Last week, I produced my first short film. In case you’ve wanted to do the same thing, here’s a little breakdown of what I did:
Writing The Script
Obviously, writing a short is significantly easier than writing a screenplay for a feature film. But since you are writing something that you’ll actually shoot, it’s best to go in and work with what you have.
In this case, I wanted the shoot to be as easy as possible.
- Two actors
- One location
- Few props
- No stunts
I opted for a comedy short, since I’ve got a background in that world. I also wanted to do something with time travel, just because it sounded fun.
Getting The Crew
Since I was not only producing the short, but also directing and acting in it, I needed a crew to handle the day’s production. Here is who I had to hire:
- A Cinematographer. (Also called the Director of Photography or DP)—The DP is going to handle the filming, lighting of the shots, and composition of each shot.
- Assistant Camera (also called 1st AC or Focus Puller)—The 1st AC handles the focus of the lens while the Cinematographer is filming. If there was a shot where the focus shifted from one actor to the other, the 1st AC would be in charge of that.
- Gaffer—On a big set, this would be the head electrician. In this case, the gaffer handled the setting up and adjusting of lights for each shot.
- Sound Mixer—The sound mixer would handle not only the microphones for the actors, but also monitoring sound levels and making sure background noise won’t ruin the take.
After scouring Production Hub and Craigslist, I found a DP with a solid reel and reasonable rates. He also had a gaffer and 1st AC on his team, so that part was easy.
I actually knew a sound mixer, so this part was also easy. But if I hadn’t, I would have done the same thing I did for the DP—check out their online reels.
Since I was also directing the short, I had a shot list of all of the camera angles we needed to get for the shooting day.
The DP came by a few days before and checked the location with me. I walked him through the camera setups and staging of the actors.
7:00 am – Go to the store and get extra snacks and coffee for everyone.
8:00 am – The DP, 1st AC, and gaffer arrive to set up equipment. We get everything ready for the first shots of the day and go over the order of set-ups.
9:00 am – The sound mixer arrives. We’re using lavalier mics, which we will put on under our clothes. Since the actress and I will be standing far apart for most of the shoot, it’s unnecessary to use a boom mic to capture our dialogue.
9:30 am – Liz, the actress, arrives. I went to acting school with Liz and know she’s solid. We just have a quick chat about the characters and get ready. No need for a rehearsal in this case.
10:00 am – We start shooting our first scenes of the day. We shoot Liz’s set-ups first, since her character will be near the window and we want to make sure we don’t lose the light.
1:00 pm – Break for lunch. Since we don’t really have time to go out, I’ve gotten sandwiches and snacks from Costco.
2:00 pm – Start shooting for the second half of the day. I’m playing multiple characters (past and future selves of a time-traveler), so I shave and change clothes for the remaining setups.
This part is actually much harder than I thought it would be. Because I’m basically talking to myself (past/future selves), I deliver my lines to a spot on the wall. Even during shots with the other actress, my eye-line is obscured by equipment or the crew a lot of the time.
5:00 pm – The main shots are done. We just do a couple quick pick-up shots and then get some wild lines—these are lines of dialogue recorded without the camera rolling. These will be helpful in case any sound if muffled during the regular takes. The editor will be able to just swap those lines out.
6:00 pm – The equipment is packed up and everyone is wrapped.
Storing The Footage
I got a couple of external hard drives. Chase, the DP, recommended the La Cie 1 TB hard drive, since it transfers data really quickly. We moved about 120 gigs of footage in about 25 minutes. I gave the other drive to Carroll, the sound mixer. He takes the drive home and copies it from his gear.
Once I get the drive back, I’ll make copies of both the video and audio on each drive. That way I’ll have a backup in case one of the drives gets damaged or lost.
I get one of the drives to Jay, the editor. He makes a rough cut and uploads it to Vimeo so I can check it out. It already looks really solid. A couple of minor tweaks and it should be ready to go.
Once we have the picture and music locked, I get the footage to the DP so he can do a final color-correction. When you record video onto a file, it ends up looking a little washed out and drained of color.
The editor will make an XML file of all of the cuts he’s made. Then the DP will use that file to match the colors with a program he’s got. Once that’s done, the color will be ready to go.
Putting Up The Video
Since this was a comedy short, I opted to just put the film up on Youtube and Funny Or Die. I might also submit it to some comedy film festivals in the area, but probably only a few.
It was a super fun process to get everything together. I had no idea there would be so much work for a little 4 minute comedy. Like the saying goes, “even a bad movie is a miracle.”
What went well
I lucked out by having a very talented cast and crew. We got everything done on time, which was a blessing since we were shooting at my home.
Even with the sounds of noisy neighbors and the occasional helicopter (thanks, LA), all of the footage was usable.
What I’d do differently
Looking back, I wouldn’t opt to direct and act at the same time for my first project. I also wouldn’t have played multiple characters. On paper, it was just a funny plot device. But in reality, I had to do tons of takes from different angles, just staring at a spot on the wall.
Had it been a normal 4 minute short, we probably could have knocked the whole thing out in half the time. We would have had a master shot, some medium shots, and some closeups.
But all in all, it was a great experience and it couldn’t have gone better.
Well, enough blathering about how it was done. Here is the final product: