Short films are a great way of developing your skills, getting credits and learning the craft. In addition, short films can help you get into festivals, which in turn helps you network and meet more people in the industry. And if you can get an award, suddenly, you are an award-winning writer!
We recently received funding from Arts Council England, so here is some of what I’ve learnt. This is all my personal advice. There are many people who have done none of what I’m suggesting and have still made great short films. This is one method, and you can take the process as you like. Ready? Let’s go …
1) Write the script
This may sound like the dumbest thing to say but like everything, easier said than done! Unless you have a lot of money, then having seven different locations, car chases and twenty characters is not going to work.
So ideally …
- a single set
- interior with no changes in the time of day or night
- the minimum number of characters (2-3 is a good number)
- If you have a second location, ideally make it close by and with easy access to electricity
Script development IS needed and can be formal or informal. So your director, when they give you notes? That’s script development. Your producer, your actors, indeed when anyone gives you notes? This is script development. (Ignore your friends and family, they love you and want you to succeed, but they are not experts).
You may think your script is perfect in every way, shape and form and of course it is. However, here is another bubble popper: YOU ARE WRONG. My first draft was ten pages, and with the help of a great script developer (who’s also a good friend – the key is booze!), it was honed down to five pages.
Or just ask your writer friends to go through it. They are writers and can help. Get it as good as it can be. MORE: 7 Steps To Better Shorts
2) Find a producer and a director (good ones)
Again, sounds easier than it is. But you have a choice: do it yourself and learn about the process of filmmaking more and realise first-hand how difficult a seven-location shoot with twenty characters and a car chase actually is. Or better still, ask around! Post on social media, e-bulletins and forums. Don’t take the first person you meet; you need to work with this person to make the film a reality. So find someone you get on with. It may take time, but here patience is a virtue.
3) Who’s paying?
This is the big question. There are several routes. You can do it for nothing – which in reality does not mean nothing, but people working for free. Shooting People is great for this. There are pros and cons. Pros – people work for free! Credits, free! Free! Cons – free does not mean free. People need to pay their bills and travel. Can you at least provide travelling expenses? Also food costs money – most people are struggling, so I think if you are asking people to give their time and expertise for free, then the least you can do is feed them properly. So put away the Cup-a-Soup (I was fed that once on set and I will not work with them again) and payout for some decent food.
There are funding opportunities out there, but there will be dry spells; the funding may not apply to you. YOU WILL GET REJECTED. Keep writing, and KEEP APPLYING.
If you don’t want to wait, then think about crowd-funding. But if you go down this route, be realistic. Unless you’re doing the seven different locations, car chases and twenty characters short, you probably don’t need more than £2000-3000.
4) Make a plan
Again sounds obvious, but this is not going to happen by you asking a few people round one Saturday morning. You have to arrange the location (for most shorts it is normally the writer/director/producer’s home), equipment and give people notice. You have to have a plan.
Get insurance. If someone hurts themselves, if equipment you’ve borrowed gets damaged, have insurance. Again, when you make a film for free, it is not really free and insurance is worth it. MORE: Film Budgets: Money Talks
5) Shoot it
If you want to learn more about the process, then go on set and be part of the process. See how each shot you wrote takes hours to set up, as the clock runs out of the day. See and learn. If you’re not interested, then give your script to somebody else, go home and hope it turns out okay.
6) Sit back and enjoy the money rolling in (Ahem)
Okay, this is not going to happen. The short will only lose you money. However, the question is why did you do it? Chris Jones made Gone Finishing because he wanted to make a high quality, well-funded short rather than a very micro-budget feature. The result was a great film that was worthy of Oscar consideration. My aim with Unfinished Business was to get my first writing credit and to have something to showcase at festivals and meet new people.
To that end we will be sending the film to festivals, and lots of them. Again, YOU WILL GET REJECTED, but you know what? It’s a numbers game. Then put it on IMDb.
Good luck with your own short films!
BIO: Nidhi Gupta is a writer/producer. Her short, Unfinished Business, directed by Kawita Sareen (50 Kisses – Romantic Hideaway) will be premiering by the London Asian Film Festival. Come and say hello.