Creating short films without actors can mean many things. Is it about movies with no humans or it is with a non-narrative film idea. It also can be about making your short film with no crew, doing it all alone for free or want to have fun making home and cat videos. A short film without real actors or making them with non-actors can also mean the same. In a nutshell, whatever they say, We will cover them all here.
So How do you make a short film without actors? Narratives are different for non-fiction and fiction. Figure out your genre and the idea behind making the film. Write the script and do a breakdown of expected challenges. Eliminate the obstacles with a narrative that engages the audience. Finally, Execute it with dramatic correctness so that the role of an actor is not missed at all.
Why is it Difficult?
Shooting any film with no actors is daunting. Actors represent the characters like the protagonist, antagonist or the main anchor in a movie. Characters have motivations and conflicts which create plots to take the story forward. Conflicts create drama and stories culminate with a resolution to the character’s journey.
But, if you are eliminating the main characters, you either have to replace them with nonhumans or venture into some experimental or factual filmmaking. Read on for the solutions to your problem.
How to make a short film without actors?
1. Basic Approach: Find the Purpose
First, you have to answer convincingly, why are you making your short without actors? Do actors mean real actors or they say no humans? Finding the purpose of such an attempt is crucial as the following steps to such an endeavor will have the right direction. There may be several reasons for you making this film:
- No budget to hire actors
- Want to make the film for free
- The story demands no humans
- Experimenting to gain experience
- Making animation, photo essays or montages
- Taking on a challenge for a competition
- Having fun with your camera
- investigating or researching a story
and many more.
2. Fix the Genre: Non Fiction/ Fiction
After you find the purpose, decide the genre. Non-Fiction and Fiction narratives are different. Research on the movies that fit your style and find out how the filmmakers executed it without actors make mental or physical notes as it prepares you beforehand on how to go about telling your story.
Non-fiction narratives usually are not bound by structure while producing them, but you should have your boundaries outlined before shooting. It will help you stick to your purpose and some conformity that won’t let you distract from your direction.
3. Script: Identify the Challenges
Scripting is no different from the other shorts. You still have to think consciously, that there are no actors while writing them. Always try to come up with innovative ways to write your story. Identify the challenges and use techniques intelligently to overcome them if you don’t do it while writing, you may be in disarray while shooting the film.
Non-Fiction writing is smooth though, as you will only write some pointers or the salient features. Unless you want things in a certain way, scripting is usually rough.
For Fiction, however, writing becomes challenging because you have to create a story which has drama, conflicts, emotions, and entertainment. Doing it without actors is like riding a bicycle without a handle. You need proper balance and the right thrust to the pedal so that it moves ahead in the right direction.
Some of the significant challenges you should address while writing fiction:
- Three act structure with Plot points
- Clear definition of Protagonist and other characters
- Writing the character arc
- Creating Drama
- Touching the right emotional notes
- Convincing resolution and Climax
- High on audience engagement and overall experience
It is essential to lay down your story into paper visually because producing your story without actors require high technical skills. Storyboard will do wonders here. In fact, for animated films, it becomes an excellent reference.
5. Shooting and Production:
It is a significant study by itself. You will face countless challenges to shoot the short film without actors. Every purpose will have a different approach. You may not require any equipment or may need a ton of them to shoot your movie.
The camera and equipment a wildlife film requires will be very different from that of a horror film where a camera can be the main protagonist. The approaches are different, and you need to figure it out while scripting and budgeting.
6. Compensating with Sounds and Effects:
When a film has no actors, the most significant contribution will come from the audio. Whether it be sound effects, music or voice-overs, the story will engage and move with this medium. Concentrate a great deal on the audio you are going to lay on the visuals. When your film is light on the visual narrative, compensate it with some heavy aural narrative.
So, what are the possibilities to shoot a film with no actors? Let us find out how to deal with each one of them:
Short Films with No Actors:
It is always better to divide the filmmaking process into two basic parts as their narratives and storytelling styles are different.
A) Non-Fiction Narratives:
Non-Fiction short films can be anything which is real, informative, experimental, documented or investigative.
As a newbie, it is mostly experimental, yet you can achieve a lot because of its vast range of possibilities. The filmmaking and narrative of this genre may or may not conform to a fixed structure like the fiction genre. You can find below a broad spectrum of short filmmaking you can embark on without using actors.
Documentaries usually are made with real people unless you recreate a situation. All you need is a camera and a sound recording device. For a newbie, it is the best form of filmmaking for this situation. You can make it for virtually no money, and the only thing to dedicate here is your time and a thoughtful purpose for creating the short documentary.
You don’t even need a video camera here. It is a powerful style to learn the ropes of creating emotions with mere pictures. As a beginner, it is the best experiment you can do without real actors. Just shoot relevant images with a still camera and creatively assemble them with music and voice-over to tell a purposeful story.
Talking heads can involve one or more people talking to the camera. These are real people most of the time as you can interview them on a particular subject or use an interviewer and an interviewee. You too can join the fun by being in front of the camera. You don’t need real actors to shoot interviews. Do you?
Inspirational / Motivational/ Historic Films:
You can make spiritual, inspirational films just by filming any medium like real structures, painting, pictures, or real people like sports stars, politician, motivational speakers or even your grandma. Anyone who inspires or motivate can be present in your short. To make it engaging, make use of the resources around and tell an engaging tale. You can always search such films on youtube for reference.
Visual Portraits are similar to photo essays; the only difference is the visuals move. The best visual portraits come in the form of travelogues, adventure films or the life around. You need to learn the tricks of editing, and zingy sound editing too makes your storytelling interesting.
Montage experiments are very similar to visual portraits but can be inferior to the portraits as they are experimental and amateurish. They are usually for testing out camera tricks, lenses, lighting or studying the filmmaking process. You don’t need actors. You can even make it with your little brother or your outdoor bike.
Check out an interesting experiment by Philip Bloom: Conversations from the 35th Floor
Pets, Wildlife and Nature:
Animals are good fodder for non-actor short films. The funny cat videos are the most shared videos on Youtube and Facebook. Animals are one of the most searched terms on Google. Animal Planet, Discovery and Nat Geo have done business out of it. Unless you have money and time, you should stick to pets.
Wildlife is not as expensive as fiction using real actors, but it is not cheap either. It needs your time, patience and filmmaking gadgets and equipment to get a perfect shot. Else, it may lose the fun. Animals don’t follow orders unless they are trained to do so. It is tough to make wildlife films, but you can always give it a shot if you have a penchant for it.
I don’t have to elaborate on this. Every filmmaker at one point of his life has made a home movie. It can be your Mom’s birthday or a candid shot of your snoring Grandpa dozing in front of a television. Go ahead and shoot one if you haven’t done it till now.
Voice overs over images, silent or any informative visuals perk up your non-fiction short. Voice over works as a guiding light to your film. With some great voice modulations, you can create drama in your narrative. Yes, you don’t need actors.
One Man Army: ( No Crew )
When you are making non-fiction short with zero budget and a script, the best way to do it is all by yourself. You are everything here – the director, actor, cinematographer, spot boy, or even a gaffer. It is tough to achieve, but when you have an idea and dedicate time over the process and style, you can do the job.
B) Fiction Narratives:
Fictional narratives usually conform to the basic three-act structure for almost all the genres it encompasses. It has a begin middle and end. What is tricky here is that the three-act structure is based on the main character, other characters, their motivations, conflicts, and resolution. So, it needs actors. But, when you are dwelling in the no actor zone, we can still look at some possibilities. Here they are:
An exciting option is animation filmmaking. It needs no real actors or any human for that matter. But for a newbie animation filmmaking is tough unless you are smart in using the animation software. Also, animation needs time and collaboration. If you are adept in doing all, then go ahead.
Stop Motion or Block Films:
Stop motion is very similar to animation. Though it comes under the animation category, I beg to differ because it needs the production of miniature sets. It also requires a camera and more or less needs many types of equipment to shoot stop motion shorts, which an animation film done with pencils and computers does not need.
A Story with Pictures and Drawings:
Like the Photo essays, you can create fictional stories with the help of pictures taken by your cellphone or digital camera. You can involve your folks and friends to pose as actors for your short. You can even shoot your toys and pets to create a fictional narrative.
Also, you have another option of doing it with sketches. You can make a comic book like a series of drawings to tell a story. Scan them and line them up in the edit with sound and music. You have your short movie ready.
If not humans, the best possible option are animals. Let me beware you, that animals films require a lot of patience. For a newbie, you can always start with your cat or hamster and weave a story around it. They will be more friendly than the wild ones, and you will learn the ropes of filmmaking with animals.
Non Living Things:
I still can’t forget how Steven Spielberg used a monster truck as an antagonist in his early days of filmmaking. If you haven’t watched ” Duel,” you should order it right now. ( Check on Amazon here). Similarly, there was a film called Rubber ( Amazon ) where a tire was the main character. For a newbie, you can create 1 or 2-minute shorts, and play with non-living things in your story and eliminate the concern of involving humans in your short movie.
Montages are an excellent way to learn videography and editing skills. Unlike the non-fiction narrative, you can test your skills by doing short scenes where you give a character to your camera (P.O.V style filmmaking) and shoot random visuals to give a dream-like or gaming-like situation to your scenes. Horror genre also works well the POV style of filmmaking. The camera becomes the actor, and you don’t need real actors if you can intelligently work on your script.
You can also re-edit existing videos and weave a story around it by interesting dubbing, sound editing, and music.
You can make music videos which have got a narrative which has no actors. It is similar to montage-like style but you have a piece of music overlayed on your visuals, and you can create drama with some interesting songwriting.
If you have no budget for your short, use your family and friends as actors. You can involve the people from your neighborhood too. Here you don’t have real actors, but sometimes non-actors create magic on screen. Watch Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica. (Buy on Amazon Here) All the actors were neither professional nor trained.
Taking a leaf out of Christopher Nolan’s debut film “Following” ( Check on Amazon here), you can candidly shoot strangers and make them your actors by secretly following them. It may lead to stalking if you don’t tell them and get their approval after you have filmed them. So be aware of the thin line.
No Crew Fiction:
You can be the actor yourself though you are also the one behind the camera. It is an interesting take, and if you write and act well, you can impress everyone with a film which has no other actors other than you. Check out this article: How to make a short film by yourself
It more or less encompasses all the possibilities where your short film does not indulge any real actors.
If you have any innovative ideas or processes, please feel free to comment below. Also, share it with your friends if you feel the need.