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Short Films: ...And How to Make Them
     

Short Films: ...And How to Make Them

by Nathan Parker
 

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This book is for anyone who has ever wanted to make a short film. Focusing on the practicalities of filmmaking. It will guide you through all the stages of the process, examining every available possibility along the way. From the development of your initial idea, to screening your finished film in front of an audience. It will enable you to make informed decisions,

Overview

This book is for anyone who has ever wanted to make a short film. Focusing on the practicalities of filmmaking. It will guide you through all the stages of the process, examining every available possibility along the way. From the development of your initial idea, to screening your finished film in front of an audience. It will enable you to make informed decisions, including which formats to use, where to find cast and crew, and how to get your short film distributed. An invaluable resource for the new and the more experienced filmmakers alike, offering technical and creative solutions for the realisation of short films in all shapes and sizes.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Whether these two works were written in reaction to insufficient subject representation and methodology or by trendsetting idealists who simply know their field and how to communicate it, we as readers win. These volumes intelligibly convey information didactically in a palatable fashion without suggesting that you are a dummy or an idiot. Of similar design, both books exhibit a physically efficient while textually dense architecture; their dimensions are expanded further by DVD-ROMs showcasing case-in-point documentaries and shorts as well as invaluable interactive Excel spreadsheets and PDF and Word templates outlining budget and call sheets, licensing and release forms, treatment examples, fill-in storyboards, and more. Both books provide background history of their respective genres; cover preproduction, production, and postproduction; explore marketing and distribution; and flesh out all of this with interviews, cost-sheet examples, production notes and product info, and clearly organized references, referrals, and links. Glynne and Parker each wonderfully represent their gifts as both instructors and filmmakers with these academic-by-nature but practical-in-design titles. Save for a few Anglocentric sprinkles (convert the pounds to dollars or swap Main Street for High Street and everything will be just fine), the books speak the international language of film and can be enjoyably read straight through but are priceless as sources of reference-all the while funny, insightful, and realistic. Where these books lack (and they don't much), they provide excellent referral information. They're like filmmaking courses bound and at a fraction of the cost. Accessible and valuable toacademic and public libraries of all sizes-and, obviously, highly recommended.
—Ben Malczewski

From the Publisher

"Funny, insightful and realistic."  —Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781842434147
Publisher:
Oldcastle Books
Publication date:
09/28/2007
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
300
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Short Films

... How to Make and Distribute Them


By Nathan Parker

Oldcastle Books

Copyright © 2007 Nathan Parker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84243-414-7



CHAPTER 1

TURNING YOUR IDEA INTO A FILM


Although there is no one filmmaking formula, there are many established filmmaking methods, some of which have evolved from the feature film industry and are often adapted and downsized for the purposes of short filmmaking.

Although a number may not apply to small-budget short films, several are extremely useful if not essential in planning and shooting a short of any length or budget.

Filmmaking protocol is of course always in flux. Established methods can suddenly become obsolete with the advent of a new piece of technology. Even well-established conventions are constantly being modified and tailored to suit the needs of an individual film. Most feature filmmaking methods have come about in order to make the process of production more efficient and minimise the potential for problems.

The result is a series of tried and tested methods, which are practiced in all areas of filmmaking. They aren't rules as such, and no one is going to insist you adhere to them, but there is a great deal to be learned from the experiences of thousands of other filmmakers.

The methods described in this book are derived from established techniques. While films vary in style, content and duration, making it practically impossible to follow a specific model from start to finish, having a good understanding of conventional practices allows you to pick and choose which ones work best for you. For this, you will need to evaluate the specific needs of your film and work through a process of elimination to determine which are most applicable to your short. Ultimately they are designed to help you make your film with greater ease.


DEVELOPING YOUR IDEA

The concept for a short film can come from anywhere. There are no rules about what makes for good subject matter, no rules about the way in which you present it to an audience; both can be as direct or abstract as you want. While this freedom is short filmmaking's obvious appeal, it can sometimes be overwhelming.

One of the most useful strategies for finding and developing ideas is to work out what limitations you will face during the creation of your film. The key to turning a good idea into a good film is to work within your means and you should carefully evaluate your potential ideas in light of the following considerations:


BUDGET

Although short filmmaking is a chance to let your imagination manifest itself on screen, more often than not you will find that imagination can be very expensive in practical terms.

Generally the main limitation when making shorts is budget. The budget – or lack of it – will dictate what kinds of ideas you can develop and eventually realise. Large casts and elaborate sets are expensive to incorporate; and while you should aim high with your overall production values, you need to be realistic to achieve optimum results within the boundaries of your budget.


DURATION

Short films can range from a few seconds to 30 minutes. You don't have to squeeze your action into one minute or five, but can create a bespoke length, developing an appropriate pace and rhythm over an unspecified period. This means you can explore topics or events that would seldom sustain a feature-length film or follow more common structures; and this is something that you should try and use to your advantage.

When choosing a subject, try and think about a topic that lends itself to both the medium of film and the duration of a short. For instance, unlike a feature, you often don't have much time to develop plots or characters. Trying to compress a significant amount of either can thus prove both futile and impossible. Shorts that attempt to shoehorn too much material can seem chaotic and leave an audience confused. Faced with a blank page, it's tempting to work with an abundance of ideas, but it's important as your film develops to eliminate anything extraneous and really focus in on what it is you're trying to say.


TIME

The experience of watching a film is designed to be deceptive: the audience should remain unaware of the effort that goes into a production, which makes it easy to forget just how much time and energy is really involved.

You therefore need to consider not just how much time you can devote to the project, but also how much you can expect other people to give. The film will be a passion for you and hopefully this enthusiasm will be infectious enough to attract people to the project, but you have to be realistic about their commitments, particularly in terms of your budget.


DON'T LET YOUR IDEAS GO TO WASTE

Given the chance, most filmmakers would of course welcome a large budget, professional crew and talented cast, but only a few are ever given access to all these components; and the chances are they didn't start out with them.

Your ideal story may be set on an alien space station or in the 16th century, but rather than shelve these ideas until a big budget materialises, knowing your limitations can actually help you turn your ideas into films. Try and locate what it is about these particular topics/situations that interests you, and then devise more unusual ways in which you can make them work within other, more feasible contexts.

Many successful short films are created from the most basic premise, and the simplest of ideas can be turned into extremely complex films; complex as a viewing experience doesn't necessarily mean complex to make.

CHAPTER 2

SCRIPTING


TREATMENT

A treatment is the name for a written outline of your film. More in depth than a synopsis but less precise than a script, it can range from a few lines to a few pages. It is designed to inform people of the film's key elements and how they would play out. It should be easily readable and give people an idea of what your film will be like when it's finished. Unlike a script, which often has a standard format and structure, a treatment can take the written form that most suits the material of the film.


DO YOU NEED A SCRIPT?

Many short film ideas may either have little dialogue or be purely visual. Creating a script may not be necessary. You might be able to convey your idea much more clearly with a fully drawn storyboard, or even a few sketches. However, creating a script, even if it is only a few lines long, or merely a list of directions, can often be very useful.

A script is essentially a reference tool for everyone involved in the making of the film and will often be necessary for much of the film's pre-production. For instance, a casting director, or auditioning actor, will normally need to see a script in order to understand the nature of the project and what will be required of them. While on the shoot a script will allow both cast and crew to keep a track of the context of a certain scene and its direction. It provides a single point of reference for everybody, giving directorial information for actors and director, or technical information for a DP and sound recordist.

The process of turning an idea into a script also allows you to break the material down into its individual elements. Whether this is lines of dialogue, directions or actions, in doing this you will be better able to reshape and refine the structure of your idea.


FORMATTED SCRIPTS

With feature films, a script or screenplay needs to obey a specific style universally used throughout the film industry. Feature film scripts often exist for years before they ever get made and will be read by hundreds of people, hence the necessity of a generic format. With short films, however, where the process is often more immediate, it is not necessary to format your script in such a conventional manner. For people that think their film requires or would benefit from a formatted script, there is a huge variety of script formatting software available, the most widely used being Final Draft. http://www.finaldraft.com

CHAPTER 3

STORYBOARDING


Storyboarding is one of the most important elements in the short filmmaking process. While a lot of feature-length films rely strongly on scripted dialogue and character development to drive the film, with short films the emphasis is often on the visual, with many films having no dialogue at all. In this last case in particular, the storyboard provides the keystone to the entire production.

The storyboard is the place where you first begin to visualise your film, to see how the shots and moves will work together to create the whole.


WHAT STORYBOARDS LOOK LIKE

Essentially the storyboard will resemble a comic strip version of your film. It will consist of a series of sequential images that shows each of the different shots. A good storyboard is often the key to a good film.

When you are storyboarding, you are not only working out what you want to shoot but also providing a reference for everyone else involved in the production. It will give the art department instant information about what they will need for the overall film, as well as the specifics of individual scenes. It will provide the DP the first concrete insight of your ideas for framing and lighting, as well as camera moves. It will also be a resource for the actors, and help them to see what kind of action they will be expected to take.

Whether your film has no conventional narrative, is only ten seconds long or has no script, storyboarding really is worth taking the time over. It's often through the process of creating the storyboard that you will first encounter the practical problems in shooting a scene – an impossible camera angle, for instance, or the logistics of having too many people in one room.

The storyboard is also a great place to experiment and see how you can make your film visually interesting and innovative. It's the perfect place to try things out, then simply erase and start again. By the time you are on set, it's often too late to start experimenting due to restrictions of time and budget. And if you do have the chance to improvise on set, it is usually because your shoot has been well-planned by adhering to your storyboard.


DIFFERENT STORYBOARDING METHODS

Hand drawn

Even if you are not a talented draughtsman, sitting down with a blank storyboard and a pencil is still one of the best methods of working out your ideas. Most storyboards for feature films have been undertaken by a professional storyboard artist; often used during the fundraising stages, they have to be very slick. For your short, however, this level of finish is probably not necessary. It really doesn't matter if you are drawing basic stick figures or wonky rooms; as long as the drawings are helping you work out where to place the camera, props and actors, then they are good enough. A useful strategy is often to start working on them very basically for yourself and then getting a friend who can draw to do a more accomplished version for the rest of the crew to use. The storyboard itself can either be downloaded from the Internet, normally as a PDF file, or you can draw it out with a ruler. It is important to decide which aspect ratio you are going to shoot your film in before doing this (see aspect ratio section) so that your storyboard frames' dimensions are the same. The storyboard should also have a couple of lines next to each frame for you to write down information about the action taking place, a camera move or relevant piece of dialogue from the script which is not apparent in the drawing. A 16:9 storyboard template can be downloaded from our website http://www.kamerabooks.co.uk/downloads/.


Storyboarding software

There are currently several storyboarding programmes on the market. They are straightforward to use and you need absolutely no drawing ability to operate them and produce a professional-looking storyboard. They work by giving you a variety of characters that you can drag and drop onto a background as well as props and locations. The basic 2D programmes allow you to easily change the prop and character dimensions as well as orientation. They also give you the choice between a variety of actions that the characters could be performing, so you can generally find something that matches what you need. The 3D programmes have the advantage of being able to change the camera position and lighting once you have placed your characters in an environment, but they are often much more complicated to use. The images you create are then saved onto a page and can be printed off from the computer with any accompanying text. Although these programmes offer a good alternative to hand-drawn storyboards, they can often be expensive, so remember to plan for this in your budget if you are thinking of buying the software. http://www.storyboardartist.com


Photographs and maquettes

Another method is to take a digital stills camera or even a camera phone to the locations that you will be shooting in. This is effective because it enables you to start thinking about the positioning of the camera in the actual location without having to have all the filming equipment there in place. It also enables you to try positioning your actors, or, if they are not available, get friends to stand in for them while you take your pictures. Alternatively you can then load the images onto a computer, print some off and draw your characters directly onto these; you will find that once you've got the real location and camera angle the figures will be much easier to draw. The other option is to build small-scale models of the sets or locations and use anything from articulated wooden figurines to action figures as your characters. Again you can take digital stills and this method will allow you lots of time to experiment.

CHAPTER 4

COMPOSITION


Choosing the type of shots that you build your film from occurs both at the storyboarding stage and on the shoot. Creating visually interesting compositions is something that you can do extensively when storyboarding and also on the shoot, either using pencil and paper or a viewfinder. The more thought you put into the composition the more depth and form your film will have.

Depending on the type of equipment you are using to make your film, you will have a variety of options open to you in the composition of each shot. Combining these various options together provides infinite possibilities, so it often helps to break the possible factors down, and work through them one at a time, tweaking each one until you have the desired shot.


CAMERA POSITION (SET UP)

Camera positions are one of the important elements of your shoot. Beyond dictating how your film will look, they also dictate how long your film will take to shoot. Setting up a camera or moving the camera can be a time-consuming process that often entails lighting having to move and change as well. So changing the camera's position as little as possible results in a faster, shorter shoot. However, shooting from a single position or set up does not mean that you will only have one type of shot. By quickly changing lenses, or zooming in and out, you can achieve anything from an extreme close up to an extreme wide shot without ever having to move the camera. Obviously, shooting an entire scene from only one position would give you limited choices, but from two it's possible to create a dynamic variety of shots that can then be intercut in the edit.


FRAMING

The most natural instinct when framing a shot in a viewfinder is often to centre the subject directly in the middle of the frame. Although effective for some shots, this approach doesn't necessarily create the most dynamic compositions. When framing any subject you should always try and make use of the shape of the aspect ratio you have chosen. Dividing the width of the frame up into thirds is a classic technique for making full use of the width of the frame. You can then try and place the subject in alternate thirds.


ANGLE

Once you have decided on a camera position, it is possible to adjust the tripod height and angle, allowing for very different perspectives from a single position. The camera angle can be used to complement the mood of the scene and emphasise the actions or dialogue of a character. For instance high angles can give a sense of vulnerability to an actor, low angles can create an ominous air, while uneven angles can build a sense of unease during a scene. Combining extreme or subtle shifts in angle will subliminally position the viewer where you want them to be, and should be used to help you tell the story.


SPEED

Controlling the speed at which the audience sees things is one of the great capabilities of film. The use of slow motion is both a stylistic device and can also control how you deliver action and information. Over-cranking or undercranking the camera you can achieve combinations of time lapse and slow motion to give your film a rhythm that reflects the material.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Short Films by Nathan Parker. Copyright © 2007 Nathan Parker. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author


Nathan Parker is a filmmaker and teaches courses in short filmmaking and cinematography.

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