, notice everything behind it is blurry. Now avert your eyes behind your hand. Notice everything behind is now clear, and your hand is blurry. This is a similar effect that can be acheived with more expensive cinema cameras with interchangeable lenses (meaning, you can buy extra lenses for your camera and use them, which you can’t do with a camcorder), and a very large internal sensor that offers a shallow depth of field.


This Photo Demonstrates Shallow Depth of Field.

The second option for cameras is the DSLR, which I highly recommend. The DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflux) is primarily a still image camera, but can work like a conventional digital cinema camera (like an ultra-cheap version of the RED One camera), allowing you to change lenses, shoot 24fps in 1080p HD, manual shutter speed, and full control over ISO, exposure, and aperture. The sensor in these things let you capture a look that is closer to being “film-like” than a that of a traditional camcorder, but, when it comes to DSLR cameras, you have many options to choose from. For reference, we’ll start with the two most iconic brands, Canon & Nikon. Both companies offer cameras from entry-level to professional flagship cameras. Since the pro cameras are above $1,000, we’ll steer clear of them for now. Instead, I’ll reference the two best entry-level models of the crop. You have the Canon T3i (or 600D in Europe), which is amazing! It features a completely moveable LCD screen (trust me, this comes in handy, and is a rare luxury in the entry-level DSLR world), and an external microphone port, allowing you to just plug and go with an external microphone, which we’ll cover next. It has superb image quality, and is an overall great camera! I would also recommend the Nikon D3200, which features everything I just noted from the Canon, besides the LCD screen, which is static and non-moveable. I have extensively used both cameras and can say from experience that you should really look into them if you are thinking about buying a camera for high quality video and/or photo. Both cameras can be afforded for just under $600 a piece.


Canon’s EOS Rebel T3i

2. Audio- There are only two affordable recorders I would suggest you pick from, personally: The Rode Video Mic ($150), which can be plugged straight into any camera or sound recorder that has an external 3.5mm microphone input, and the Zoom H4N ($230), which is its own recording device with two insanely amazing adjustable microphones built in, and 3 extra inputs for more mics (I own and LOVE this device!). All cameras I listed prior have built-in, internal microphones you can use, but they are of horrible quality, and sound is just as important, if not more important, than video, which is why an external recorder of some sort HAS to be in your kit as soon as you can afford it!

Image  Image

3. Lights- I would never recommend going all-out on lights. Stay simple. There’s no reason to splurge on them when you can go to your local harware store and buy “can lights” for $10 a piece. Buy 3 or more, and go grab some incandescent, halogen, or even fluorescent flood lightbulbs (make sure your camera’s white balance is set according to the bulb you’re using, and never combine two different types of bulbs in the same scene!)

Image  Image

4. Software- Once you buy your setup, and assuming you already have a computer that can handle HD video and fairly intense rendering, you’ll want some software. On a budget, I would highly suggest Sony Movie Studio Suite ($140), or Hitfilm 2 Express ($150). Hitfilm 2 Express is amazing, as it is a video editing and special effects package all in one. For screenwriting software, I use Celtx, and haven’t found a reason to switch to something else in the 3 years I’ve used it. for a free download.


Last but not least, don’t forget plenty of memory card space, and a decent tripod! For HD video, you need cards with a fast transfer (look for Class 10, 20mbps and up, though 50mbps is optimal for perfect video capture). You can get professional-grade 32gb cards from PNY for $20 online. You can get decent fluid head tripods for $60, and trust me, you won’t regret getting one!

Image  Image

That does it for this article! I hope this was informative and helpful. This is an easy way to spend less than $1,000 for AMAZING quality. Before I leave off, here is a full rundown of my current gear, which I’ll follow with a link to my short film, so you can see the gear in action.
I shoot on a Nikon D3100 (now $380), a Zoom H4N (I got a nice package kit for $250), 3 can lights ($30), tripod ($60), 4 misc. memory cards for under $50, and my editing software for $150 (I now use software that costs well over $600 now, though). That comes out to $980 as my initial investment, and the quality of my first short is definitely worth that much to me. If you have the drive to make high quality video, save up the money to invest in a similar setup to mine, if you like what you see, that is.


My current setup being put to the test


To know what you can do on a $5 budget with gear that cost less than $1,000, here is a link to my short film, “Numb”:

Coming soon is part 2 of “How To Write Great Original Screenplays”. Here is the first one if you missed it:

written by Kyle Oliver, 5/2/2014

If you liked this article, share it and follow me on Twitter, @ThatKyleOliver

      Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated writer/director/editor,
& the owner of Vintage Image Films. You can find Vintage
Image Films on Facebook:



© Kyle Oliver, 2014