As I read “How Not to Make a Short Film” I felt more and more cheated, not by the book but by my film school. Why hadn’t my instructors taught me this stuff? This is a book every film student, every filmmaker must read before writing, producing, or directing a short film. It’s a must-have resource that guides one through filmmaking’s precarious decisions and shows how to avoid the many errors in judgment that mark mediocre films. Written by Roberta Marie Monroe, an award-winning filmmaker, and former Sundance Film Festival short film programmer, Roberta brings to the table a wealth of knowledge about every phase, from conception to production to distribution.
For filmmakers, film festivals are the major outlets
They have become the judge, jury, and sometimes the executioner when it comes to evaluating the worth of a short film. By knowing what not to do you can greatly increase one’s chances of having your work being seen and appreciated. In this respect, the book walks you through the minefield of mistakes that aspiring filmmakers and seasoned pros make, so that you don’t have to make them yourself. In addition, the book features interviews with many of today’s most talented writers, producers, and directors, as well as provocative stories from Roberta’s own short film experiences.
The book is laid out in a most pragmatic fashion and follows the steps one would normally take in producing a short film. The first chapter on the script story talks about keeping it fresh and lists a multitude of storylines to avoid, storylines that have become mundane through overuse. When programmers say, “Been there, seen it,” you lose them as well as your audience. This chapter I found most fascinating as it allows us inside the programmer’s mind and the primary selection criteria, namely what’s the story and why should I watch it? This chapter also covers the script evaluation such as hiring a consultant and the pros and cons of getting feedback from friends.
Another chapter discusses film length and how it should match the story. DP Geary McLeod comments, “Every single frame has to work, it has to move the story forward. ‘Economical’ is what short filmmakers need to remind themselves. The book goes on to point out that it’s also easier to find a slot for. An 8-12-minute film versus a 28-minute opus.
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Meredith Kadlec adds, “Don’t fall into the trap of trying to prove how MUCH you can do, rather [show] how WELL you can do it.”
“How Not to… ” covers a wide array of filmmaking considerations
Knowing their duties, to budgeting, plus ways to save money and raise funds. The chapter on Crewing Up is most relevant to first-time filmmakers. It talks about the synergy of a film crew and how to guide. Their efforts and deal with the ever-changing dynamics. This chapter describes the key positions. People you need to consult before you shoot along with topics that need to be addressed. The chapter reiterates the need for harmonious collaboration and the fact that you cannot do it all by yourself.
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All these considerations may seem daunting at first but if they are not addressing, your film suffers as a result. After reading this book, I was overwhelm by the multitude of responsibilities. But then I remembered Roberta’s mantra that. You need to have good people around you and this book provides direction on how to select your support team.
Casting is another area where the author suggests seeking assistance.
She goes through the process of finding and hiring a casting director along with the reasons for doing so. One would assume that casting directors would avoid short films but many look. On it as a way to provide work and exposure for their clients, especially those that have breakout potential. Advice on auditions, rehearsals and creating a safe space for your actors in also offered in this chapter. Actor Chase Gilbertson talks about how neophyte directors sometimes drift off track. “Obviously if I’m doing your film, the story was good enough in the first place. But now instead of simply telling a good story. You’re trying to make a Hollywood blockbuster. Yeah, you’ve got a lot of cool toys but ultimately what is the end result? What happened to the story?”