How to make a short film by yourself

How to Make a Short Film by Yourself | DIY Filmmaking

Can you make a short film all alone? It may seem to be a farfetched idea but it can be done. There are ways to do it and in this post, I am going to share some of the ideas, tips, and tricks on how to make a short film by yourself or DIY short filmmaking.

How to make a short film by yourself? To make a short film all alone, needs a discreet vision, unique idea, foolproof plan, Knowledge of every aspect of filmmaking, access to a lot of equipment, tons of patience and never say die attitude. If you have it all in you then read on.

Filmmaking is all about collaboration. But, you are a beginner and you don’t find anyone to support you. So you have to do it by yourself and play all the roles in making the film. You have to be in charge of the camera, lights, art, acting, editing, music etc.  You have to replace all crew members of every discipline with yourself. So let us go through all the disciplines one by one and how will you do it.

To realize a short film without a helping hand you need:

Discreet Vision: 

Without a clear vision and purpose of what you are attempting your film may go haywire.

Unique Idea:

Making a film alone is not a unique idea. Many do it out of compulsion as there is no soul around who can help you out.

Foolproof Plan:

When you are all by yourself, you need to work out a solid plan and work accordingly. Without it, you will not be able to function.

Knowledge of every Aspect of Filmmaking: 

If you have to make a short film all by yourself, you have to know how to :

  • Script ideas
  • Handle a Camera
  •  Light a scene
  • Set up Art
  • Costume and Makeup
  •  Act Alone
  • Record Sound
  • Nonlinear Editing
  • Sound Editing and Design
  • Render Music
  • Visual Effects and CGI
  • Color grading              

It sounds overwhelming, but in this day and age, where you have all the resources to learn them online for free, I see no difficulty in learning them all. So, here are the tips where you can make a short film by yourself.

Access to a lot of Equipment:

Since you have no living thing around, you need to have the dead humans standing for you. They are your tripod, microphone stands, clamp lights, grips, toolkits, sandbags and many more. Either you invest in them or hire them but you cannot ignore them.

Tons of Patience:

Yes, if you have patience then you have achance of succeeding. If you are not that type, drop the idea right now.

Never say die Attitude:

At every step, you will feel likegiving up. It is a lonely game and the battle is real. You will have cuts,bruises, pain, and stress. Giving up is the easiest way out.

If you are still stubborn about it, then read on.

Tips on How to make a Short Film by Yourself:

So, how can you make such a herculean task of making the film without any help? Shooting the short film alone is an excellent idea nevertheless, to get exposed to every aspect of filmmaking early. Here are a few ways you can approach your film.

1-     Telling your story through Pictures:

It is one of the innovative ways where you narrate the story through a sequence of pictures. You can either use illustrations or shoot stills with a digital camera. Patch the particular pictures above your narration and you have a short film with pictures.

You can use them wisely for a message-driven film, story for kids, or an MTV style experimental film.

2-     Animated Films:

Animation films either 2D or 3D can be made alone. It takes a long time to make one but, you don’t need a crew to make animated films. You don’t need a camera, lights or actors. All you need is a powerful desktop and lots of creative time for production of the film.

You can make films with stop-motion where you do need miniature sets, camera, and lights. But, it can be done in your garage. Same goes with cell animation.

3-     Documentary Films:

You can make a documentary alone. If you are investigating a story by yourself, you can film and record the sound too. All you have to do is to weave an engaging emotional story behind your research. You can do Vox pops or talk in front of the camera. There are various ways, you can make a nonfiction or documentary shorts. Also, you can make Vlogs.

4-     Static Frames:

Another interesting way of making short films is shooting the film with static frames. You can fix the camera and lights and mark your positions and movements. You can also shoot interviews with this method if you have an interesting way of presenting it. 

If you want to move the camera or give motion to the shots, you can use gimbals, tripods or grips to do so. One good camera is GoPro to shoot dynamic shots with the help of rigs and grips.

5- Montages:

If you are a visual artist, you can make a lot of short films with the help of montages with smart cuts over sharp scores.  Many Youtube and Vimeo filmmakers are making great stuff with this concept. You can also make blog montage.

6- Silent Films:

Silent films will eliminate one aspect of your filmmaking and that is sound recording. It saves a lot of time and money. Imagine Charlie Chaplin doing his gags in front of the camera. It need not be compulsorily comedy. You can attempt any genre.

7- POV shorts:

Another excellent technique is to shoot yourself or show Point Of View shots. You can be either in the front or the back of the camera. Casey Neistat is excellent in doing that. You can make a Selfie short using this technique. They are excellent for horror, gaming and thriller genres.

8- Experimental:

You can go crazy on this theme. Experimentals can be any unique way of making the film yourself. You can also mix any two or all the themes mentioned above to deliver a unique short film.

I will keep adding other ideas to this list as and when I see someone doing any game-changing stuff.

How to make a Short Film All Alone:

Now, let’s get into the actual filmmaking and how you’re going to do it without a soul to your rescue.

Script Ideas :

Before writing, ponder upon a few things first.

  • Is it a good idea?
  • Is it just a test or a full-fledged short film?
  • Can you make it alone? Really?
  • How many characters are there?
  • Are you going to enact all the characters?
  • Are you compromising on the screenplay?
  • Will you compromise with the production it demands?
  • Can you face the technical challenges?
  • How will you overcome the limitations?
  • Can you meet the deadline you have set for yourself?
  • Can you achieve the purpose by making it all alone

If you have satisfactory answers to your questions, you can then sit and brainstorm various ideas for your script. Then start giving shape to your story. Keep your three acts intact in them to make it engaging. Don’t forget to keep the theme and the setup in mind while writing.

Make a storyboard to have a clear idea what you’re going to shoot. It will give you a distinct clarity to your approach.

Handing the Camera:

Before you catch hold of your camera, draw your reference from your storyboard and plan how to tell your story visually. Remember, no one is going to assist you in filming so you’re to make your visual storytelling compelling, your focus should be on to how to make your frames look the best as you can.

Do a rough test on the angles that are challenging. Think of ways to make your camera move if necessary. When you are behind the camera, try to capture the best of eye candy shots as you can.

Befriend your camera as it is the next best thing you have.  Experiment and innovate to bring out best. Learn to set the white balance and make use of the available lights to bring scenes to life. Always shoot with a variety of angles to break the ennui. You can also shoot with a multi-camera setup but it can get tedious if you are shooting outdoors or with heavy backdrops.

Use Tripods and Gimbals for steady and dynamic shots. Play with your compositions with the help of wide and long lenses. Either uses wide lenses for sharp focus or choose automatic focus options. They can be irritating so if you are using manual focus test it out first with exact positioning of subjects or yourself if you are acting the part.

Lighting a Scene :

Other than your camera, You need lights and reflectors to light up your scene. A good lighting makes your film stand out from other amateur filmmakers. Set up your lights first before everything. You will get a fair idea of the mood and contrast in your frames.

Also, the challenge for you is the consistency in your lighting. Make notes or shoot stills of your light placements of each scene and document or log them in your notebook. Lights are quite inexpensive and can be found on Amazon ( Link).

Production Design:

Setting up the background is crucial. I suggest to set up your frames as per your storyboard and not more than that. Then light it up. If you are moving your camera, you need to set up the whole background more or less.

The trick is to shoot in real locations. You have all the background in your kitty for free. Avoid night shoots for outdoors. But, if it is a necessity, you can use the available street lights or the light sources around.

Costume and Makeup:

Well, Costume and makeup may not be difficult. However, if you are doing a Zombie flick, Sci-Fi or a Period Film (Avoid it at all cost), you need expertise in applying the makeup. First, learn it and then you have to handle the camera as well. It is not a good idea to be a making a film while being a Zombie. But, you can definitely think of innovative ways to present yourself.

Acting Solo:

If you are the sole actor in the movie, filming will be a problem rather than acting. You will have hassles with your focusing and framing. You have to be absolutely sure about your position. Rehearse with the camera on so that you understand your spatial relation with the camera.

You can mark your positions using duct tapes. For focusing you can have a light dummy object of your size. If you are interacting with the environment, fix your eye lines correctly. Place objects for reference. Mic stands come in handy here.

Since you are going digital, you can go for numerous takes till you are absolutely satisfied with your take. Film yourself from different angles. Don’t forget to take close ups and mid shots as and when required. Once you get over your teething issues, in no time you will speed up the process.

Recording Sound:

Recording sound has the same challenges as filming the movie all alone. In fact, it is an additional burden and can slow up your process significantly.

For good quality recording, use the external microphones instead of the built-in ones. Reshoot till you don’t get the sound right. You can hide the mics at different stretches if you are moving a lot in the scene.

Non-Linear Editing:

Editing is a desk job and from here on your control over the movie tightens up manifolds. But, before that, you should have maintained a proper log of your recorded clips. Else, scrolling for shots can be a nightmare.

Once the shots are sorted and properly sequenced, now you can start to edit. Editing by yourself is a lonely job so; you should keep your integrals of a good scene and story in place.

Sound design and Music:

For sound effects, you don’t have to recreate foley sounds. Instead, you can but the effects online. Same goes with dramatic sounds and music. You can do the scores by yourself if you are good at it. Once they are all done it is time to edit and underlay on the video track of your film.

Visual Effects & CGI:

There is some great 3D animation software like Maya and 3DS Max to create animations and CGI for your film. If you don’t have money, Blender is an excellent option as it is free.

For video compositing, nothing better than Adobe After Effects for beginners. It has all the tools and plugins which can match the high-end software used in Hollywood. You can key out the green screens with ease. It is great for composting digital movies and can handle high-resolution images.

Color Correction:

Color correction can take your visuals to a greater height. You can give the feature films with the run for its money. Though the basic editing software has filters you can go for After Effects as well. You can download many lookup tables for free from various websites. You can give a tint to your film which matches your genre and make it look professional.

Now go and shoot a movie by yourself and then if someone asks – How to make a short film by yourself? Just hand him your DVD.

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