No Budget Guide To Filmmaking: Chapter 3 - SHORTS

Chapter SHORTS

It should go without saying... make shorts. Short videos, to be exact. Good, bad, or ugly - crank 'em out. Robert Rodriguez said in his director's commentary on the El Mariachi DVD, "Every filmmaker has about 30 crappy films in him, so go ahead and get those out of the way." I’m paraphrasing the man here - you get the gist. Do you have a phone? Great. You’re ready to get started. There are countless apps on your phone that will allow you to perform drag-and-drop editing of your files, maybe even add some generic music. Will the video be pretty? If you’re just starting out, no. I won’t sugarcoat it.

Point is, go shoot short films. Animate them. Write stories and go shoot 'em. You'll learn all the facets of shooting a narrative piece, and you can only get better as you roll 'em out. That’s the key. Any craft, be it film or video, must be practiced. But where do you find an audience to fine-tune your craft? After all, the good book says that plans fail for a lack of counsel. You need feedback. You won’t make everyone happy, and you can’t and nor should you. If you’re extremely codependent, this will be a pain point. Press on. Don’t cave in. Start looking for natural audiences. If it’s a work video, you’re taken care of, unless you’re a solopreneur or in a really small firm. But even then, two are greater than one. It’s 2015, and in this day and age, you can always show your video to the online community and ask for feedback. If you’re shooting for a church, you’re covered. Really, it boils down to one or the other - take your video for a spin on YouTube (or other platform, like Facebook) or show it around your community in its live environment (work, church, etc).

An invaluable platform for me to gain reps was to shoot short videos for our church (they’re goofy and definitely newbie material - I left them up for posterity - just search Vimeo for “Oasis Vineyard). We were a small bunch when I lived in Salt Lake City, so I was given total freedom (many thanks to our senior pastor Darrell) to do narrative pieces for even the most trivial of events, e.g. a lunch-after-church event. Playing my short videos on a weekly basis in front of a live crowd provided me invaluable feedback. It's a different experience watching your video with 60 other people versus dumping it online on Youtube or Vimeo or Facebook; it builds character knowing whether your humorous moments are landing or not, whether your dramatic punches are effective or not, and so on so forth. You can’t get that same experience, not yet anyways, through our online communities. As of this writing, live streaming is now accessible to the masses, but it is in its infancy. Native apps like Periscope don’t allow you to do cuts, dissolves, or overlays like a studio, but give it some time and it will, as well as provide more organic ways for the crowds to engage than simply hitting a “like” button. If you’re screening this video to some big dogs in the org chart, then do yourself a favor and first do a test screening with other employees. Invite people that you don’t know to that screening as well. One, it will tell them that their opinions are welcome, and two, their neutrality (hopefully) will balance out the folks who know you best.

My screenwriting mentor at the University of Utah encouraged me with this quasi-story; how true it is may be irrelevant (akin to Coach Boone in Remember the Titans lying about how many brothers and sisters he had - a story is a story). He said the Beatles - when they were starting out - spent day and night in Hamburg, Germany, fine-tuning their craft, discovering their sound, and they did so in the nastiest of places. We're talking dives, strip clubs, just... seedy places. Again, I’ve never looked into their history, but the point of the story (key word: story) is their resolve to wade through the tough times paid dividends because we all know the end result of their labor. They created synergy and ushered in a new wave of music that forever changed the tapestry of entertainment. This screenwriting teacher shared this story with me to let me know that in spite of my first full-length's shortcomings, there was potential. It was his way of commissioning me: keep at it. Make the shorts. Fine-tune your craft. The best directors don't spring up overnight. I.e. stay positive; dig deep.

 

Fine-tune your craft. The best directors don't spring up overnight.



And so aspiring auteur or casual “I’ve-been-tasked-with-making-a-video” guy or gal, hand-in-hand with writing your full-length story or short video, you need to be well-versed in shorts. This is especially true if you're going to run-'n-gun it a la Robert Rodriguez, like I did on our microbudget feature 12 'Til Dusk. Guerrilla filmmaking describes the majority of us, yours truly included. You need to know how long a scene is going to take and schedule that time accordingly, and then you need to commit to not go over it. You need to set up your gear, get in, and get out as soon as possible. When you're operating on a shoestring budget, you're shooting 9 times out of 10 on, with, and by the good graces of others. When I first landed in Utah, I was anxious to get connected to my new filmmaking community through the University. I signed up to be a part of a 48-hour-film-challenge (more on that later), and the crew hadn’t worked together before, not in unison. Communication was slow, leadership was so-so, and the allotted time of 12 hours turned into 18+ hours with additional hours the next day (which I was not there for). They turned the final submission in late, and we bombed that year. Don’t get me wrong. I had a blast. I was stoked to be a part of an indie crew, but more importantly, I learned a lot that one weekend just from showing up for 18 hours on a no/low-budget shoot. The principal lesson was to honor your cast and crew and call “wrap” (end of the day/shoot) when you say you will. This goes back to the King of Kings: let your yes be your yes, and your no be your no.

Make it easier on your people and be efficient with your time, which really means everyone's time, and that responsibility ultimately falls on you - the director - in an independent, low-budget effort. They are already giving up their time, their talents, and their resources. Yes, gas is a resource. They paid for their gas. Honor their sacrifice. This is what shooting a multitude of shorts will do for you. You don't have to have a rock star library of short films under your belt, but you need to know how to roll when the clock starts, whether that’s day 1 of your feature or day 2 of your short video. To this day, I have managed to stay on schedule through dozens of my shoots all but a few times, and the worst I ever stretched our time was 30 minutes, at most. Respect your crew and your onscreen talents; they have lives and families too.