Smaller Isn't Always Easier
Seven lessons learned from producing short films
I've been producing short films on and off since 2005, and coming off the back of my first feature film and going back to a short (albeit one of half-hour length, so not your typical short film project) I can say that just because a project is small in size, doesn't necessarily make it easy going. There's a misconception that features are more difficult, and more worthy of your time, but short films come with their own challenges, that if met head-on, can be really rewarding.
Short films present many of the same challenges as feature film productions, albeit on a smaller scale. Whilst the workload of a feature film can be spread over many people, the smaller crew size and often doubling up/ blurring of roles on a short can intensify the pressure on each individual. As a result, a short film can seem more difficult to produce than a feature, especially when it comes to raising the funds necessary for production. Here are seven lessons I've learned in the production of short films...
1) Keep it simple.
Whether you've written your own script, or have commissioned or purchased one from a screenwriter, keeping the premise simple will in theory make your film more simple to produce. If you have multiple locations, a large cast and a load of VFX then your production logistics and budget are likely to be a lot more complex and potentially difficult.
2) Don't do it all yourself.
Collaboration is key in film. On my first short I served as the writer, director, producer, DoP, camera operator, sound recordist and editor. It was a small, underfunded film, and the results showed. It wasn't great. I made a lot of mistakes, but on the flip side I learned a lot of lessons. I've always preferred learning through action, as opposed to being taught. But looking back on it, having worked with full production crews on short film, I can wholeheartedly say that the benefits of working with others outweigh the control you exert doing it all yourself. Don't be a "jack of all trades, master of none," no matter how great your self-belief.
3) Get professional caterers or craft services.
Most short film productions are low paid, if not no-paid jobs. The least you can do is feed and water your crew. On one short I also stepped in to do catering when my mind and time should have been dedicated to other things. It wasn't a disaster, but it could've been better. Make sure whoever is in charge of catering has prepped beforehand. Even if you're just taking the crew to a nearby restaurant for a meal, make sure the restaurant has room to cater to all of you!
4) Be careful when you film.
I've had one shoot that took place on Mother's Day, and another that part-filmed on a national holiday. Not only can it be difficult for cast and crew to get time away from families and friends on these days, you also need to consider that more members of the public will be off work on those days, with the potential to interfere with your production. Likewise, locations can book up early during the holidays, and in some cases can be all the more expensive because it's peak season.
5) Help your cast and crew celebrate.
When the hard work is over and done with, bring people together with a screening for cast and crew, and don't be afraid to invite all your supporting artists—the more people who can see the labours of your work the better. Think of it as an early test screening. If you can't afford a screening, be sure to provide a free download link or free viewing link to your cast and crew, and ask for feedback. If you can, throw a wrap party, even if it's just a round of drinks at the end of the shoot. It helps people unwind and get closure.
6) An honest producer is a productive producer.
This one's important—be honest and upfront with your cast and crew as the production comes together. I had a short where private equity funding fell through and had to deliver the bad news that pay have to would be deferred. It was embarrassing as an entrepreneur, but it had to be done, and there was only so much that we managed to claw back through crowdfunding. We had to beg, borrow, and ask favours in order to get the film made, and under those circumstances, having a reputation for honesty and clarity is paramount.
7) Don't keep your eggs in one basket.
I can't stress this one enough. Spread your budget over as many sources as possible. If one method fails (see above!) then your whole production needn't fall through. There is no one, perfect way to fund a film; there's no magic bullet that solves all your funding needs. Raising the budget is like making a patchwork blanket—the more varied the methods you use, the better it's going to look in the end.
If you follow these rules, and keep your wits about you, you'll have an easier time producing your shorts. Short films can be as complex and fulfilling as making features, especially as the quicker turnaround allows you to try different stories in a shorter span of time. If you're curious about what I've managed to create, see the below link to our short film The Final Punchline which is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.