Making short films has never been easier. Cameras are smaller, lighter, less expensive and easier to use. A home PC and an inexpensive programme is all you need to edit, compose music and add sound and digital effects.

Film CD cover illustrates how Making short films has never been easier.

Jess Murphy in Greta May – Photo: Alex Atwater

Films can be uploaded on YouTube and a host of streaming sites. If you wants to take the process to its ultimate conclusion, digital light processing and liquid crystal display home cinema projectors can turn the living room into a movie house. Anyone can do it. The problem is, when anyone can, everyone is.

All films start with the script. As with writing a novel or a prize-winning short story, to stand out in the crowd, to create something memorable, it’s all in the writing. Writing may be intuitive to children and poets, but movies, plays and narrative require an imperceptible structure just as the body requires its unseen skeleton. The more structure is understood and respected, the better the result; the more enjoyable the story to the reader, listener or viewer. Structure is like the pegs and clamps tapped into the rock face. You still have to plot your own course up the mountain, but it’s those footholds and handholds that help you up – and save you if you fall.

Making Short Films Discipline

Through the years I’ve been making a living as a freelance journalist and ghostwriter, my guilty little secret has been writing short stories, the most tricky of genre, juggling sentences like flaming torches, searching for the right word (usually the simplest and shortest), cutting and cutting again. It is only then that you appreciate with the intuition of the poets that the secret of good writing is crossing out almost every word you’ve written and stripping the flesh to the bone like some sadist with a willing masochist, both alters of the disciplined writer.

When I wrote my first short film, I found the process oddly similar to writing a short story. Both require brevity, nuance, subtlety, an awareness that what’s not said is often more telling than what’s said…her eyes tended to glaze when her husband brought home stories of life in the accounts office where he had worked for the last 17 years. We see the whole of the couple’s relationship in one simple sentence; in one script note.

Short stories can be daring, a stream of consciousness abandoned rather than finished. But the best stories give the reader a cerebral charge with an audacious beginning that stampedes them through a breathless middle to a satisfying conclusion that should achieve two goals: to be what the reader expects (boy gets girl) but not in the way they had been expecting (the girl is in prison and he must wait three years for her to get out).

Making short films – as well as features – is a collaborative effort, the writer just one of the team who brings home the finished product. The producer, director and leading lady are all going to pull your script to pieces and force you to look at what you’ve written from the other side of the screen, from the audience point of view. You are forced to explain yourself, something the writer hates to do, but it is only when you go back to analyse a story in this way that you see the faults and deal with them.

Greta May

Fired up with a new sense of discipline, I went back to the file of rejected short stories and worked on them again, concentrating on structure rather than the writing itself, the choice of words, the alliterations, all those sexy things that make writing a pleasure. Resubmitted, often with new titles born from the re-writes, the stories started to get accepted with greater frequency.

One of my stories I adapted for the short film Greta May, which I directed and included as one of five short films studied in Making Short Films: The Complete Guide From Script to Screen. I wouldn’t have been able to write a book of this nature without having written and directed Greta May, and I wouldn’t have been able to have adapted and directed Greta May without working on that short story. The tasks are all slightly different and what I discovered, or rather more fully appreciated, was that as a creative writer, you have to be multi-skilled, multi-disciplined – and most of all you have to be self-disciplined.

Making Short films has never been easier with Book Jacket of Making Short Films illustrating this face.Making Short Films: The Complete Guide from Script to Screen Ed 3, written with Max Thurlow, is  a course book at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and a required text in more than 70 media colleges in the United States including UCLA. Published by Bloomsbury, it takes filmmakers on a 90,000 word journey through the entire process from writing a short to getting films shown at festivals. The book contains 80 photographs and the Eight-Point Guide to story structure that can be applied to short stories as well as short films.

Making Short Films is available from bookshops and Amazon.

Greta May is on YouTube – do leave a comment!

Enjoy Georges Méliès 1902 Le Voyage Dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon)

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