Monday, 2 December 2019

Shoot Your Short: A Complete Guide To Getting It Done!


Short films are one of the best mediums to make a name for yourself. They’re a perfect way to start in the industry and they can also serve as a proof of concept for a feature or TV series. Whiplash, District 9, 12 Monkeys, Saw, all started as short films. 

But how exactly do you make a short film?  For what budget and what’s the process? Here are the main steps I follow.


  • It all starts with the script and the deleted scenes


When writing a feature on spec, you usually don’t have to overthink the budget of the script. When doing a short, it’s one of your main concerns. Every single thing you write has a cost. That cool scene where that badass chick jumps from a helicopter or that one kiss happening on stage at Coachella? They probably won’t make it into your short if you don’t have a very big budget. 

On a tight budget, if you’re lucky enough, you have friends that agree on crewing on your short for free. That’s a great way to minimize the expenses. If you already have the equipment great. You can also greatly minimize expenses by renting from a friend or from different websites. Once the script is ready, you know where you’ll shoot, you know how much it’ll cost, lock it.

  • Scouting , scouting, scouting


Scout early on. It’s easier to write the script when you know where you’ll shoot and what you can actually do. Scouting can be pretty fun.

If you’re shooting outside, know what you’re getting yourself into. It can be challenging for the sound, especially in a busy street. The weather can be another factor that might result in your rescheduling or having a plan B.

The last film I shot we were on a main street at 3AM on a Sunday night. I thought I’d be cool at that time, but I can tell you, it still haunts me. You wouldn’t expect so much to happen at 3AM in “tiny” Los Feliz (Los Angeles neighborhood).

  • Casting the next Oscar winning star


There are several websites you can put your casting call on for eg. Backstage.com, actoraccess.com, casting frontier, to name a few. You can post a quick summary of what the project is, and who your characters are, what kind of profiles you’re looking for.

Most likely, in a big city like LA or NYC, you’ll find yourself going through 400-500 profiles within 1-2 days. Watch their reels, headshots, select the ones you like, invite them in for an audition. Either post the sides on the audition page or send it only to the actors you selected.

With a quick google search, you can find several rooms to rent for the audition. Something I learned is to invite more actors than your time allows, because most likely there will be no shows. This would help avoid waiting 20 minutes between two auditions.

On audition day, make sure to have another person with you (the AD or someone you trust). They can help film the audition for example. A very common thing to do as it allows you to rewatch together, to make a clear decision, etc. My advice is, even if the actor nailed his audition first take, give them notes so they can do it again. It’s not about the scene in particular, it’s to test their ability to take notes. You’ll be on a set with these people for hours/days, you want to make sure they can take notes and are willing to work with you.

From here, either you selected some you like for call backs, they come in and audition again or you already make your choice. Callbacks are a great thing for an actor, it means you liked their attitude, outfit, performance. For the actor, it’s good to come back with the same outfit or same type, and obviously the same attitude that got them in the first time. Often in call backs you might have more people with you than just the AD, you might also invite other crew members or producers depending on the size of your short.  

A thing I love to do is chemistry reads, have two actors that will share a lot of screen time come in to read lines together. I believe this is crucial as lack of chemistry can break a movie. Some filmmakers also organize table reads to hear the actors play the characters and to get a feel for their scripts. I usually don’t do this on small projects but think it’s a wonderful opportunity for writers and actors.

  • I got a permit, Officer. 


In this article, we will assume you do get a permit (which I advise you to do as shooting guerilla can cost you a lot). In a city like LA, you would turn to FilmLA.com 
They’ll ask you the address of the shoot (some addresses count as special and can become more expensive), the amount of people on set, if you need parking, etc. You can find the whole process on their website.

If you’re in an area with a lot of shops and houses, they might ask you to fill up a filming survey and notice of filming. The filming survey needs to be signed by anyone living/working in a radius of 300 ft from your shooting location, either they’re fine with you shooting or they say they have concerns and need to be contacted by film LA. The notice of filming needs to be dropped at every address in a 500 ft radius from your shooting location.

It’s a little bit of a mission, so take a buddy and plan at least half a day to do so. Once you have all the signatures, send/take it all to your coordinator at Film LA and he will be able to greenlight you if you meet the requirements.

Then, you’ll have to pay for the permit. If you’re a student, this is the great part as the cheapest you’re looking at would be $25. Can be more expensive depending the location and if you have to close a street, and so on. For non-students, you’re looking at a starting cost of $740.

  • Filmmaking is the ultimate team sport: crew


How many people will be on set, all depends of the size and length of your short. I’ve been on set for short films where there are 3-20 people crewing. There are no rules. I’d say for a short film of about 5-15 minutes, these are the key roles you need:

  • Director
  • Director of Photography
  • 1st AC
  • Sound department
  • Gaffer
  • PA (I always feel like these are needed, as they make everything so much smoother)

If on low budget, you can skip the AD as you can be your own AD. Unless you absolutely hate paperwork and scheduling. Having both hats is extremely stressful and really depends on what kind of person you are.

Some filmmakers I know would fight me for saying you can be the director and the AD. It’s really up to you. If you can get an AD, I advise you do. But be sure it’s someone who is a pro at scheduling and paperwork and everything annoying and stressful.

  • Call sheet / shot list / floor plan


A floor plan shows a view from above.  You can draw a space, rooms, characters in that space, etc. Some people love them, some don’t work with them. 

A shot list contains all the shots you want to have in your film. It’s a checklist. It allows you to have structure and know exactly what’s shot next and in what order. This allows you to win so much time on set. It’s in my opinion absolutely necessary.

Your AD (or yourself) will prepare a call sheet. It helps cast and crew knowing when and where to report on the day of filming. Add extra time if they need to get through make-up and hair first.

  • The actual shooting of the movie


Even when everything goes according to plan, shooting is stressful. That’s why it’s so important to have the right cast and crew, people that like to work together and solve problems on set. Because there’s going to be plenty of problems to solve. Yay! As the director, you need to trust your crew.

As you begin your career, it might happen that you end up on set with people way more experienced than you are, which can be stressful. Remember, you’re the director, they answer to you.

I personally always make an intro right before we shoot, motivate the troupes, tell everyone that we’re in this together, that this is teamwork and that they can come to me with any questions or ideas they might have.

I’m always open to people’s ideas, although I might not be able to apply them all. Always plan enough time for blocking with cast and crew!!!  Especially as it might be the first time on location for most of them. 

The importance of trusting your team is knowing that everyone knows their job, knows what to do, so you can concentrate on storytelling and your actors. When it comes to your actors, I have one rule, I never correct my actors in front of everyone. I’m always praising them in front of the cast/crew and will take them aside for my notes. Since I apply this rule, I have greater performances and more motivation from my actors.



  • Editing


We often say that a whole new movie is created in the editing room, and that couldn’t be truer. Never rush a shot on set, and if you’re not completely sure of how you shot a scene, reshoot. Or make changes to it.

If you don’t, you’ll regret it in editing.

Same with sound. Sound is kind of that middle kid no one really cares about. It’s not the oldest, it’s not the youngest, yet if that kid were to disappear, something would feel off but no one would quite know what.

There’s been several studies showing that it’s harder for people to identify sound than image. If we watch the same movie once with great image quality and great sound quality, and another time with great image quality and poor sound quality, most people will think the second movie has a poorer image.

Because the brain doesn’t quite identify sound the same. It knows something is off, but isn’t sure what, so it’ll assume it’s the image quality. Sound can change a movie. So if a take has great image but poor sound, redo it.

One last thing; always let the camera run for a little longer and take extra shots, this will allow you so much more room to play in the editing where new ideas might germ.

  • Festivals and distribution 


Once you’re done editing your movie, look up the different festivals.

Festivals can be an amazing way to meet other filmmakers, producers and to create a name for yourself. It’s a great way to get people interested in your other projects, to open new doors. You might also think about distributing yourself on Youtube for eg, which can also be smart depending what your marketing plan is.

But chances are, if your project has been viewed on Youtube, many festivals won’t accept it anymore as many of them want to be the first to screen your movie. Always look up the requirements before you enter a festival.

Remember, It is a stressful process to create a movie from A to Z, but also absolutely amazing because you have total control over what you’re creating, from script to distribution.

Remember to take a minute sometimes and let that sink in. You have total control. When creating a short film, it is so important to be around people that can bring more into the process, elevate it and that you like being around, because you will be, a lot. Filmmaking is the ultimate team sport.

Can’t wait to see your next short! 


Lena Murisier speaks and writes in four languages. She’s originally from Switzerland and graduated the New York Film Academy of Los Angeles in September 2019. 

She’s been crewing (DP, PA, 1st AD) on many short films and has directed several times. Don’t be surprised if you turn on the TV and see her play extras once or twice (like in the upcoming independent TV show Everyone is Doing Great).

What she loves most is writing. Features and TV.

Currently, she’s pitching a Female Driven police drama pilot she wrote during her time in film school. Hit her up on Instagram: @lenamurisier (tip: send her a meme, she’ll answer immediately).
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