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How To Shoot & Edit Your First Short Film - Part 1

Filming is a pastime that many of us do every day, whether we're hoping to catch our workmates doing something hilarious that will make us instant YouTube stars, or desperate to capture our baby's first smile on camera. However, for some of us the passion runs further, and we want to create a piece of work that will be taken seriously in the film world.

Image credit: film reel

Whether you aim to be the next Scorsese or you simply want some recognition from your peers, this guide will show you the basic steps of how to shoot and edit your first film, and alert you to any problems you might encounter or decisions you'll have to make. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the feature.

Behind the scenes

Before you even pick up a camera, you need to know what you're going to shoot. Even improvised scenes have a structure of sorts, so just hoping that the magic will happen when you start rolling is likely to yield disappointing results. First off, you need to create your storyboard and script, and assemble your cast and crew.

Plotting and storyboard

When you have a basic idea for your film, expand on it and divide your film into four sections:

  • Beginning. Yep, you guessed it – this is when we meet the characters and the story is introduced. In a superhero film we'll meet the alter ego who has a normal life and no idea they are about to become very special; or in a love film, we may meet the protagonist and the love interest separately or together.
  • Middle. Most of the action takes place here – this is where the story is told. The superhero is confronted with a supervillain, or the lovebirds get to know one another.
  • Climax. Near the end of the film, the situation that has been building in tension comes to a head – the superhero saves the day, or the lovers finally kiss. However, this isn't the ending.
  • Resolution. It's pretty disconcerting when this is missing from a film, though some directors deliberately choose to omit it for that reason. The resolution is the part of the film when the story is wrapped up – perhaps we see the community dealing with the aftermath of the supervillain's actions, or the lovers celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary.

Now comes the time for creating your storyboard. Here, you need to draw out what happens in each scene – don't worry if your efforts aren't worthy of a gallery, as that isn't their function here. What your storyboard needs to do is provide details for your cast and crew and help to explain your vision to them. You don't need to go into minute detail, but planning each camera angle will make filming go much more smoothly.

Image credit: storyboard

Now you need to make some decisions about the look and feel of your film before you go any further.

  • Is it a moody, arty piece, or are you going for comedy?
  • Do you want to focus on character or setting?
  • Should you film in colour, or black and white?
  • Do you want to record with a digital camera, or film?
  • Would you rather have smooth shots with flattering lighting, or use a shaky handheld camera and realistic lighting?

The answers to these questions will determine who you hire for your crew, which equipment you choose and where you want to shoot. Think about which film makers you admire, and whether you want to use any of their techniques.

On location

Where at all possible, it is best to use real locations to film in. There is no 'magic button' that makes a pretend classroom appear behind your actors if you film with a green screen; what actually goes on there is lots of hard work by clever digital whizzkids. It would be much easier for you and better for your film if you found a real classroom – or shopping centre, or graveyard – to shoot in.

Remember that when working outdoors you will need to consider what equipment to use. For instance you may want to use a shotgun microphone such as the Audio Technica ATR6550 to minimize background noise and to pick up what the characters are saying.

Cast and crew

If you are filming your first project it's likely that you may have little to no budget, but don't despair. Many crew members or actors who are starting out in their field too may be happy to help out just to get their credits on a film and boost their portfolio.

Image credit: film crew

These are the roles that you will need to fill (many of which you may be able to fill yourself):

  • Director. We're guessing that this is you – you'll have creative control over the film, and will generally lead things.
  • Director of photography. Again, you may be able to fill this role yourself. The responsibility of this person is to ensure that the lighting and shooting go smoothly, and the shots are framed properly.
  • Set and costume design. If you're not gifted artistically, it may be wise to get someone else on board to help with this.
  • Hair and makeup. Again, unless you are talented with a hairbrush, it might be a good idea to ask for help – apprentices at local beauty salons who are learning the ropes may be keen.
  • Camera operator. This is often a role taken by the director on films with small budgets.
  • Sound technician. Aside from ensuring the dialogue is recorded properly, the sound department needs to record or obtain sounds for any special effects, and any music that needs to be added to the film. If you're directing and filming, it's a great idea to get someone else in for this role, as otherwise you can have too much to concentrate on while shooting.
  • Casting. On a smaller budget film this is likely to also be the director, and in any case the director often has a say. However, it might be worth asking others to help with this so you can get a broader opinion.
  • Editor. As director, you may well choose to also take on this role. On large projects, there are separate film editors and sounds editors, but there's no reason why you can't fulfil both roles for your film.
  • Performers. Make sure that you test your actors depending on their roles so that you know they are capable of playing the part. If you need your leading man to act the part of a tough man and he's more like a mouse, you may have a problem while shooting. 

Posted at 15:45

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