Start With Short Shoots

Keep it Simple, Stupid. K. I. S. S. You’ve heard it but it has nothing to do with your stories. You don’t write simple stories. You don’t envision short films. Your canvas is huge, and that’s just what you do. But if this is your first rodeo, maybe you should just take a day and do a short, low stakes shoot before you go and conquer the Mt. Everest of a feature film.

Get a Good Performance

Looking sad in front of the lens is not in and of itself a moving performance. What does make a moving performance? Ahh… that’s a great question! When the audience engages with a character, empathizes with what’s at stake for the character, you have a good performance. This usually means getting the tools of production out of the way and making the characters central to the experience. Good editing is editing you don’t see. Good cinematography gets you into the story, not distracting you from the story. Good lighting illuminates the motive of the characters and good story gives everyone a motivation without getting in the way.

And then there’s the acting, which many (directors) say starts with casting. My actor friends cringe when it comes up, but cast people for roles they can play well. Don’t have many trained actors to choose from? Change the story, it’ll save you headaches and relationships.

Take Your Time

Your first shoot might be very brief. Your first time editing will cure you of that. Oh, yeah, shots need to not just get all the lines in a script, but they also need to cut together. No one told you about The Line? Dude, The Line is very important. And what’s up with continuity? Set dressing anyone?

Shorts, at their best allow you to take your time and attend to these details, even if your crew is way too small. Think you’re going to shoot three to five pages a day with a crew of  two? That’s not a short shoot. Want to shoot a page or so, with one location without visual effects or a fight scene? That’ much more do able. Don’t try to shoot a 30 second movie trailer in 8 locations with a cast of hundreds (or even dozens) and fool yourself that you’re shooting a short. On the other hand, if you shoot something small and manageable, you’ll have time to really compensate for what you didn’t think about when doing your Pre-Production Homework.

Get Creative

Someone said that you can truly improvise once you’re practiced and prepared, and you get into the moment. Most people confuse improvisation with, ‘just making stuff up.’ Trust me, there’s too many moving parts to try and make good decisions on set until you’ve been through the ringer a couple times. I’ve tried. Don’t let me discourage you,though, it’s a creative endeavor, go be creative. But like a jazz player, when you know your instrument, and your in the groove, you can lead, follow and solo your butt off without embarrassing yourself and becoming a social pariah.

A short shoot is a great way to get started in filmmaking, and it’s a great way to stay in the game when you’ve got to get a day job. In between gigs? Great time for a short shoot. Got no money? Short Shoot. Contrary to popular beliefs time is the greatest asset to a filmmaker, so while you’re waiting to see if that investor is going to come through, or if your talent is going to sign on, spend some time honing your craft.

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