Earlier this year me and a friend (Abby Timms) decided to stop wanting to make short films and actually start making them. In this series of posts, I’m going to take you through the process of creating BLOOD TIES, a short film me and my friend came together to make on no budget, and just a sheer drive to create our own content. I’ll link the short film below, please check it out as we and all that were involved are so proud of what we created with such limited resources!

Now, dreaming about your small script being magically transformed into a film festival winning masterpiece is one thing, but creating it is an entirely different ball game. You have to find out how you’re going to shoot it, if there’s going to be a budget (usually, there isn’t), will you need extra hands (yes), do you have somewhere that will work as a location, and so on.

Basically, you go into pre-production mode, a huge undertaking for just two people even if you’re making a two-scene short film. The first, and most important thing to do, is to make sure the script doesn’t suck. Yes, you’ve been slaving away at this script for weeks, months, maybe even years. It’s your pride and joy, your creativity incarnate, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. Ok, that’s a bit mean, art is subjective, yes, but a second pair of eyes, and more importantly a fresh, unbiased pair of eyes are essential.

Awesome, now you’ve gone over the script a hundred times with your creative partner(s) in crime. You’ve had to ditch a few of your favourite lines, read out loud by people other than yourself makes you realise your inflated creative ego can use a stumble. That’s not a bad thing by the way, cultivate your huge creative ego, use it to its max, but understand the power of collaboration and constructive criticism. Time to move onto casting, location and art department roles, which yes, you and your tiny team of two or more (if you’re lucky) will have juggle. 

Creating your own content is all about collaboration, delegation and the ability to wear several (hundred) hats at once. If you have the budget to outsource, fantastic! But my bet is that you don’t even have the budget for coffee meetings. I’m guessing, if you’re an actor, you’ve cast yourself. If not, you probably have friends that would love some showreel material and experience making a short film, actors are definitely not in short supply. 

Obviously, if you have the budget, please pay your cast and crew, it’s already hard enough for all of us to get jobs, never mind paying ones! If you don’t have the budget, let them know immediately, some people will be eager to be part of the project. A small credit and some potentially great showreel material is a big sell, people pay for that these days! Just make sure all involved know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. 

So, we had no money, so made it very clear we needed an actor who was happy to take part on a one-day shoot (ambitious, I know) where they’d get lunch and, obviously, free showreel material. Having a lot of actor friends who are in the same boat came in very handy, and for one role we ended up having a fair few people put their hat in the ring. 

This threw us through a loop, who do we choose? The idea of ‘casting’ for an unpaid, short film role is hideous, and I hated having to ask, but self-tapes were the only way to decide. Now, self-taping ended up being vital to this project. With so many people that wanted to be involved, the best way to see if they fit the role was to have them do a short excerpt that we could watch. Nothing flashy, nothing professional, just a chance for us to see the character in a short few seconds. Through this process we found the perfect actor (Samuel Patterson) to play the role.

Awesome! Casting done, that was very, very stressful. So stressful in fact, we’d completely forgotten there was a whole lot more pre-production to be done. That’s a lie, we hadn’t forgotten, more didn’t have the man power and time between the two of us to do everything simultaneously. So, moving on, we found a location (aren’t friends and families houses perfect!) and set a date.

This was easy enough, in reality, if we were a proper production company, we’d have to find a location, negotiate fees and do many other important (boring) admin tasks. But we were just two friends trying our damndest to fit in creating a professional looking short film between day jobs, uni and other life demands. Costume and art department duties was another easy pre-production task for such a small project. We could use our own (unbranded) clothes and redecorate a room with, well, whatever was already in it.

If we were going for a more adventurous project, for example a gory horror short or high production sci-fi short, these departments would have needed a lot more thought and money, which in our case would have been out of pocket. If you ever decide to make a short film on little to no money, factor this in from the get-go. BLOOD TIES was specifically written to be a short that required little to no budget. Sure, your high octane sci-fi websereies sounds fantastic, but can you really afford the time, location, costume and design needed to make it look as good as you’re envisioning it?

Pre-production is all about finding out where the pitfalls are in a project. Jumping straight into filming your short film will usually end in disaster. Do you have permissions to film where you plan to? Are your actors aware you’re on a zero budget? It’s all about answering the questions necessary to make the shooting phase run as smoothly as possible. The last thing you want to find out is that the practical effect you wrote into your script looks awful on camera. You can’t afford anything better for the shot, and you haven’t written any alternative to the scene, in case this did happen. Even if you did prepare for it in pre-production, having an alternative scene for the high chance it doesn’t work is another pre-production tactic that will save you time, stress and quality on the day of shooting, and in your final project piece.

One last thing I want to note about the pre-production practises is to ALWAYS make a shot list. Sounds silly to have to state this right? But when your project gets overshadowed by day jobs and everyday life events, it’s easy to forget to make one and end up slightly lost on set the day of shooting. And, finally, for the love of god, slate all your shots, for the editor’s sake (which will probably be you).

All these other notes are starting to encroach onto shooting and post-production, which I’ll cover in future articles! So, for now, please enjoy our short film BLOOD TIES and happy creating!

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