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Student Blog: A Non-Film Major's Guide to Making a Simple Short Film

Being a drama major in the midst of a global pandemic means that I’ve had to learn to be a filmmaker in addition to an actor.

Student Blog: A Non-Film Major's Guide to Making a Simple Short Film

If you've ever wondered what a drama student's projects look like during COVID, I'll tell you: they look a lot like short films. Since spring semester of my freshman year when we got sent home to quarantine, most of my projects in drama school that would have been performances, if we were in person, became film projects. Now, back in person, I spent this semester in Stonestreet Studios, where the focus is on film acting and learning about the film industry. One of my classes this semester was called "Create Your Own Material," in which we do just that, and our final project is a short film of our creation. Over the past two years, I have needed to become somewhat skilled at filmmaking, as a non-filmmaker, so I wanted to share some tips that have helped me in learning how to make my own movies. I also think it's just valuable to know how to make basic film projects as an actor, as well!

1. Come up with an idea you're excited about

This may seem obvious, but it's the excitement part that matters the most. You have to be excited about your idea! If you're not excited, not only will the project not be fun to make, it will also take much longer because you won't want to work on it. If it's something you care about, the final outcome will be great!

2. Write a script

Write out the lines, the actions, the camera angles - everything. The clearer and more specific script you have, the easier time you'll have shooting. Even if it's something without dialogue, write some kind of script. This way, on the day of, you know exactly what you want.

3. Cast your project

If it's just you in the project, then great, this step is done. However, if you've got multiple characters in your piece, figure out who you know that could play those roles! If you know who you're going to be working with in advance, it might even be helpful to write the characters around that group. For my final project I knew that I would be working with my classmates, and I knew who would be out the day that I filmed, so I wrote my script around them!

4. Make a shooting schedule

Something I've learned this semester is that, on set, a film is rarely shot in chronological order. In one of my other classes this semester, Screen Acting and Production, not only do we get to act on a mimicked "real" film set, we also get to try out a bunch of other behind-the-scenes jobs on set. One of those jobs was directing. As part of directing, before I came to class, I had to make a list of the exact shots I wanted, and I had to storyboard what the edited cut of the scene would look like. Another one of the jobs was assistant director, who would take the shot list from the director and put it in order for filming, usually starting wide, then getting closer shots. These steps, while they may seem tedious, are extremely helpful for filming.

5. Let your actors know what to bring

If they need props or costumes that they can easily access and most likely already have, tell them what they need to bring. If they need specific props or costumes that they most likely do not already own, then let them know that you will bring that for them.

6. Stay organized on set

At last, the day has arrived! Stick to your shoot schedule, unless something important comes up that makes you need to change it. Keep things moving. Be specific, but, if you have a limited amount of time to film, like I did, don't obsessively reshoot scenes. Communicate clearly with your actors about what you need them to do in each shot and answer any questions.

7. If you don't have people to film, use a tripod!

I was lucky enough to have people to film in my classes this semester, but, when I made my own projects not in the classroom, I often did not have anyone to film. If you have a tripod, your life will be easier. If you don't, you can also prop your phone up against something. Having your phone held by something makes it so that you won't have shaky footage. Remember also to keep things In Focus, and use the rule of thirds!

8. Be patient when editing

Editing can take a really long time. Especially if you don't know what you're doing. Not only do files take forever to upload, but learning to edit is a process. Youtube tutorials are your friend! Personally, I like making things on iMovie, which some of my teachers are not fans of. But I think iMovie is easy to use, and, if you're not making anything ridiculously complicated and loaded with special effects, you can make a pretty good movie. I also had to learn how to use Adobe Premiere this semester, which is significantly more complicated than iMovie. Because Adobe Premiere is frustratingly complicated, be patient with yourself, and try to look things up when you don't know what to do. Also, the undo button is very helpful. No matter what software you're using, be patient with yourself. It will all come together eventually.

9. Work with an external hard-drive

Depending on the size of your project, this doesn't have to be expensive. Using a hard-drive is great because it frees up space in your computer, and it allows you to have another place to keep a copy. Save your work often. One of my teachers also recommended that we send our films to multiple places and have them saved in multiple places, so that, if something happens to one copy of the footage, we still have it somewhere else.

10. Have fun!

Obviously the most important step. Filmmaking should be fun! If you don't like every part of it, that's ok! But you're making something you care about, and that's pretty cool.

I know most of these tips may have been obvious, but I hope there are some helpful things in here! I have had a great time learning how to make movies, especially this semester, and I hope you have fun making your movies! Have fun, good luck, and happy filmmaking!

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