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  • Daniel Harding


Most of what I've learnt about filmmaking has come from producing my own films. Making your own short film is a great place to start, and here are few tips to help you on your way

Adapt to the short form

Most people when they're starting out have these huge, bombastic, totally-over-the-top, cinematic universe expanding ideas that simply don't work (and will never work) for the short form. So if you're thinking about creating your own short film, which I assume you are, then you really, really need to whittle your ideas and script down to its core themes and aims so that you don't over stretch yourself. A great idea is where you should start, but before you go any further, make sure your idea is suitable for short form - if it needs 20+ pages to do it justice, then I suggest thinking of a new idea, because you don't want to spend that much time on your first (or second, or even third) short film. Make it a manageable 3-5 pages, maximum. If you can't do it, perhaps consider filming the first scene of your larger script (you'll thank me later, I promise), as this will still give you an opportunity to practise but on a smaller scale. There's nothing wrong with being ambitious, and this advice does depend on what your aim for the film is, but keeping things simple, especially for your first project, is key to making it work. Over-stretch yourself and you'll live to regret it.

Learn to multi-role

You start off assuming that you're only ever going to be a writer/director, so why do you need to know what lens or filter is required to get a shot, because surely that's someone else's job? Well, no. Unless you have a sizeable budget for each and every project you undertake, the overwhelming probability is that you'll have to multi-up your roles on set. Personally, I pretty much do everything and anything that needs doing (except make-up & hair, because it would be disastrous) and I have no ego over what should be done. I'll make teas, coffees, go on shop runs, hold an umbrella for you if its raining, it doesn't matter to me. All I care about is getting the film made and I'll do whatever it takes. I know from experience that to learn multiple roles is a huge undertaking, and some of the roles may seem scary at first, but once you start to learn, you'll realise how much time, money and effort you can save by doing some things yourself. I'm often met with resistance to this idea, but typically it comes from film-school students or from someone who has never produced a film themselves. I understand their resistance, because you don't want to spread yourself too thin, but all I say in reply is: "If I don't multi-role, I can't afford to make this film." I just never have the budget to film it the 'correct' way. Sorry! So I have no choice but to multi-role. You could wait years saving up your pennies to make sure you have the budget needed to hire people in every single role, but for a short film? No way. I've got better things to spend my money on, thanks.

Buy some equipment, but not everything

The chances that you'll use that expensive prime lens more than once a year is pretty low, so I recommend not buying anything that you won't get regular use from. We are sold this idea that you have to have the best of everything before you make a film, but this is simply not true. For example, the 4K format hasn't really taken off yet and people rarely ask me to provide a 4K copy of the film, so why are we all buying 4K cameras? If you can afford one, great, but don't let it stop you if you can't. Equipment is great, and can be a lot of fun, but you should still aim to make your short film with what you have available to you - even if it's just an iPhone. If you're not sure you'll make more than one or two films a year (which is still pretty ambitious), then I would recommend hiring the equipment you need - especially if you're only filming for a couple of days, as it'll be much, much cheaper for you. I regularly film stuff (last year I made 4 short films, and hundreds of showreel scenes), so I can justify buying my own equipment. But I've been doing it for almost 10 years, so I've slowly accumulated the things I need over the years, and I get good use out of them. I'll occasionally upgrade, but that's because I know it'll be worth it.

Don't think about festivals

There's nothing wrong with being ambitious, but I've always felt that the short form should be treated as a practise ground for bigger projects. Use the short form to learn your craft, not to live in debt. We've all heard of the success stories surrounding filmmakers who have made short films and then gone on to helm bigger films, which is great! Well done to them. But the chances that it'll happen to either me or you is pretty close to zero. Who knows, maybe it will? But let's assume for the sake of this blog that it won't. Therefore, entering your film into festivals should be the last thing you're thinking about. They cost a bomb, and offer little to no guarantee that your film will be selected. And even when it is, your film is shown to about ten people (if you're lucky) who may or may not have enjoyed it because very rarely do you get a chance to find out. I would advocate making your short film for the sake of just making it. Everything else is secondary. Learn your craft, make mistakes, and move on. Don't spend hundreds of pounds (or dollars) on entries that offer little in return.

Have fun

Making films should be fun, but especially with short films. The pressure is off, and you're likely only making it for yourself, so why stress? You may have a lot riding on it financially, or even thinking about the time you've committed to it, but I can honestly say, making a short film is probably the least stressful thing you'll do as a filmmaker. It may not seem like it at the time, but once you start producing content for other people, that's when the real pressure starts. If you fuck up your own film, you have to live with the embarrassment, but you won't have a client screaming down your neck. That's why making a short film should be fun! If it's not, perhaps ask yourself why not? There are parts of the process I hate, but I know they are a necessary evil. Once you get over them, there really there isn't any other reason to make a short film. I love doing it, and it's why I continue to make them. Short films offer me no financial incentive or return, and in the grand scheme of things, hardly anyone ever watches them. So why make them?... to have fun! Obvs.

Lastly, recruit reliable people

This one is easier said than done. I've struggled to find reliable people over the years, which may sound a little defeatist, but it's the truth - and probably says a lot about me. But that's not to say I haven't worked with some fantastic people! The problem is these people want and deserved to be paid. I'm not advocating free labour (I'll save that for another blog entry), but typically the good people get snapped up pretty quickly. If you have a budget to pay people, brilliant, you can hire and cast accordingly. But if you're working with a low-to-no budget, the chances are you're going to have to beg, steal and borrow everything to get your project made. Don't listen to anyone who says you can't make a zero budget film, but just know, it will require a lot more work arranging and scheduling around the time people give to you. Finding some reliable people who are keen to make your project with you should be very near the top of your list. If you can't, then I suggest hiring some professionals. Failing that, enjoy working by yourself. I do.

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