Making a Short Film

Delta Winds cover 2017Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Making a Short Film

Trellin McCoy

When I brainstorm, I like to spitball all of my ideas onto a piece of scrap paper. The first items involve plot and potential titles. Next, I create characters and list their names, background, characteristics, and motivations. Lastly, I jot down random ideas concerning themes, symbols, certain sequences, or plot twists.

Writing the script is the next step towards creating a film. Each time I approach a line, I ask, "Is that how this character would respond?" Once I finish the first draft, I fix errors and analyze my story. Sometimes I come across a scene that does not contribute to the overarching story, and then I have to decide whether to eradicate the whole scene or add depth to it. I want to create a story of high quality.

Creating a storyboard is the next stage in making a film. For this step, I draw up multiple comic book doodles that give me a visual aid of how I will compose the shots when shooting. I am pretty much limited to stick figures with my drawing ability, so I like to write what type of shot I will use under the picture. This is an important tool for reference when I start shooting.

After all that, I begin filming. As the director, I help actors with their lines and demonstrate the purpose of the film.

The editing process is my favorite part. It is a relaxing and gratifying period after the stress from shooting. Transitions are the key to piecing a film together. They create a free-flowing motion as you move from scene to scene. If you fail at making solid transitions, a film can be quite jarring. For my first film project, I came up with the idea of breaking up the film into a set of chapters and cutting to a black title card to transition to the next chapter of the story. Director Quentin Tarantino uses this method quite often in his films. While he usually has dialogue playing in the background, I used music. For the sequence involving a getaway driver, the song for the title card was "Oh Yeah" from Ferris Bueller's Day Off because whenever I hear that song I automatically associate it with a nice sleek car. Music is a tricky thing to integrate because permission from the creator of the song or record company is needed. It can be heartbreaking finding the perfect song for a scene and being denied permission. By now all the hard work and stress is over, and I can focus on distribution.

The final step in making a film project a reality is seeking distribution. It is beneficial to identify my target audience before I start shooting the film. One way to gain recognition for one's film is to submit to film contests. I am not saying to go out and bet all of your marbles on getting into Sundance Film Festival. The smart way to gain recognition is to start with a local festival and then work up from there. Posting film projects online is also a significant way to achieve recognition.

My first film was an assignment for a video production class I was taking while in high school. I came up with the idea of making a heist film focused on heisting a heist. Basically one criminal defects and creates his own crew, who plan to steal from the other group while they are mid-heist. During that project, I learned that working with a group can have many drawbacks.

We were given only two weeks and it was the last two weeks of school. On top of that everybody was studying for finals and getting ready for college. The big problem my group faced was creative differences during production. We debated over the script and tone. My friends felt like making a slapstick comedy, and I wanted to create a more serious dark comedy. Because of this I had to settle for a lot of things that I felt were unnecessary or unoriginal. Another issue we faced were time conflicts. Most of the time in pre-production we constantly bickered. None of us could agree on a solid concept for the film, and that resulted in an uneven film.

Since I was working with close friends I did not need to pay any actors. But organization is key for this section of the process. We laid out specific times, dates, and locations. Making a short film without a solid plan can be disastrous. Unfortunately, the group I was working with thought a lot of the elements in my script would be too difficult to shoot, and they wanted it to be a silly film.

I gave in and let them pen the script they wanted, but when it came time to shoot, they still had not completed the script. And it was filled with awkward dialogue. So we threw out most of the script and relied heavily on improvisation, which worked fairly well since we had been really close friends for years. One member of our group, however, for the life of him couldn't say a line without looking into the camera or cracking a smile. I made sure that we set a day aside for reshoots. For this particular project we ended up having to reshoot the whole climax because one of my friends deleted the footage, naturally.

When the film was completed, I submitted it to only a local festival for my school district because of my teacher's recommendation. If I had full creative control over the project, I could have prevented a multitude of the flaws in the final product and would have been more inclined to submit it to various film festivals. I am limited to mostly festivals and the internet since big theaters do not showcase independent short films.

There are many steps in creating a legitimate short film. The beginning process includes brainstorming, script writing, and creating storyboards. Next I start rolling until I have a product I am satisfied with. Once I have all the footage, I piece it all together and decide what to incorporate into the film. Lastly, I must seek distribution. Even though I was not particularly satisfied with my groups' end product, it served as a great learning experience. My biggest piece of advice to anyone trying to create a film is to make sure that all of your coworkers are on board. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort. No one person can do everything on one film, which is why it is so important to have partners who comprehend the overall vision.