How to Make a Short Film With Your Friends

Whenever I have a little time on my hands, like reading week, summer break, or a potential strike, I always look forward to spending it with my friends. But, after a while, going to the same restaurants and movie theaters can get a little dull, so I’m always searching for something more exciting to do. That’s where making movies comes in. If you, like me, are looking for something new and fun to do with your friends, making a short film is the perfect place to start. It allows you to work together creatively, and even gives you a product you can show off at the end. For those who have never attempted it, making a short film can seem daunting at first, so I’ve written this article to help make your first time as painless as possible.

The Story

The first thing that you have to do is come up with an idea for your movie. Maybe you want to keep the film improvisational, or maybe you have a friend who is particularly gifted at writing and always wanted to try their hand at a screenplay. Either way, it is always a good idea to have at least some plan of what you are going to do. It will make scheduling easier, as well as keep the overall tone and atmosphere of the film cohesive.

When coming up with a story, keep in mind producability and simplicity. A simple concept done well is better than a complicated idea only produced to half its potential. Keep Inception in your back pocket for when you make it to the big leagues, and instead take inventory of your resources. Who can you get to act in your film? What locations do you have access to? And how can you use these creatively?

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The Crew

Now, you are going to want to assemble your crew. The most crucial positions are Director, Cinematographer, Sound, and Editor, though there are many more positions you could incorporate into your film. It all depends how big of a crew you think you’ll need, and how many people are willing to help you out (preferably for free). You can also put out crew calls on multiple websites and Facebook groups, including York University Film Cast & Crew Call.

My suggestion would be not to overlook sound. It is one of the most crucial, yet neglected, aspects of filmmaking, and can separate a good short film from a low-budget disaster. You’ll also probably want to bring on some grips or PAs to help with the little things, like moving lights and helping set up. Of course, on a small set, everyone needs to be prepared to help each other out, even if the task doesn’t necessarily fall under their job description.

Other key positions you should consider is Producer, Production Manager, and Production Designer. If you’re trying to keep your film affordable, having someone who is solely responsible for dealing with the money will be a big help. Not only will the Producer help budget your film, but they can also be responsible for applying for grants and bursaries. You could still get away with paying next to nothing, though, if you are using items and locations you already have access to, as well as non-union actors, or even just casting your friends.

A Production Manager’s job is to organize the production, including getting a hold of actors and securing location, which can take a huge stress off the other members of the production and allow them to focus on their creativity. The Production Designer works closely with the cinematographer to determine the overall look of the film. Basically, they are in charge of everything you see on-screen, i.e. costumes, set dressing, props, etc. Having someone looking after the aesthetics of your film can elevate the production value of your film in amazing ways.

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The Camera

You can’t make a movie without a camera, but the kind of camera you use is not actually as important as people think. You can make an amazing movie on something as simple as a smartphone. Just look at the film Tangerine, which was completely shot on iPhone 5S, or the Oscar-winning documentary, Searching For Sugarman, which resorted to shooting scenes with an iPhone when they ran out of funding.

Get your crew to pool your resources, and reach out to family and friends, and you should be able to scrounge up all the equipment you need to make a movie. If you have the budget, you can also consider renting equipment from rental houses, some of which even offer student discounts. And, although sound is important, if worse comes to worse you can always just use the built-in mic on your camera.

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The Preparation

Go over the script with your cinematographer and come up with a shot list/storyboard before you start shooting. Remember that any work you do in the pre-production process will save you a lot of time and stress on set. You can categorize your shots by location, cast, and lens (if you will be using different lenses), and then organize them in your schedule. This will not only structure your shoot so that it will run as smoothly as possible, but it will also make sure that everyone is on the same page about the visual aesthetic of the film.

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The Cast

You have many options here, whether it is convincing your siblings to do it or giving your friend the chance to flex their acting chops. If you are looking for more professional actors, you can post casting calls on Facebook groups, such as the York Cast and Crew Call group mentioned earlier, or on casting websites like Mandy.com. There are lots of up-and-coming actors who are dying to get experience and footage for their demo reel, and I would highly suggest holding auditions, so you can get a sense of who is the best fit. After you have cast, remember to keep the actors informed, sending them any updates on the script and, ideally, having a rehearsal before the shoot starts. It is also crucial to have meetings with the crew, and keep everyone on the same page so you can keep mistakes to a minimum.

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The Shoot

Make sure that all of the cast and crew knows where to be and when. There is nothing more frustrating than having to stall production because someone didn’t get the right information. Once you start shooting, your schedule is going to help you out a lot. If you have properly prepared, the shoot will just be an execution of your creative ideas. Additionally, make sure that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. It’s not useful if you have two people doing one job, and no one doing another. If you do run into any problems, do not be afraid to ask for help from those around you. Chances are that they are a creative bunch, and the best solutions will come from when you put your heads together.

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The Food

Do not forget to feed your cast and crew! This is vital, as it will not only energize the people working on the movie, but it will also keep them happy, and willing to work with you again. Never feed your crew pizza, or, if you have to, only feed it to them once. Keep snacks, such as granola bars or cookies, around set so people can snack on them when they need to. It is also always smart to keep a pack of water bottles and a hot pot of coffee ready. Remember to schedule time for a break, so everyone has a chance to rest and eat lunch.

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The Edit

The first thing that the editor and director are going to want to do is review the footage and card the movie. This involves taking Post-It notes or cue cards and colour-coding all the shots you got, and then arranging them in a mock movie timeline. The actual film might vary from this structure, but it is an important way for the editor and director to discuss their ideas, and helps focus on the overarching story and theme before getting into the nitty gritty.

After this, the film is in the editor’s hands. The movie will benefit, though, if the director repeatedly visits the editor to see what direction the film is taking. I would also suggest bringing in fresh eyes to look over the film, whether they are from your crew, or, more importantly, people not involved in the production. Since they are coming in with no prior knowledge, like most audience members would be, they will be able to tell you what is or isn’t working, what needs to be explained further, and where there is missing context. There is always the option to schedule re-shoots, too, if you feel like your film is missing something crucial.

Source: Jakob Owens​

The Finished Product

Once you are finish your film, show it off! You could rent out a screening space and invite the cast, crew, family and friends, or you could just show it on your living room TV. You can upload it straight to Youtube and share it on social media, or wait and submit it to festivals, where it might be screened in front of an audience and maybe even win prizes. And don’t forget to send copies to all of your cast and crew, as it is their hard work that allowed you to create your film.

Source: Julien Andrieux

Hopefully this article has inspired you to try your hand at filmmaking. Making a short film with your friends is the perfect excuse to hang out and, trust me, you will be happy that you have the evidence of your dabble in filmmaking later in life. Who knows? You might even discover a hidden talent and start a production company of your own!