THE SECRETS OF HOW TO MAKE A SHORT FILM

I'm not an expert but I'm honored to offer my thoughts on this subject. I recently made a short with the help of @nathanwaters @tothemaxxx & @kpreiss that can be seen here: vimeo.com/117360598
  1. Make a lot of them
    I think one of the mistakes people make is they put all their eggs in the proverbial basket of ONE BIG SHORT. I spent years and years making smaller ones where the budget was just however much it cost for me to buy everybody lunch, and most of them were bad but they all helped get me ready to make one on a slightly larger scale with some real money. If this had been my first thing, I would have completely eaten shit on it.
  2. Pool every resource you can
    Short filmmaking is all about favors, so try to be smart. What are the coolest locations you have access to, whether that's a loft downtown or a pharmacy on Main Street? Do you have any friends that make good music who'd let you use a song of theirs? Do you know someone who does graphic design and can help make your titles look special? I've found directing to be a largely curatorial job, so whatever the world is that you live in, try to bring together the best of it.
  3. Don't cheap out on production value
    I love the Duplass Bros but the days where you get into Sundance with a short you shot in 20 mins on a camcorder with an onboard mic are gone. It's like modern art: you can't just paint a white square anymore. There are lots of advantages to the digital revolution but you also have to compete with an unprecedented amount of content. You can shoot on an iPhone or an Alexa but make sure it looks good and just as importantly sounds good. Mix it, color it. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.
  4. But don't JUST focus on production value
    I went to film school with kids who'd go shoot some 30 minute opus on a RED camera in the Colombian jungle, and if you can really pull something like that off, then by all means don't let me stop you. But make sure you don't let story and character fall to the wayside. Story and character are free, and they are what will make or break your movie, the difference between having something good and having some shiny empty thing about which people will only say: "it was really well shot..."
  5. Steal from the stuff you love, but try to do it in ways that are less obvious
    Don't rip off Wes Anderson. We all love his movies but you just can't. That being said I steal a lot. The end of my short features a melancholy piano cue and the nat sound continues under the credits, mingling with the music. For that I basically ripped off the perfect GIRLS episode "One Man's Trash" (sorry @lenadunham & @jennikonner & thanks for the inspiration). Their Michael Penn piece is what I gave my dad as a reference for our final theme and I made @tothemaxxx watch the episode on HBOGo.
  6. Make everyone feel like they have a stake in it
    Back in high school I would beg friends to come over for an hour to hold a boom, but that piecemeal method gets old fast. If you can create an environment where everybody that's there WANTS to be there and wants the thing to be good, I promise it will come across on screen and improve every aspect of your movie, in addition to making it way more fun to make.
  7. Give people an opportunity to do something they haven't done before
    I knew my DP was talented because of the music videos and commercials he had shot, but no one had really given him a chance to do something great in narrative. Because I gave him that opportunity, he worked for free and with a commitment and gusto I wouldn't have gotten from a hired gun. Likewise, our costume designers style photo shoots a lot but hadn't really done a lot of film work, and they crushed it with what I'm pretty sure was literally a ZERO dollar budget.
  8. Find a great editor
    I knew about @tothemaxxx cause he'd cut a short film made by my friend Sarah that won an award at Sundance a few years ago. We'd never met, but I chased him down through mutual friends. The movie would have sucked without him. We found it together, reworking every scene til we figured out ways to make them all at least okay. That second set of eyes is so helpful, especially if it's a set of eyes as good as Max's (Max I love your eyes). He's now a close friend & (I hope) a lifelong collaborator.
  9. If something doesn't work, don't put it in the movie
    If there's exposition you need in a piece that isn't playing, try to cut around it or give us that information in another way. If you absolutely can't, try to reshoot it. Features do reshoots all the time. It's worth it. Trust me, it's better than having a movie that is ALMOST amazing but has one shitty scene or some loose ends that don't land. Every second of it should feel professional.
  10. The great is the enemy of the good
    This might sound pretentious, but so many people get bogged down in symbolism or metaphor or just some really forensic understanding of filmmaking -- like putting clocks in every scene because the movie is about time -- and then all this stuff they focus on and think is important ends up having very little to do with whether or not the short works. Most movies suck. Just try to make one that doesn't.
  11. Make it the length that it needs to be
    That doesn't mean it should be long just to be long. It can run 30 seconds or 30 minutes. I made a 20 minute short even though a lot of people told me not to, and even if it made it harder to program at festivals, I'm glad I didn't cave because if I had, the movie just wouldn't have been good anymore. This is where it's imperative to surround yourself with people you trust and who understand the kind of thing you're trying to make so they can tell you if you're being crazy and indulgent or not.
  12. It's okay if you don't get into festivals
    If you know you ended up with something good, don't let rejection from Sundance or SXSW or wherever make you feel like you should stop making things. When those places program shorts, they are basically throwing darts at a dart board. Tons of amazing shorts are passed over and tons of shitty ones get in. There are lots of ways to get your movie out there these days, so don't be discouraged if the self-designated gatekeepers don't embrace you right away. Just keep working.
  13. Get really lucky
    This one is tough because there's no way to ensure it, but I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge it as an enormous part of the process. There's a lot of stuff you can control, but at the end of the day the thing will either come together or it won't. Cross your fingers.