“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 http://www.facebook.com/VintageImageFilm


“How To Write Great Original Screenplays” (Part 1 of 3)



Ever wanted to write a screenplay? Many have, but a lot don’t know where to start. It was frustrating for me at first, having to learn the format, structure, and “rules”. So, we’ll start simple. What is a screenplay? Screenplays are written documents, professionally formatted and prepared specifically for the medium of film. A simple rule of thumb is that one page of a properly formatted script should equal approximately one minute of actual screentime. If you do not intend to learn the proper format for screenwriting, I suggest you stop reading now and save yourself some time. I am not going to cover formatting here, but instead, I’m going to cover the next step beyond that. The most crucial step, which cannot be learned or taught; storytelling. Without the vital gift of storytelling ability, it won’t matter how well you can format a script, you have to have the creativity to actually create a quality piece (well, I guess in some places, quality doesn’t matter, and bad quality is actually sometimes embraced! Take “Plan 9 From Outer Space” for example).

First thing’s first, if you want to write a script, you’re going to have to learn the format. There are plenty of resources online to quickly decipher the hardly-complex filmmaker’s code. Secondly, you’ll want some software, as formatting in standard word processors can be quite tedious. There are plenty of great programs I would recommend, like Final Draft and Adobe Story. If you want something for free, I would suggest Celtx, a free screenwriting software for Mac or Windows that does most of the hard work for you. http://www.celtx.com for a free download.

Okay, so you know the format, you have the tools to write, but where do you start? The daunting task of staring the blank page straight down the face is all too overwhelming. You need a story. But not just a story. A story. Not just vague characters and dull plotlines, but vibrant characters, witty dialogue, and a rollercoaster plot. But where do you find the inspiration for that? Well, you could steal, borrow, or “homage”, or, you could simply pay more attention to life. Life is the ultimate rollercoaster ride, why not try to incorporate some pieces of your life into your story and characters? You’d be surprised by how many famous writers take everyday pieces of their own lives and weave them into cinematic gold. Pieces of conversations you either have or hear can be a great starting point for natural, coherent dialogue.

Here comes some theory. Basic screenwriting formula can be applied to any story, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. The standard formula that you’ve seen over and over again. The romantic comedies, action films and blockbusters that all seem the same. But once you understand the elements of these basic Hollywood formulas, you can manipulate them as you please. You have to know the rules to break the rules. Some of the key rules are as follows: “show, don’t tell”, simply meaning, film is a visual medium, try and keep it that way. Of course, this rule is broken all the time, most notably by filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Martin Scorsese, who’s films are driven almost entirely by dialogue. In other cases, the rule of showing, not telling, is applied well, in such films like “Drive” and “Carnival of Souls”. The dialogue and character development is pushed to a minimum in these films, focusing more on ambience and story.

Formula is slightly different, as you can go pretty much any direction. That said, the most basic and heavily used formula, the “3-Act Structure”, can be seen countless times, and summed up pretty quickly. Basically, in this formula, you have a protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist wants or needs something, and his goal in the story is to achieve his desire. The antagonist is meant to make the protagonist’s goal harder to achieve, but typically, by the end of the stoy, the good guy always wins. This formula can (and does) apply to many films, you just have to watch and pay attention. “Star Wars”, “Superbad”, and “Machete” all use this formula. In “Superbad”, Seth and Evan want to buy liquor for girlsso they can party, and hopefully get laid. This seems easy, as they walk right down to the liquor store, but their plans are thwarted by two cops who want their friend McLovin to know, not all cops are assholes. By the end of the film, they make it to the party with most of the liquor in tact, and the story resolves. Conflict is key. Conflict creates interest, and you want people to be interested.

Other films, such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Slacker”, follow completely different formulas. “Pulp Fiction” takes three narrative stories, and intertwines them in a completely mixed up format, feeding different parts of the story to you at different times. “Slacker” starts off on one conversation, and then proceeds to jump from the next one to the next one, following a large town of people in Texas as they go through their average day. This type of structure has no clear narrative, but is a good experiment if you want to write a script full of opinions, viewpoints, and even messages.

The formula is up to you. Keep in mind, formula is NOT your story, but merely the way in which you tell your story. Don’t fret too much if you can’t come up with a formula that isn’t “fresh”, “new”, or “different”. The story should always be the most important focus. Finding the way in which to tell your story should come afterward. So when trying to find inspiration for your story, characters, and even dialogue, start with real life, then exaggerate. Blow things out of proportion, and make them interesting and entertaining, with enough drama to satisfy a teenage girl in a courtroom, enough action to put sports stars to shame, and enough story to make people have to watch it again and again…

written by Kyle Oliver, 4/26/2014

Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated
film writer, director and editor.
You can follow him on Twitter @ThatKyleOliver

© Copyright 2014 by Kyle Oliver