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Creating a Short Film From Scratch

Screenwriters and filmmakers do not get an easy ride when making a name for themselves and when they're trying to break through in the industry.

Screenwriters and filmmakers do not get an easy ride when making a name for themselves and when they're trying to break through in the industry. The chances of you handing your screenplay to somebody and the next year you're the toast of Hollywood are about a billion to one. And it's always nicer when the hard work pays off, right?

The most important thing to remember when you're just starting out is: Things will only get better. Rome wasn't built in a day, and Citizen Kane wasn't written in a day. Screenwriting and filmmaking takes time and dedication, as well as some great ideas!

There is a very good chance that the first few films you write and commit to film aren't going to shake up the world. What's important at this stage is that you're practicing your craft and getting better with each film. Quantity = Quality if you learn from your mistakes and you don't become an egomaniac!

Writing The Script

There are hundreds of scriptwriting books out there in the world; it doesn't take long to find them. Robert McKee's Story or Screenwriting for Hollywood by Michael Hauge are solid choices, but there are also quick and easy articles on formatting and writing a script that can help you get a footing as to what you need to be able to tell a good story on film.

When you're writing a short film, you need to keep the writing concise and to the point. There's not much point in creating a 25 page Tarantinoesque monologue with gunfights and explosions if you don't know what a lens is and you have a budget of £3.27.

That doesn't mean that the quality of the film is going to suffer. Some of the best short films have no dialogue whatsoever. Check out Christopher Nolan's Doodlebug for a great example. He went on to direct Memento and The Dark Knight Trilogy, so there's hope for us all.

You're telling a story - and a short story at that - so give yourself the best opportunity to impress by keeping the idea simple and creating a screenplay that is easy to follow and can help you tell a great story on film.

No Budget? No Problem

As mentioned before, trying too hard to impress is not the way forward when you're making your film debut as a screenwriter or a director. A good story can be created with very little money and a simple premise. This means staying away from pages upon pages of dialogue, action or fight scenes that will require stunts and special effects sequences. That is, of course, unless you can get access to all of these for free. If you can, well played! Just be careful...

A great example of somebody who came up from a no budget background and broke through is Edgar Wright, the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. He spent his teenage years making no budget short films with his friends, but the more experienced he got, the more opportunities arose for him to work with bigger budgets and prove himself. Wright went from making no-budget films to releasing a low budget film called A Fistful of Fingers in 1996 at the age of just 20. This led to directing gigs at the BBC before Spaced paved the way for the aforementioned Shaun and Hot Fuzz.

I'm Putting a Team Together...

Most film directors will tell you that they are nothing without the team they build around them: DOP's (Director of Photography), actors, sound guys, PA's (Production Assistants) and producers; they all make the film happen by working together as a unit and collaborating together to create a great piece of work.

Although you won't have access to a huge team, just having a good cameraman can be enough to create a good short film that showcases your talent and potential. At the end of the day, nobody will expect you to create a masterpiece in your first time of trying. What matters is that you keep improving and learning all of the time. If the right person sees your work, you might then be given the opportunity to make a film with a larger budget. That's when you can really start to make an impression.

In 2011, I devised, wrote and produced a short film in 48 hours, with nobody but a cameraman, two actors and one additional friend as back-up. It was called Forecast, and it was a simple two minute film that highlighted the dangers of staying in an abusive relationship. The film didn't win any awards, but it led to other, bigger projects. That's what it's all about at the development stage of a filmmaking career.

Now What?

The internet has made it incredibly easy for amateur filmmakers to get their work out to a wide audience. YouTube and Vimeo are the biggest websites that feature film work, and they definitely reach a bigger audience than any other site.

But once they're up there, using Twitter, Facebook and various other social networking sites will help you get your work viewed by interested folk. You never know, your film could go viral! Plus, you never know who might be watching and looking out for new upcoming talent.

There are also online and offline short film festivals to look out for. Whether your film was shot on an iPhone or a decent level HD camera, there are festivals and competitions out there for you to showcase your work. Find them and enter them. Good luck!

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