Short films are today’s medium of choice for inventive storytellers. Stephen Graves shows us how to direct a taut, honed masterpiece….
BEFORE YOU START
Know what to do and when to do it. A film is born in these stages:
Pre-production: scripting, raising funds and planning.
Production: shooting the film.
Post-production: editing, grading and visual effects.
Be resourceful. Dead Mon’s Shoes director Shane Meadows made a short film with his phone. Dedicated cams are expensive to hire, so ask friends if you can borrow their DSLRs and use cheap but capable editing software such as Lightworks (lwks.com).
Take time over your script. Months, if need be. If your story isn’t up to scratch, even the best actors and most expensive cameras in the world won’t prevent your film being rubbish.
Keep spirits high. Film-making is a group effort — discuss characters with your cast beforehand, keep everyone fed and watered, and let everyone know their efforts are appreciated.
Decide where you’re going.
Draw up a list of accessible locations (home, park, work) and write around them. Even mundane locations can be made interesting with a clever script and some ingenuity — look at films such as Primer and Following.
Take care of the details.
Meticulous storyboarding and proper budgeting are necessary evils, and remember copyright clearances for visuals and music — otherwise you might not be able to show your film in festivals.
Explore budget options. You may not have a RED Epic but filmmakers are increasingly using DSLR cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark III. You can even kit out your iPhone with Canon lenses using a handy rig from Phocus (smartphocus.com).
Use what you need. Hiring kit is expensive, so work out what you will actually need for the shots you want to get. A dolly for tracking shots, for instance, or a macro lens for close-ups.
Improvise! Sam Raimi stuck a camera to a plank for tracking shots in The Evil Dead, but high-tech, low-cost options abound these days. Check out the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 — it features a Director Mode for sweeping aerial shots.
Assemble a team. Your core crew members are: a producer to handle the budget: a director to spend it; a cinematographer to light the scene and operate the camera: a sound recorder; and an editor to cut the film.
Network! Need a camera operator or a visual effects artist? Get out there and meet fellow film-makers at festivals, networking events and through websites such as raindance.org and shootingpeople.org.
Don’t forget to budget. Hiring kit, getting cast and crew to the location and feeding them all costs money. Robert Rodriguez famously funded his films by participating in medical research: fortunately we now have Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Be sure what your film is about. Not just what happens in it, but what message you’re trying to convey. For example. Aliens may be about aliens, but its themes include motherhood, femininity and America’s involvement in Vietnam.
Show, don’t tell. Before you start shooting, look for plot and character beats that can be illustrated through visuals rather than dialogue: a shot of a man slipping off his wedding ring before talking to a woman instantly gives you a lot of information about his character. Embrace your limitations.
Work with the resources you have, not those you might be able to get. Got a weird location or prop? Make it the film’s hub.
Use focus and depth of field. Focus determines which part of an image is sharp; depth of field refers to how much of the image is in focus. Draw your audience by altering the focus of the lens during the shot.
Master transitions. Editors use different transitions to cut between shots; fades and dissolves can be used to illustrate the passage of time. Try cutting on motion to add a sense of fluidity.
Don’t cross the line! Imagine a line drawn between two characters. Shoot from one side of it, so both actors face opposite sides of the frame when cutting between them. «Crossing the line» breaks the offside rule of film-making.