How You Can Create a Short Film

It might seem like an easy transition for a photographer to become a filmmaker. At the heart of each of these disciplines is storytelling. A photographer tells a story in a single moment captured at the defining moment, while a filmmaker tells a story over a period of time, often incorporating elements such as editing and sound to help tell that story.

Many photographers are intimidated by the prospect of filmmaking, and some avoid it altogether. While I encourage photographers to explore both filmmaking and videography, I don’t think photography skills transfer easily to videography or filmmaking. I’ve seen photographers who are good at photographic composition seemingly ignore the basic rules of composition when shooting video. Photographers considering becoming filmmakers should shoot as many videos as possible. Filming videos of your family is an easy way to practice filmmaking, and the videos you create will be enjoyed by your family for years to come. Photographers should also consider taking an online course that can provide basic information on framing, sound, composition, and editing.

In this article, I’ll detail a process you can use to generate a story idea for a short film. To help us create this project, we will incorporate information from a presentation by Jeff Greenberg called “15-Second Film Workshop”. This seminar was organized by The Creativity Conference, which recently hosted a free online event featuring 80 speakers who spoke on a variety of topics including Robert Sweeney’s “Creativity From Intention to Product”, “Nothing is Impossible ” by Adam Howard and “Finding That Creative Spark…Again” by Nick Harauz. It was the second conference on creativity. The first took place in New York earlier this year and was covered by Fstoppers.

In his presentation, Jeff advises to keep your first project simple and suggests that you create a 60 second movie. Focus on the process rather than the end product. Showing up to create is more important than what you create when you show up. You don’t have to share the final film if you don’t like it. Often we set ourselves unreasonable expectations. If you’re a good photographer, you might expect to be a great filmmaker as well. In time, you may become. But for this first film, let’s remove the burden of perfection from the filmmaking process. Creativity should be synonymous with liberation. Free yourself from expectations and focus on the journey itself.

If you were in film school and it was an assigned project, it would be graded and maybe even shown alongside your peers’ films. If you were in a class of 20 students, there is a statistical probability that your film would not be among the best in the class. From an artistic point of view, anyone can get lucky and create something memorable on their first outing, so even if you were more talented than your classmates, it’s very possible that one or several of them make a more compelling film than you. So Jeff suggests that you reject the idea of ​​making a big movie. Creation, not completion, is our goal here.

Short videos are popular on Instagram in the form of Reels. Some photographers may be put off by this platform, as many popular entries on this platform are centered around the creator themselves. The reels are often humorous to the point of being awkward. Many reels feature the creator dancing or acting comically. It may not be a comfortable space for a photographer who has chosen this profession precisely because she does not like being in the spotlight. Photographers are comfortable using their technical skills to help others be the center of attention.

Feel free to take your 60 second movie in any direction that takes your fancy, but the advice here will assume that a Reels-like video doesn’t appeal to you. What story can you tell that could hold a viewer’s attention for 60 seconds? One approach would be to start with a photograph and build a story from there.

Consider this photograph of two women smoking cannabis. How many questions can you ask about the scene depicted in the photograph? Here are a few that come to mind.

  • How do women know each other?
  • Are they in a relationship?
  • Why does one woman hold the joint for the other? Have they smoked together in the past?
  • Is it possible that one woman regularly uses cannabis and the other does not?
  • Where did they get the cannabis?
  • How will the rest of their day be affected by the effects of cannabis?

Imagine sitting down with a friend and finding two or three different answers to each of these questions. In this phase of the creative process, there will be no judgement. Let your mind wander. One question asked was: what is the relationship between these women? Here are three possible answers. They are strangers who met only a few minutes ago. They are longtime lovers. They are elementary school friends who haven’t seen each other in 10 years.

As you start writing these different answers, a story will probably jump out at you. I did this activity while writing the paragraphs above, and this is the story that came to mind. The girl on the left is a lifelong cannabis user. She’s going on a date with the girl on the right. Before they leave the house, the mother of the girl on the right says to the girl on the left: “you make sure that she does not touch any drugs”. The girl on the left smiles and says, “Okay, I will.” Cut to the girls smoking in the park. The girl on the left looks at the camera and says, “Cannabis is not a drug. It’s a plant. And then the girl on the right says, “And besides, I’ve never touched it.” End of the movie.

This story took shape instantly when I answered the questions in the exercise. If you were to make this film or something similar, what would you gain? Remember that we focus on the craftsmanship, not the result. You would practice booking talent and negotiating for them to work on this project for free. You would experience filming two characters having believable dialogue. Maybe you’ll learn more about the 180 degree rule to make sure the back and forth in conversation doesn’t confuse your audience. You could explore sound recording options with outboard gear, or maybe you’d just work with the talent to find a quiet place to shoot so that the camera mic of any phone or device photo you used is adequate for this short film. You should think about lighting when shooting indoor and outdoor scenes. It occurs to me at this point that instead of having the characters say their last lines directly in front of the camera, you could have them speak the same lines to each other and the movie could end with them laughing afterwards have done it. There are many directions you could take this simple concept and many skills you would work on in the process of creating this short.

In the video, Jeff discusses his process of creating a short film and details concepts such as: show, don’t tell, setup/tension/solve, and the best stories are your stories. It also describes the process of using Adobe Rush to assemble clips into a final project. Watch the video for more information on creating your first short film.

Dozens of Creativity Conference sessions can be viewed for free by creating a free account here.

Leave a Comment