Did you know that the country with the most searches for “short film” is from India and Bangladesh? And within India, the most search is from my state of Kerala. If you are a filmmaker from Kerala, then this is important, because you are making a film in a language with the most shorts films being made on YouTube. How do you stand out in such a crowded space?

I first dreamed of making a short film in 2012. I was still a college student then, with no money or knowledge on how to make a short film. Since then I have made 10 shorts film, assisted many Ads and 2 feature films. I even made a feature film of my own. All of that started with the short film I made in 2012. In this post, I share with you what I learned in the 8 years since, 4 things that you should know to make a short film.

Use Gear You Have

What aspiring filmmakers focus on the most, but what least affects an audience is the gear you use. Think back to the times when you came out after watching a good film with your friends. Were you thinking, “The film was so good! I wonder which camera it was shot on?” Or were you thinking, “Which mic was used?” No. If you belong to 98% of the audience you wouldn’t have. We know this as an audience but we seem to forget it when we become the filmmaker.

If you believe that the gear matters more, then watch our film Munnariv (2020) which was shot entirely on a phone. I assure you that you’ll forget it was shot on a phone within the first 10 minutes.

Today you can shoot not only a short film but an entire feature film on a phone. The camera on the device you are reading this on is so much more advanced than those that were used 100 years back, by the pioneers of filmmaking. And it fits in your pockets! If they could do it then, you can definitely make a film on your phone.

You can also record sounds on your phone once you have your sound design in mind. If you don’t want to record sounds on your phone, then make a silent short film. The first film that we did in 2012, called Boomerang, was a silent film that was two minutes long. The visuals were shot on an SLR, and royalty-free music was used in the background.

Instead of focusing on the gear like everyone else, use whatever gear you have to make your short film.

Perfect Casting for Your Short Film

The next thing aspiring filmmakers focus on is actors. If you don’t have money, you might ask your friends to act. If have lots of money, you might get known actors. Whichever case it might be of yours finding actors who can act and who matches your characters, is something you can’t skimp on. This is because however fancy a thing you might be doing behind the camera, the audience sees all your efforts through the actors in front of the camera.

You might then be wondering where to find actors. Today you can find a lot of actors who studied acting, knows to act, and has camera experience. At least that is the case here in Kerala. But wherever you might be, you can find actors through their Facebook and Instagram profiles. Or if you have actor friends you can find other actors by asking them.

Always remember to look for the following three things when you are looking for actors:

  • they match your character
  • have studied acting, formally or informally
  • and have experience in front of the camera

If you want the vision in your head to successfully reach an audience, you need to find good actors.

Before moving on to the next 2 points, I wanted to share an interesting statistic that I found while researching for this post. People are now searching more for “Web Series” than “Short Films”. Do you think people now watch web series more than short films?

Choosing an Editor

The third thing you need when making a short film is someone who can tie all your footage together and tell a story through it; an Editor. Editing is an art form that is unique to filmmaking. A film editor has a lot more influence on the film than a Book Editor had on a book. In fact, it is on an editing table that a film actually starts taking shape. It is for this reason why it is difficult to become a film director without knowing the basic of editing.

A film is born when two images (and audio of course) are put together to form a third image in the mind of the audience. That’s where a film is born. When looking for an editor look for one who knows the skill of creating the third image in the minds of the viewer, knows how to tell a story and has studied editing.

Story Structure

At last, we come to the most important aspect, one that the audience values the most, but is overlooked by new filmmakers, that is the Story Structure. I don’t know if I can teach someone to write. Some are born with the skill to write, some are not. But what can be taught is how to structure a story. I believe that everyone in the film field should learn this skill.

Story Structure isn’t such a big deal either. What it is is the knowledge on how to tell a story, when to tell what, when not to tell what, so that you keep the audience at the edge of their seat listening to your story. That is Story Structuring.

It is easy to learn too. Catch hold of a good friend of yours and narrate to them the story you have written. What you need to pay attention to is how your friend is reacting. Are they sitting interested or bored? At what point are they bored and looking at their phones? By paying attention to the expressions of your friend you’ll learn when in your story the tension is working, or interesting, or boring. You will even catch the minute expression of them because they are friends of yours for a long time. You won’t be able to do that if you narrate to a stranger.

So find a friend of yours, narrate to them your story, observe their reactions, and based on that, rewrite your story. This is the easiest way to improve your Story Structuring skills.

Your Next Step to Make a Short Film

Here is a bonus tip for you who read so far, on what you need to do now. I started my journey in 2012, with nothing but a desire to do a short film. From there I made 10 shorts, assisted Ads, 2 feature films one of which won the Kerala State Best Film Award, I also made a feature film of myself and now I’m writing a film that I hope to hit the theatres with by this year. All of this started with what I did in 2012, my first short film.

What you need to do next is also that, take your first step. If you have a script, make a film out of that. If you don’t have a script, write a script. Figure out what you have to do next and then do that. That is what you need to do now. To help you that I have written down everything I learned in the last 8 years in the book, The Indian Indie Film (Make Your Film for the rest of the world) that is now available on Amazon.

If I can, you can also make a film of your own.

If your dream is to direct a film, then subscribe to my newsletter, because my next blog is the 4 things a Director needs to know. See you there.

If you want a video version of the same, watch here. The video is in my native Malayalam, with English subtitles.

Hey Aspiring Filmmaker,

I debuted my film career making a feature film for ₹5 lakhs ($7,000) on an iPhone. I’d like to help you do the same. So I wrote everything I learned into a book. It is now available on Amazon, called The Indian Indie Film (or Make Your Film for rest of the world). Enjoy!