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Learn how to make a great short film without having to leave the house, suitable for ages 11 +

Films, at their basic level, are a collection of still photographs placed one after another and played at high speed to give the illusion of movement. But films are so much more than this. They have the power to move us, to take us to new worlds and see strange places that we could never imagine. They can be huge blockbusters or smaller independent films. No matter the size or style of the film, they are extremely powerful pieces of art. In this guide, we’ll show you to write, shoot and edit a short film of your own.

Please get your parent or guardians permission to film in and around your home, and don’t forget to share your finished film with us, we would love to see your work.

What you’ll need to get started

  • A short story to tell
  • A Smart Phone / Tablet device
  • Space to film
  • Actors, get your family involved.
  • Video editing software which can be via a phone app or desktop

Ideal but not essential

  • Tripod
  • Lighting
  • Video Camera / DSRL
  • Microphone
A great way to make any video look high quality is to use 3 point lighting (google it if this is a new phrase) Here are some ways you can improvise at home.
  • Use window light as your 'key light'. Use a torch pointing down to hit the back of the head as a 'hair light', cover with baking paper if it's too bright.
  • Use a large piece of card wrapped in kitchen foil to reflect light and use as a 'fill light'.

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Behind the scenes of a shoot on our BFI Film Academy course.

Get Started

Step 1. Script Writing and Storyboarding

The script is one of the most important parts of filmmaking. All film productions start with a script and it is important that you are completely happy with your script before you start shooting.

Take a look at this video for tips —>

Story writing tips:

  • Make it simple. Can you summarise your film in one sentence?
  • Each scene can take up to an hour to film so avoid loads of locations.
  • Use props, costumes and locations you already have available.
  • Use software such as Celtx to create a script with proper formatting.

Storyboarding

Once you have your script idea, turn it into a storyboard so you have a clear visual aid of what the finished film will look like. This will also help you remember your ideas when you begin filming.

Take a look at the video for tips —>

Step 2. Create your set.

It doesn’t matter how good your camera is, if what you’re’ shooting looks dull, it will be a dull film, remember cinema is a visual medium.

  1. Place your camera where you want to shoot from and adjust the settings so that you are getting the best from it.
  2. See how you can improve your setting, maybe its too dark, move the camera or scene position, turn on a light?
  3. Use lamps, fairy lights and candles (practicals) to create depth in the scene, these look great in the background even in the daytime.
  4. Use a colour theme that compliments the tone and style of the genre, you can use Adobe Kuler online for free to test colour contrasts.
  5. Is the film set in a time period that isn’t the present? Are the surroundings, props, costume, hair and makeup correct?
  • Mood: How do you want your audience to feel when watching a certain scene? Fearful? Sad? Tranquil? Whatever it is, that is the “mood” of the scene and production design can really help you establish it. For example, if the mood is supposed to be scary, dark, decayed, old, and broken elements will definitely help communicate that.
  • Character: Can your audience tell what kind of person your character is or how they’re feeling based on the set design? If not, they totally can. For example, an unkempt home could indicate that a character is a slob, while a room full of sports memorabilia indicates a character is a sport’s fan.
  • Theme: The themes of your film can be communicated through your set design as well. Once you establish what they are—human vs. nature, human vs. technology, coming of age, capitalism—you can choose design elements that contain subtext, reminding your audience of what your story is all about.

Step 3. Shoot!

Each time you move the camera to a different angle we call it a set-up, some scenes have one set-up, most have multiple in order to get a cinematic look.

  • Establishing shots – use a wide shot to introduce each location.
  • Dialogue scenes – 1 master wide establishing shot, 1 mid-shot for each character in conversation (normally over the shoulder), 1 close up for each character at a moment of emotion (could be a hand fidgeting or a specific look at a moment of tension), 1 general coverage of their reactions.
  • If there is complex movement there is often multiple angles to move the story along providing the audience with a clear understanding of the process.

Filming indoors is going to force you to get creative, especially in many tight spaces, here’s a great video full of tips.

Step 4. Editing

When you get to the editing stage of production there is a general process that you will want to follow in order to make sure you get the best final product.

Initial Process

  • Transfer and label your clips – this may seem obvious, but the first thing you want to do is put your clips onto you computer and label them with the scene name and number. This organises your clips and will be extremely helpful going forward.
  • Assembling a Rough Cut – once you have uploaded and labelled your clips you want to assemble a rough cut. This means that you put your clips in the order you initially believe the correct order to be.

Editing

  • Cut and delete footage – once you start editing you will find that there are shots you did not need, these are the shots that you cut.
  • Trim clips – trimming your clips can make your film feel more concise. You should trim shots which seem to drag on too long and make your film feel slow.
  • Pacing – setting the pace of a film is key in the editing process. If you want a scene to feel action-packed then quick cuts will help you do this. If you want to add suspense to a scene then you will want cuts to occur less frequently.
  • Split clips to insert cutaways – use this if you want to show two bits of action simultaneously. For example, if you have a car chase you can show the car in pursuit and cut I clip of the car that is being chased.
  • Create continuity – this is crucial in editing. when editing, placing one shot to the next, you need to make sure these scenes match. You can confuse the audience if your scenes don’t match when edited together.
  • Set the tone – the way you edit your clips together can seriously affect the tone of your film. Using the same clips you can easily create two or three different files each of a different genre so you need to match the clips to the tone you want from the film.
  • Film more clips – during editing you may find that there are scenes that you are not happy with or places where you feel you could add more. In this instance you may consider filming extra footage or doing or doing reshoots. This depends on whether you are able to organise this with your cast and crew.
  • Colour grading – once you have your film edited in the order, pacing and tone then you want to colour grade it. You should do this if the colours don’t match between shots, or you wish to give your film film a certain colour palette.

Editing Styles

  • Continuity editing – this is the most common style of editing. It is a system of cutting to maintain a clear and continuous narrative. This style of editing relies upon making sure that the screen direction, position and temporal rations are matching. This can be done by using techniques such as the 180 Degree rule.
  • Soviet montage – an approach to editing developed by early Soviet filmmakers. This style of editing emphasises discontinuous and dynamic relationships between the shots and the juxtaposition of the images on the screen to create ideas and emotions that aren’t present in either shot. An example of this would be to show a man’s face and then cut to a grave, representing a feeling of grief.
  • Elliptical editing – this is a style of editing that omits parts of an event so as to cause ellipses in the plot and story duration. An example of this would be to cut in separate scenes of a party so as to show the whole length of the party in just a few short clips.

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