CEC’s annual Shorttakes Festival takes place Tuesday night, and once again, we’ll see the best short films UCLA and college campuses across the country have to offer. But I’m not going to talk about those films because there’s something much more pressing at hand: the fact that I submitted a short film (see below) to the contest and it did not get selected.
Now, I’m not here to bemoan my loss or claim that my entry should have gotten in, but I like to view every failure as an opportunity to learn. So I’d like to examine my piece and go through the process of making it, step-by-step. And maybe, by the end of this article, you’ll feel confident enough to make a short film of your own (because if I can do it, anyone can).
First, try to work with a budget of $0. I’m a big supporter of independent filmmakers, and I firmly believe that you don’t need a ton of money in order to make a great film. Just look at Robert Rodriguez’s early film El Mariachi. He had an incredibly small budget, so before he filmed, he sat down and listed off assets that could be utilized in the film (a school bus, a jail, a motorcycle and a pitbull). This way, he saved money on props and locations, and he wrote the script around these assets. So if you know you won’t be able to shoot in a grocery store, don’t write a scene that needs to take place in a grocery store. Just use what you have. I adopted this approach to my film. I knew I had access to a Jesus costume, so I wrote a story around that. Don’t ask me how I got it.
Next, get your friends to be actors and crew. Unless you’re making some artsy, avant-garde film with zero people in it, you’re going to need a cast. And while the School of Theatre, Film, and Television certainly has some talented students, you don’t need to go looking that far to find actors. Just work with people you already know. This provides the benefit of working with people who know you and will try to help you. Also, you’ll know beforehand how your friends act, so you can write characters that play to their strengths. I had a friend who I knew could do a gruff-sounding voice, so I wrote in a homeless character who spoke like that.
Lastly, if it’s your first time filming something, realize that you’re going to make mistakes. I’m not a film student. I have a very elementary knowledge of the mechanics of filmmaking, so I mostly tried to recreate camera angles and cinematography that I’ve seen in movies and TV shows I like. As I was editing, and once I completed the final product, I realized there were a lot of things I wish I had done differently. It ranged from wishing I had filmed a scene from a different angle to forgetting I needed a transitioning shot between two scenes that I had forgotten to film. Don’t beat yourself up too hard for rookie mistakes, and don’t let it discourage you from filming something else. Learn something from each experience and keep making movies. Eventually, you’ll make something really spectacular.
CEC’s Shorttakes premieres Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom. No reservations are necessary, so go on down and see some great movies. And if you want to see a pretty good movie right now, watch my film at the top of this article.