Perhaps you already have an idea that you have been itching to see realised, or maybe you have that first nugget of inspiration and just need to flesh it out. Perhaps you haven't got a clue where to start you just want to get cracking on something - anything.
If you already have an idea - fantastic, move on to the next stage! If you are still working on your nugget of inspiration then you'll need to give it a bit of time. Try some writing exercises, try some storyboarding, get together with potential actors (or even just willing friends) to either read through what you already have or try some improvisation to see what happens.
If you have NO IDEA what you want to do then you have three choices. Firstly, wait until inspiration hits. This could take a while. I don't recommend it. Secondly, find someone who has an idea you like and see if they would like to collaborate. Thirdly, just fake it.
Filmmaking challenges such as the 52hr Film Challenge are great for faking it. You get some prompts that you must include and you get a very strict deadline so your idea is forced along quite readily within the constraints. You could find a film challenge (whether it's the 52hr Film Challenge or something else) or do your own by picking random creative prompts such as a word or phrase, a prop, a specific action or a film title. Flick through a book, get friends to suggest something or just use the first thing you see when you walk into a room.
For the 52hr Film Challenge we pick our creative prompts by flicking open a book at random and selecting the first appropriate thing that jumps out (we initially intended it to be the very first thing, but when the first action was a deer being stabbed with a sword we decided we might need to slightly alter that rule!) We don't tell participants what the book is in case it affects their interpretation so you might like to enlist a friend to help you if you also want to avoid that.
Once you have your idea you should really spend some time developing it, rewriting it, getting people to give you feedback etc etc. These are all good things to do but don't spend so long on that stage that your film never gets made.
One reason film challenges are so appealing is that you don't have time to get things perfect. Perfect isn't the point - just having a go is the point. If you're doing a film challenge you need to just get your prompts, see what ideas you get from them and get cracking. Save perfection for when you've got a few small projects under your belt and are more familiar with the process.
Exporting (or rendering) your finished film (or unfinished - always worth seeing how it looks so at various stages along the way!) will give you a single file that you can upload to Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook etc or email to friends or burn to disc.
Exporting a film can be a fine art in itself - there is a delicate balance between getting the file size small enough to handle without losing quality.
Most short films will spend their lives being streamed online so the file size shouldn't be huge. Your editing software may well give you options for exporting to various mediums so if in doubt go for the software's recommendation.
Vimeo has an extremely useful section for getting your codecs to work best for Vimeo (which should also be fine for YouTube). Personally I find MP4 (mpeg) to be the best in terms of good quality at a small size and have had no problem uploading those files to Vimeo, YouTube or projecting them at screening events. The codec H.264 (Vimeo's recommended codec) is widely supported and extremely reliable.
Codecs? Formats? What gives and what's the dif'? Watch this very useful video for a codec/format explainer.
You need a camera to make a film, that's obvious, but you don't need a fancy or expensive camera. In fact, chances are you already have one.
Got a smartphone? That's a camera. Got a compact camera? That too is a camera. These days it's hard to find a digital camera or phone that doesn't also record film, and many of them record in HD.
Recent film Tangerine was filmed entirely on an iPhone - looks great, doesn't it? Okay, they probably had some very nice add-on lenses too - but the point is you should never let your lack of equipment hold you back, if you don't have the budget for getting new gear just work with what you've got.
Remember: the best camera is the one you use.
But (there is always a but!) know your camera's limitations. In particular, be aware of the microphone on your camera - chances are it won't be able to pick up much dialogue if you are too far away from your actor. This is why so many low-budget and homemade films are done in a documentary/mockumentary style - with a character speaking right into the camera or even holding it themselves.
Also be aware that when filming outside your actors will be competing with wind, rain, waves etc so again, know your gear's limitations. You might want to consider a separate audio recorder either carried discreetly by the actor or suspended on a boom pole out of shot. You can buy Rode's telescopic boom pole for around £30, plus the cost of adaptor for fixing whatever you're recording audio with to the top. You could buy a purpose-made audio recorder (at 52hr HQ we use a Zoom H2N) but also consider audio recorders on phones, MP3 players etc, or a microphone on a long lead attached to a laptop. Again, work with what you've got.
Pro tip: Since you probably don't have a clapper board just turn your camera and audio recorder on and get your actor to clap loudly - you can then synch up the audio with the footage afterwards. Obviously this is what the pros do.. (NB: pros probably actually have a clapper board...)
If you're planning on buying a camera there are lots of options out there and whole sites dedicated to reviews. Work out how much you want to spend, how much of that might go on extras (spare batteries, memory cards, tripod, rigs, audio equipment etc) and see what you have left to spend on the camera itself.
Lots of people now film on DSLRs, and I personally use a Canon 600D which is quite a low-end DSLR. The bodies by themselves are often cheap but remember that if you want any extra lenses the costs could mount up - although once you have a good lens chances are it will outlive the camera. DSLRs are a good way to get a more cinematic feel without the cost of a high-end camera, but they do have their drawbacks (they often can't film more than 10 minutes at a time, for example, and their batteries do not last long so you will need some spares) so do your research before spending any money.
Some useful resources for camera/gear reviews:
Philip bloom - filmmaker and blogger.
DP Review - digital camera review site - main focus is photography but lots of useful info.
Learn About Film - tips for choosing a camera.
It's tricky to know how much detail to go into here. Your first films will involve a lot of trial and error and learning from your mistakes is part of the process, plus a lot of it will depend on your own style.
Here are a few simple tips to get you started, based on experiences we have had when making our own short films...
1) Write down everything - keep a journal of what you're learning. All those times you think to yourself 'oh we should have done...' and 'next time we should...' WRITE IT DOWN. Then go back and have a look at what you wrote before you start your next project.
2) Methodically work through your script and tick off what you have recorded - not just dialogue but also any actions that are needed to help tell the story. When you're feeling rushed it can be easy to miss things if you aren't being careful. Always be thinking about how it will be edited together, and if in doubt film some extra 'filler' shots to help set the scene or to use as cutaways if you want to stitch two different takes together.
3) Don't forget about the sound. Record extra atmosphere audio for use in editing later on, and film a few extra seconds at the beginning and end of each shot so you have more to play with during the edit (this goes for video too, actually)
4) Work around the weather - pay attention to the weather forecast but allow for last-minute changes. If you're filming outside try finding somewhere with some shelter nearby. Know when the sun sets too - don't get caught out.
On the film below we filmed everything in a day - but we actually started a lot later than we had intended and it was in the middle of December so it got dark early. We ended up having to shoot the exterior scenes first (at around 2:30pm) and then all the indoor scenes. Since our film featured a breakfast scene we decided to film our script backwards, to make it look like the characters were having their breakfast early and that the sun had risen in the later scenes. (Tip: keep your script free from specific times of day to avoid these kinds of problems!)
If you're recording on a phone you may well find some great filmmaking apps that are either free or very cheap. The iPhone and iPad in particular have some very good apps, but Android is catching up too. Raindance share their favourite filmmaking apps here.
On the computer there may be some included with your operating system - such as Windows Movie Maker on a Windows PC or iMovie on a Mac, so see what you have got before you do anything else.
If you don't have those then you'll need to find something. Here, Techradar gives a breakdown of their favourite free video editing programmes.
If you don't mind spending a little bit of money you can get Adobe Premiere Elements for about £55 (at time of writing) which is a fraction of the price of the 'pro' edition without losing too much functionality. (NB: Other software is available!)
Whatever you choose be sure to play around with it and get to know it. If you're planning on taking part in a film challenge have a go at this before you start editing or you may find yourself completely stuck. In fact, if you're planning on making your first short film as part of a film challenge it's a good idea to do an equipment test first. We made this film when we took our equipment out for the afternoon to test the camera and microphone. We didn't intend on making anything at the time but afterwards I looked at what we had recorded and thought it was worth doing something with - plus it was a good opportunity for me to do some editing as I hadn't edited for a few years at the time.
A short film is the perfect way for anyone interested in filmmaking to get started.
A short film can be made quite quickly and cheaply and is the perfect way of learning about making films - from writing and character development to learning about equipment and editing and other post-production tasks.
These tips are aimed at beginners who we assume have little experience or budget for new equipment. It's also a bit of a down-and-dirty guide since the filmmaking we do is more guerilla-style, very low-budget and quite quick - usually timed challenges. Nevertheless, hopefully it will prove useful for someone wanting to have a go at making a short film themselves, whether it's for the Folkestone 52hr Film Challenge or for their own enjoyment.
The main thing we continue to stress in this guide and with our film challenge in general is 'just do it' (oh, did Nike trademark that? Oops!) Just make a film. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to exist. It'll be hard word, it'll be a bit stressful, you'll make mistakes but it'll be LOTS of fun and you'll learn more than you would from just reading books or watching endless YouTube tutorials (they are all useful too, though!)
So just crack on and do it. Take part in the next Folkestone 52hr Film Challenge (you do not need to be in Folkestone to take part) or come up with your own idea.
Depending on your level of interest in post-production you could spend hours getting your footage perfect or you could just make do. For a film challenge the chances are high that you just don't have the time to tweak things as much as you would like, especially if you are new to it, but remember that you can always go back to a project for final tweaks after the deadline.
I'd say at the very least you should know how to set the white balance. The way our colours record light can change from camera to camera and the light source (direct sunlight, shade, electric light etc) so unless you are using coloured light for a particular effect you will probably want to make sure it is consistent.
Adjusting the white balance basically means telling your software what 'white' is and having it adjust the rest of the colours around it. This is usually done in camera before you film but there will be times where you didn't get it right and you want to change it. This can be done done by putting a 'dropper' tool on some white in your footage. You could hold up a piece of white paper before filming, or use some white already in the film.
In the film above the colour of white changed a lot because the sun was setting and we had various electric lights so the look was not consistent. Luckily James was wearing a white shirt so I could use it to get the colour just about right. Not perfect but hey, we did it in a weekend.
If you are interested in learning more about colour correction I recommend this video tutorial: Introduction to Color Correction and Grading from the Adobe Max conference 2013. It uses Adobe software but any colour correction software will use the same principles.
Perhaps more imporant than the footage is the sound. Our eyes can forgive imperfect imagery but our ears are a lot fussier.
If you're cutting scenes together it's good to have some sound overlapping and being faded in and out to prevent any jarring sounds. It's worth recording some atmosphere sounds from your filming location - this can be done on a handheld audio recorder, or even just leave your camera recording for a while and delete the footage from the timeline. This can be used as a quick fix for jarring audio problems.