How to Make a Short Film, Explained

In the one year that I have been writing for The Cinemaholic, I have had the pleasure to converse with a lot of talented, young, aspiring filmmakers. After all our discussions on cinema, one thing has become very clear me – if you want to be a filmmaker, you need to watch films and you need to make films. By “making films”, I do not mean that you straight away jump into a feature-length project. Even the greatest filmmakers have begun their career with shorts, they help you in showcasing your abilities and hopefully secure the financing of your future endeavors. But, making a short film is not the same as making a feature-length film; you have to keep it short without making it feel incomplete or incoherent.

But then, I guess an aspiring filmmaker would already know all this and would not need to hear it from me. But, a lot of them are a tad bit reluctant to get started, probably because they might not know how to exactly go about it. Consider this piece that last bit of motivation for you to get started on your dreams. Again, I do not claim to be an expert; any insight I can provide is based on the multitude of short films I have watched over the years.

Do note that the individual steps to making a short film are not too different from that of creating a feature work, albeit on a much smaller scale. Also, since there is a constraint of time in a short film, there are slight differences in how you go about each step. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules in art, so make slight adjustments based on your creative needs.

1. The Screenplay

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If you have read my article on screenwriting, you’d know how important a screenplay is to a movie. Every film starts with a screenplay, but for a short film, the key word is “short”. Your screenplay has to be short, concise, clear and more importantly, complete. A lot of amateur short films I’ve seen suffer from one major flaw – they bite off more than they can chew, and the final work lacks coherence and clarity. As creative individuals, you must be bursting with ideas, but make sure you pick one idea and develop it such that it can be translated onto the screen in a short time frame. The most effective short film screenplays are those which can convey a point with utmost clarity within a short time frame.


2. Storyboard

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This is a step most short filmmakers conveniently omit, because it is usually time-consuming. I agree that it is not absolutely necessary, but I would always recommend creating a storyboard. You don’t have to be great at drawing to create a storyboard; it just has to speak to you and your crew. While a screenplay is a written text, a storyboard is medium which will help you visualize your screenplay. And for an amateur filmmaker, it would be extremely helpful if you have a strong understanding of your film’s structure and narrative flow. Having storyboards would help you construct your narrative better and help you have a better understanding on how to go about your shoot.


3. Location Scout

Yes, the location is important, even in a short film. Whether you decide on an indoor shoot or an outdoor shoot, it is important that your location reflects the tone of your film. I personally feel indoor shoots are cheaper and more viable since a restrictive environment easily helps in building an atmosphere. Of course, your decision should be based on the requirements of your screenplay, but this is a decision that you should put some thought into. Most aspiring filmmakers rarely pay attention to the location and that complete takes me off the experience.


4. Casting

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Of course, do not expect a professional, trained actor to work on your project. If that happens, then well and good, but in most cases, the actors would be your friends and family. Trey Edward Shults’s breath-taking ‘Krisha’ had his family and friends playing almost all of the characters due to budget constraints, but it was one of the finest and boldest movies of 2016. So, training and experience would not matter much for your first work; rather, what you should look out for is a sense of confidence and naturalism in front of the camera. Your ideal cast must be passionate about acting, regardless of whether he/she is trained or not. Also ensure that your cast is kept to a minimum, as handling a huge cast is not easy and your work might suffer as a result.


5. Videography

Yes, you have to choose a camera. However, do remember that professional video cameras are not required to make a great film; what matters more is the man behind the camera. Hell, even a smartphone is an ideal short film camera, if the person filming knows what he is doing. Make sure that your cameraman is a shutterbug, someone who is passionate about photography and videography, someone who is at least familiar with the basic technical know-how. Shooting is not an easy task, it requires a sense of aesthetic awareness and subtlety that only an enthusiast might be adept at. Of course, nobody expects you to get a professional, but a passionate individual would always be ideal.


6. The Edit

After the shoot, comes the most important part – stitching your work together. A movie is born on the editing table. That is where your vision is translated into a finished work; complete and coherent.  You can choose to edit your work yourself, but I would recommend your cameraman for the editing. This where his technical expertise will come to the fore. It’s important to understand color correction, video coding and transitioning when you edit a movie, and if your cameraman is an avid shutterbug, he would be able to work on these technical aspects much effectively.

Another important point to note here is the sound editing. I understand that it is difficult to work on the sound editing with help from an expert, so all I would suggest is to take care of it in your shooting itself. Nobody expects perfect sound synchronization but always ensure that there are no glaring flaws that would affect your overall work.


Congratulations! Now you know how to get started on your first short film. Don’t procrastinate anymore; get started on your work. Post it online, show it to your friends and family, send it to competitions and festivals, and most importantly, learn from each experience. The best way to learn film-making is to just go out and make films. Be bold with your ideas and always try to strike a chord with your audience. Also, while it is always nice to be inspired by your favorite filmmakers and pay homage to them, it should never extend to blatant plagiarism.

A short film is the best way to expose yourselves to the methodology of film-making and announce to the world that you have arrived, while constantly improving yourselves. Dare to make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes as you slowly perfect your craft. All the best, and happy filmmaking!

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