Attention film school students and aspiring creatives: read this article if you’re about to embark on the seemingly insidious and daunting task of making a short film.
It’s scary I know, I’ve been there.
You come up with a concept you’re convinced is flawless, only for it to be ripped to shreds by the more ‘experienced’ writers pointing out 50 different plot holes and you’ve only explained the first 2 minutes.
You desperately want the story to mean something, to have weight and value. You think this is your chance to finally show the world what you’re made of and what you really think about life through the medium of film.
If anyone critiques your script you take it personally. It feels like they may as well have ripped out your soul and trampled it to nothingness.
Remember the angsty teen arguments you had with your dad at 14? They went something like, “Look son, you just don’t think do you!” “Uh, Dad, I don’t even care.” “Well you should care!” and then you storm off to your room.
Well, now it’s time to finally ignore your well meaning father’s advice and stop caring. Stop caring about potential mistakes. Your first short film is not your last.
You may feel like it’s the only time you’ll ever get the chance to make a meaningful story come to life, hopefully landing in the hands of a famous hollywood director who then recruits you to write the next Star Wars, but chances are that won’t happen, not yet.
The weirdest advice I was giving when I took my film school (and to be clear, I WAS offended) was, “Your first short film is going to suck.” The shock, to know all the hard work and sleepless nights in pre-production was all going to be for nothing.
It’s very possible your first short film will suck, but don’t lose heart. It doesn’t have to suck … but it might … but it might not … but who cares? It’s your first try. It’s the perfect time to experiment, to see what really makes you tick.
Even if it does suck and you feel like a failure, your hard work was not for nothing. No one ever made a masterpiece the first time, unless they were a freak genius, with no capacity to love. It’s ok to fail – more than once.
Hollywood directors who made amazing feature films in their 20’s and won Oscars for them (I’m jealously looking at you, Damien Chazelle) still failed before anyone ever noticed. IMDb only really makes note of your achievements, not your failures, that’s what college is for.
After being on staff with a film school, there’s always one common theme every year: many of the students yearn for their film to be perfect right from the beginning, and often they’ll ignore any advice that doesn’t line up with their ideals.
You might still be wondering how to actually make a killer first short film, well from my experience, the best ones come from a place of openness; be open to changing your story.
Save the epic explosions, the time travelling, the 100 person crowd shots and the cinematic score for when you’re a little more experienced, and Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Have patience on your staff and teachers, your fellow students, your amateur actors and of course yourself. It may not be easy but have fun. Work hard and do you best, but know if you’re directing a short film, you set the atmosphere. If you’re stressed, so is the rest of your cast and crew, so relax.
Don’t get me wrong, your first film could be Oscar worthy, but it’s far more likely you’ll look back on it one day and cringe.
When starting out in any kind of creative field, your taste will always be better than what you’re capable of creating, so the only way of achieving what’s in your head is to keep creating beyond your first try and your second and your 50th.