short films

The Best Tips For Making a Short Film in a Short Amount of Time

There are any number of reasons you might have a limited amount of time to create a short film (even from scratch), including intentionally for competitions like the Asian American Film Lab72-Hour Shootout. Time is one of the most valuable resources a filmmaker can have, so creating a short film in a crunch can be quite the challenge.

New York Film Academy has pooled advice from the chairs and faculty of our many different departments—including Cinematography, Producing,Filmmaking, and Digital Editing—to give a well-balanced list of offered tips and best practices for creating the best possible short film in a short amount of time:

Story

Try to come up with a great idea that works in a few minutes. Keep the concept simple and focused. A good logline can help you focus your idea and keep you from wandering too far off course.

Come up with a story that can believably occur in a very short amount of time, even ten minutes. Your actual film’s running time doesn’t need to be that long, but you will be able to dramatize shorter events in a more grounded way.

Actors


Cast carefully. Some actors may be more comfortable with ample rehearsal time, so make sure they know the time restrictions of your shoot.

Allow your actors to contribute. If they’re inventive, give them a chance to improvise. Shoot takes with alternate lines of dialogue. This can be especially effective in comedies.

When directing your actors, remember these tips:

Let your actor know what their objective in each scene is.

Make sure you and your actor are on the same page about their character and their motivations. If you disagree, take a few minutes to discuss, listen, and compromise.

Be there for your actor. While some actors may prefer to do things their own way, most seek and thrive on direction, even if it’s just pointing them the right way, metaphorically speaking.

Or literally speaking! Blocking is very important not just for your framing but for the intensity of the scene itself. Work with your actors to find the right blocking for each scene–what feels right for them and what looks best for the camera.

Producing

Make sure your schedules are detailed out to the minute and remember that communication between cast and crew is key. By having everyone’s contact information and by communicating clearly where everyone is expected to be and when, you can avoid unnecessary delays in production. Give them directions and expected travel times to the set.

Organize your days so you can shoot several scenes in one day. If you have multiple locations, select the key location for the day and then find your other locations in the immediate area.  Moving locations can be a killer and waste tons of time. Try to group scenes together that use the same cast members and costumes. Be efficient in your scheduling and don’t be afraid to shoot out of order or out of sequence. Schedule your exteriors first—that way, if it rains you have the option of delaying those scenes until the following day. And have a cover set (or interior) waiting to go, so you can move inside and not lose a shooting day

Equipment

Put together an inexpensive but effective equipment list. Your story won’t be improved with more pixels, but you also don’t want your camera breaking down in the middle of your shoot. Test all the gear before you leave for the set.

Once you’re on location, if something breaks and has to be replaced, you’re going to lose valuable time. Don’t be afraid to be inventive. You may not have a professional dolly but some of the most inventive directors come up with novel solutions that actually make their shots more interesting.

Make sure all batteries and other accessories are charged before the shoot, and spares are being charged during the shoot. Remember, with only three days to shoot, every minute counts and every delay needs to be avoided at all costs.

Acting Audition

Cinematography

Don’t be afraid of using natural lights and don’t be afraid if not everything is lit and bright. Often enough, beauty lies in the darkness. Silhouettes, high contrast, backlighting, and dramatic shadows can create a very dynamic and powerful cinematographic look.  

When shooting a scene, start with your biggest shot first and then shoot all your closer shots looking in the same direction. Then turn around and, again, start with your biggest shot and work progressively closer.  

Sound

Sound, on the other hand, is another issue. Bad sound is often said to be the hallmark of amateur filmmaking. If your audience is struggling to understand what your actors are saying, there won’t be much room left for emotional involvement. So do everything you can, within your limitations, to get the best sound/dialogue recorded on the set. Whoever said, “we’ll fix it in post,” must have had tons of money, so erase those words from your vocabulary.

Keep sound in mind before you even begin filming–make sure the locations you choose and even the story you tell will be make your sound recording as easy as possible. If you can, have a good portion of your film dialogue free, with scenes that can use music or non-sync sound in their stead, as sync sound will always take longer to shoot.

Digital Editing

When working in post-production, remember it’s ok to be ruthless–do not be afraid to cut, even if it means undoing hours of work. Always, always, always back up your project and footage in different locations. Save often so you don’t lose any time due to a computer error. Learn to say goodbye to your mouse and learn keyboard shortcuts to become a faster and more efficient video editor–with only three days to make your film, every second counts!

GENERAL PRODUCTION DO’s AND DON’T’s

Keep your productions simple. Limit the number of cast members. Limit the number of locations. Avoid big scenes with elaborate sets, costumes and props. Stay away from period pieces, children and animals—they are far too unpredictable. And be as professional as you can be. Although you may want to break the rules when it comes to content, there’s a good reason professional shoots are organized the way they are. The better prepared you are, the more likely you will capture your vision.

5 Animated Short Films That Pull At Our Heartstring

Sometimes all you need is a few minutes to tell a heartfelt story that leaves an impact lasting much longer than the film itself. Here are just five of the countless touching animated short films out there you can seek out and enjoy:

Feast
Directed by Patrick Osborne
Length: 6 minutes

Few animals on our planet offer the same companionship and loyalty as a dog eager to see you return home, share a meal, and follow you wherever you go. Feast touches on this age-old relationship by telling a story revolving man’s best friend.

In Feast, a single man named James adopts a stray Boston Terrier puppy and names him Winston. Along with kibble, Winston also gets to enjoy portions of James’s meals, including the junk food James especially loves. James eventually embraces a healthier lifestyle to impress his waitress girlfriend, which doesn’t please Winston, who’s now slipped vegetables. When James and the waitress break up, Winston realizes his owner’s sadness and finds a way to reunite the couple.

Dear Basketball
Directed by Glen Keane
Length: 5 minutes

It’s in our nature to admire the people who inspire us. From comic book heroes and musicians to filmmakers and our own parents, most of us go through life receiving motivation from those we look up to. Whether you grew up watching Kobe Bryant dominate the NBA, or recall when your favorite athlete played their final game, Dear Basketball is a moving hand-drawn animated film that hits close to home.

With Dear Basketball, co-creator Kobe Bryant chose animation to express the myriad swell of emotions felt on the eve of his retirement from the NBA. Bryant goes on to describe the dreams, challenges, and glory that basketball gave him across a career spanning two decades. The short film resonated enough with sports fans that in 2018 it made Kobe Bryant the first NBA player to win an Academy Award.

Bao
Directed by Domee Shi
Length: 8 minutes

Who knew that a sentient steamed bun could be used represent a bittersweet moment in a parent’s life? Winner of the latest Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, Bao tells the emotional story of an older woman feeling so lonely that she somehow brings a traditional Chinese treat to life. The woman raises the steamed bun, pampering and coddling it throughout its life, only to become devastated when it grows up and prepares to leave the house.

In the end (spoilers), it’s all an allegorical dream. The steamed bun simply represents her actual human son planning to leave with his fiance. A touching story of a woman suffering from empty-nest syndrome, Bao offers a special glimpse at what most mothers and fathers go through when the children they raised for years are ready to set off on their own.

Bear Story
Directed by Gabriel Osorio Vargas
Length: 11 minutes

This film tells the story of an elderly bear and his mechanical diorama featuring a bear similar to himself. The bear takes his diorama down to a street corner and rings a bell, hoping that someone will pay a coin to look into the peephole of his contraption. When a young bear does, he gets to watch the story of a mechanical bear taken from his wife and child by militant figures. Captured, he’s forced to perform in a circus for years before making a great escape and reuniting with his family.

At the end, the bear with the diorama takes out a photo of his family, implying that he too once had a family that he’s currently separated from. Serving as the first Chilean film to win an Academy Award, Bear Story is inspired by the director’s grandfather, who was imprisoned during the 1973 Chilean coup d’état and then exiled for the rest of the dictatorship.

Peter & the Wolf
Directed by Suzie Templeton
Length: 33 minutes

A multinational production, this film was a collaboration between talent from the UK, Poland, Norway, Switzerland, and Mexico. Their efforts paid off as Peter & the Wolf went on to earn plenty of praise and awards, including the Academy Award in 2008 for Best Animated Short Film. Along with its stirring story, this short film is also memorable for its unique puppet animation style.

Peter & the Wolf tells the tale of a young boy named Peter living with his abusive grandfather. Forbidden to enter the forest surrounding their cottage, Peter nonetheless does so to play with his only friends, a runner duck and a hooded crow that can’t fly. When a wolf appears and eats the crow, Peter’s furious grandpa shows up just in time to help catch the wolf and take it into town. When the caged wolf gets taunted and abused by the same bullies who chastise Peter, the boy shows compassion for the wolf by setting it free.

Fast Forward Film Festival

Fast Forward Film Festival

The Fast Forward Film Festival (FFFF) invites New York Film Academy filmmakers from the Rochester, New York area to submit to the inaugural Fast Forward Film Festival. For this first year, the Fast Forward Film Festival is only accepting submissions from filmmakers in the greater Rochester area with short films under 5 minutes. If you are from the area, this is a terrific opportunity to expose your student shorts to your local community.

Entries must be submitted through the Fast Forward Film Festival website by 11:59PM EST on February 27, 2015.

Final selections will be announced by early April, 2015. All submissions will be considered for each of the categories, and the 3 winning film selections will be screened at the festival.

“Embracing the short film format, FFFF challenges filmmakers to utilize the power of visual storytelling to convey the urgency of our environmental problems. Shorts are a liberating form that allow for greater experimentation and give voice to both aspiring and veteran filmmakers. By focusing creativity into films under five minutes in length, FFFF films will become an important communication tool to inspire change, connect people and build an environmentally concerned community.”

Judging the short films will be a jury composed of the following four distinguished professionals:

  • Jack Garner, nationally renowned film critic and author of From My Seat on the Aisle: Movies and Memories
  • Deborah Dickson, Academy Award nominee
  • Todd McGrain, independent filmmaker and The Lost Bird Project co-founder and winner of the 2014 Audubon Award for Art Inspiring Conservation
  • Enid Cardinal, RIT’s Senior Sustainability Advisor to the President. Selected entries will be shown at the Little Theatre and George Eastman House during Earth Week 2015.

The festival will award filmmakers for the following three categories:

  1. Most inspiring, compelling, and engaging
  2. Most unique perspective
  3. Strongest call to action.

Winners will receive $1,000 cash awards. Awards of $250 will also be given to Honorable Mentions in each of these three categories.

Be Bold, Be You: An Interview With Franck Onouviet

Documentary filmmaker Franck Onouviet

Franck Onouviety pictured on the right.

NYFA: Could you tell us about your background and what drew you to documentary filmmaking?

Franck Onouviet: First I would like to thank you for the opportunity to be part of this Q&A. My background is in graphic design & fine arts. After completing a master degree in Paris and working in advertising I had to go back home (Gabon) due to visa issues. There I was working as a freelance graphic designer. Meanwhile web design was growing and I was getting a lot of specific demand to do some web design I wasn’t really interested in and therefore I was declining all of them. Then came a point where I felt like I had to trade this non skill for another one.

It was quite interesting because our thesis project was done with a photographer from Louis Vuitton (Jean Lariviere). He came to the school to do an animated project as part of a future exhibit about traveling into space at the LV showroom in Paris. Since we were part of the visual communication curriculum, our tasks ranged from designing a DVD box set and visuals such as a poster to doing a behind-the-scenes of the entire project.

Since I was the movie freak of the class, they designated me to do the making-of video. I had no idea of what I was supposed to do. The entire weekend was spent watching something like 10 making-of movies I liked and trying to mimic them. So it went from shooting the people doing the whole animation character design to the meetings about art direction and challenges.

Now thinking about it I probably would do it differently. But hey, we all start somewhere. Long story short, it was my first experience and while I was in Gabon since I wasn’t about to get into the next big thing which was web design, I had to choose something, so I gave a shot to filmmaking. My cousin just completed the screenwriting program at NYFA and as I was too scared of writing I traded screenwriting for documentary filmmaking, which was the first year of the program. And it all started that summer.

NYFA: You define yourself as Afropean. Could you explain what this means and how has this self-identification has shaped your work? How do you see French and African culture influencing your work?

FO: I run my mouth too much sometimes (fake smile ahahah). Well, I was born, raised and lived in Libreville (Gabon). Then I headed to Paris to do a masters in Visual Communication and Fine Arts. Then it was New York. Meanwhile I was fortunate enough to go to many countries in Europe for work. I had the opportunity to really understand cultures and build a keen sense to adapt to a wide array of cultures. It started with France; as a necessity I had no choice, I was there to study and not for the fun part. So since you are put in a box most of the times regardless of how you think of yourself, let’s just say I wasn’t feeling like any boxes were fitting the description. And as I saw it as a strength I made it clear for people to understand in one word that there was more to me than the place we would meet. Hope it makes sense. It influenced my work a great deal, probably not on a conscious level all the time, but it allowed me to never accept one way of doing things but mainly searching for the right way for the project. I hope it doesn’t sound cliché, but for instance depending if I was working in Europe, Africa, or the US I would tap in, I guess without really thinking about it, to a different culture than where I was, just to allow the project to be treated with a different flavor, when needed of course.

I wouldn’t say French but European culture and it gave me the will to find an African voice that is up to the level of established European filmmakers I guess. I’m not there and it’s a constant work in progress. As for the African culture, well it is just who i am and at the same time I’m fighting to make sure people see and feel Africa as a continent and not a country.

NYFA: Your short film The Rhythm of My Life looks at the hip-hop industry in your home country of Gabon. For me, as a rabid music fan, I had no idea Gabon had such a vibrant hip-hop scene. Where did the idea for the film come from and what was your objective in putting the film together?

FO: Hope you will still enjoy the short after the truth behind it… Well, my cousin and fellow director Marco A. Tchicot, called me one day telling me about a recording artist being in town and meeting with local beatmakers. The idea was to make some kind of 5 minute promo to help them raise awareness about their music project. So since I was the one who did documentary at NYFA he felt I could help on the project. Well when I arrived we talked about the promo video to shoot, then we listened to the work they have been doing all along. And from that moment I looked at Marco and told him: “Forget about it man, we doing a documentary.” Since we were not here when they actually met, we agreed based on how they met and other events to use some fictional parts in the doc to open it and close it. It was kind of a metaphor about how they could have met in Gabon.

As for the objective let’s just say we were focusing on the music and how people from different backgrounds can relate and connect through music.

NYFA: How did your time in the documentary program at NYFA shape your approach to filmmaking and what lessons from the program do you find yourself still applying to your current work?

FO: Well this one will be shorter yet relevant; it just made me and shaped my approach by allowing us to be us. With my background in graphic design I always wanted my work to have a certain visual esthetic, and it was clear from the get go I would do anything to make it that way. And Andrea [Swift] supported me in this direction and help me build on that. So up to today I’m trying to apply a strong work ethic on story I go after and give them the visual they need. My approach is organic in a way and I need to trust my guts to craft. It’s not yet ideal but it’s a lifetime commitment.

NYFA: Your creative output also includes rather striking portrait photographs. What is your philosophical and technical approaches to photography and how does it differ from your documentary film work?

FO: Is it the part where the myth goes away…? Okay so I’m not sure which [aspect of my] photography we are talking about. So depending on it I would say this, some of it is solely me, and others are a collaboration with a friend and photographer Cheick Touré.

Photography is like a blink, I don’t really like a long set up, unless I have a very strong concept and usually I share it with my friend (Cheick T) but it’s like taking as little as much time to snap it, searching for the right amount of time needed to capture what my eyes caught in a glimpse, and sometimes I can’t even snap anything, here comes the weird part. It’s like out of the whole eye line and vision I see or envision something interesting, but I have to move around the light to catch something I think my eyes saw. The only difference I see is that it takes less time so I take advantage of it. I don’t really like to spend hours behind a computer…it takes me away from the outside. And shooting a doc keeps me out there for longer but out there…ahaha.

NYFA: You go by the pseudonym of “ofa” as well? What meaning does this word have for you and your work?

FO: I guess at that time it was like I needed an alias as I was in graphic design and it was a cool thing. While I was mimicking, it had to be me. So ofa is just me (my initials, I’ll let you guess what the ‘a’ stands for ahahaha). Overall it keeps me grounded and reminds me where I started my creative journey.

NYFA: Music seems to play a central part in your documentary work. What is it about music that draws you to incorporate it—either as the soundtrack or as your subject matter—in your films?

FO: It’s very simple, our parents made sure we all learned music in the family and at that time my brother and sisters were all playing piano, it was kind of mandatory. I have to admit I couldn’t care less about music. I wanted to do sports and martial arts…period. Since there was no way to escape it I made my case about having at least the opportunity to choose the instrument i will learn…it was also a getaway as I was sure there was no saxophone teacher at the conservatory.WROOONG there was one guy. And this is how I ended up doing 6 years of saxophone and 2 [years] of piano. And I guess it never left me, I can’t edit until I find the right track or it will be a lot harder for me to come up with something I’m sure works, and also I always find my start and end point, I struggle a lot with the middle part of my edit. But everything is driven by music, sounds, even images are flowing like music to me. I actually regret I stopped practicing and learning music.

NYFA: Do you have any advice for aspiring documentary filmmakers and artists looking to make a living off their art? Do you think this is even a possibility for the vast majority of visual artists?

FO: I couldn’t speak for the vast majority, depending on where you live and what it is that you do as a filmmaker, but yes it is possible. It requires 2 things among a lot others. You have to do something you love and be focused on it. As there is no one certain way to make it in this industry you have to be open and get out your comfort zone. Know the rules then practice your own voice…your way is the best way to make it.

NYFA: What current projects are you working on and are there any particular themes you find yourself particularly drawn to at the moment?

FOI’m working with other filmmakers from Gabon to organize independent filmmakers, so we can start building strong and valid relationships with filmmakers from around the globe. The goal is to build up workshops and masterclasses to train people in all of the filmmaking departments.

Developing different projects both documentary and fiction. It takes a long time as writing isn’t my medium of expression by heart. And choosing to become better at something I pick cinematography over writing anytime…ahahah.

Themes wise I don’t know: human, consciousness, relationships, taboo, forgiveness….

NYFA: Any parting words of advice you have for NYFA students and aspiring documentary filmmakers?

FO: It might not happen when you decide it but it will eventually, be patient, be you, be bold. And by all means feed the kid you were he is the only reason we are creative folks. And no need to run after industry top dogs, they already coming doing masterclasses at NYFA, so focus on your craft to be up to their level when they show up.