A Simple 10-Step Guide to Making your Short Film

Whatever your skill level, we want to hear from you. This brief guide will show you the basics of film-making in 10 steps so you can turn your idea into a short film.

The story is at the heart of this competition. If you have an idea of a story you’d like to tell, then you have all the credentials needed to become our competition winner.

Before you start, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with our terms and conditions to make sure you can meet all the criteria. You can read them here.

Step 1: Brainstorming

Think about the purpose of your story.

Is there a single issue that is unsettling your life and that you want to tell the world about?Perhaps you’re affected by crippling university fees, or poor housing; you may have had your EMA cut, or lost your job. You might be under-employed with shift work that is insecure with no benefits such as holiday or sick pay. You might be approaching thirty years old with no prospect of owning a home of your own; this might be stopping you having a family, or leaving you feeling insecure and lacking the confidence to have an intimate relationship.

Make a spider graph and think of key words, events and images linked to the issue. How do they connect and relate to each other? You might want to look in magazines and newspapers, or search the internet for related articles. Try Googling key words such as ‘Top-up Fees’, ‘Rent Trap’, ‘EMA Cuts’, or ‘Housing Benefit Cap’ and see what comes up.

Step 2: Planning

Now you have a rough idea of the theme of your story, take some time to explore how you want to say it.

Do you want to make a documentary? Or do you want to make a drama? Do you want to use animation?

Who else needs to be in your film? Do you need other participants and how old are they? If they are under 16 years old, then you will need to have permission from their adult parent or guardian to allow them to take part in your film.

What is your budget and schedule? Do you have equipment? Time? People’s time? Places? Will you need permissions for non-public locations?

You probably won‘t able to answer all of these questions now. Grab a friend, relative or teacher and share your ideas with them. Keep talking and things will evolve. Buy a notebook and note your ideas as they pop in your head or you’ll lose them.

Step 3: The Story

Now you can begin to piece together your story.

You will need to form a script. You might want a tight script where actors speak word-for-word or you may wish to have the characters improvise, giving them a stimulus.

If you are making a documentary, now is the time to research the people you want to interview and come up with appropriate questions to ask. If you are interviewing a young person, you may wish to ask them how they feel about their job or education prospects. If you interview a council official, you may wish to ask about the facts on why the education and jobs policies are failing young people and give you exact figures of unemployment.

Step 4: People

Who are the characters in your story? Take some time to make a family tree of your characters and think about how they link together. Think about their backgrounds. Try and make them as real as possible: What will they wear, eat and drink? What is their family like? Why are they in the film and what are they saying to the audience? You may have some key words or phrases they will say.

If you are making a documentary, identify people to talk to. For example, if your issue is about the scrapping of Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) then you may wish to speak to teachers, your head teacher, your local councillor or MP. The more senior the figure, the more time you need to book in an interview slot. Remember, if you are not using your own film equipment, then it is a good idea to book your filming dates close together. Give yourself plenty of time to film each interview. You may find your interview lasts an hour but you only use 40 seconds in the final cut. If you are interviewing pupils or people under 16 years old then make sure you get written consent from their parent or guardian.

See the sample release form below:

A Sample Release Form

Name (of contributor) ___________________________ in (name of film) ______________________________

at _________________________________ (recording location) on ___ ___ / ___ ___ / 2013

I understand that this film is to be submitted to the Guardian newspaper landing page to be entered in the film competition entitled ‘Young, Gifted and Broke?’ run by the Intergenerational Foundation, a charitable organisation working for the intergenerational fairness for younger and future generations.

I hereby give my permission to be filmed in the said film without further consideration or compensation to the use (full or in part) of all footage taken of me and/or recordings made of my voice and/or written extraction, in whole or in part, of such recordings for the purposes of illustration, broadcast, or distribution in any manner. I have read and understand the terms and conditions and hereby give my consent.

Signed _____________________________________ Age (at time of filming) _______________________

If you are under 16 (sixteen) years old at time of filming, please ensure this release form is also signed by a parent or guardian, with their permission of your involvement.

I, the legal guardian, (print name) __________________________________ give permission for (name),

___________________________________________________ to take part in the said film above.

Signed: _________________________________ Date ___ ___ / ___ ___ / 2013

Step 5: Framing

The way that you shoot the film is an important part of getting the film right. Now is the time to experiment with basic camera angles.

film shot typesPictured are the main shot sizes, camera angles and movements

If you have never filmed before, take some time to practise these shots before making your film and see how they can relate to what you want to say. If you are interviewing you might wish to do some extreme close ups of hands or the facial expressions but remember to do these after the interview or have a second camera remaining the whole time on the interviewee’s face.

Step 6: Storyboards

Now you have an outline of a script, and an understanding of the various camera angles and shots you can use, you should begin to merge these to break your story into scenes to make a storyboard. A storyboard looks like a comic book, with pictures of scenes and a description of what is happening in the picture and/or some dialogue.

A good storyboard will piece together the beginning, middle, and end and help you to think of how to visualise each scene using which camera angles and shot sizes.

Click here to find out more on Storyboards.

Step 7: Scheduling

This is probably the trickiest part of film-making.

Now you have your storyboard, you may find some of your scenes happen at different times in the story but in the same location. This means when you make a schedule of filming your scenes, that you do all of the different scenes in the same location on the same day. Be careful! You characters may need to be wearing the same clothes for different scenes on different days that in the film are the same day. This is called ‘continuity’.

Scene Location Props / Dress / Equipment Notes Costs
Scene 1 – Rosie in her bedroom crying Bedroom Rosie wears jeans and red top Film day one – need red top 58p packet of cookies, £3.50 sandwich
Scene 2 – Rosie watches news Living room Rosie wears jeans and red top Film day one – need red top, TV.
Scene 3 –Rosie asking for jobs in restaurants High Street Rosie wear jeans and red top Film day three – need two cameras and need red top from day one £10 lunch in cafe
Scene 4 – Rosie annoyed at still being unemployed Home Rosie wear jeans and green top Film day one – needs green and red top

Filming takes longer than you think! Try to film one scene from your storyboard and this will give you an idea of how long it will take to film the entire film.

Step 8: And ACTION!

Now comes the fun part: filming.

Try and film the same scenes from different angles so that when you edit, the audience will have different things to look at. If you only use one camera, film the same scene several times from different angles. Be prepared to have hours of footage for what will be your final 3-minute film. Allow for around two hours of filming per scene or per 30 seconds you will use – this is based on when our youth worker makes movies with youth groups.

Time coding is also really crucial for when you begin to edit your film. You need to have a pen and paper ready to record the various takes of your scenes and record the time codes next to them (this is the time set on your video camera) so that when you come to edit, you know that, for example 19:13 (19 minutes 13 seconds) was your best take for scene 5.If you are using a phone or digital camera, you may find it best to simply delete the scenes as you go along so you only have the ones you felt worked. But be careful of deleting scenes too early! You may need some other angles and though the whole scene may not be how you wanted it, you could edit two not so perfect scenes to make the perfect final cut.

Scene Take Time Code Notes Editing Notes
Scene 1
Rosie Cries
1 00:00 – 00:23 Rosie giggled instead of criedECU Rosie’s eyes Use 00:10 – 00:14 Good sad eyes for Rosie
Scene 1Rosie Cries 2 00:23 – 00:45 Perfect
Scene 2Rosie watches television, bored 1 00:45 – 02:02 CU on Rosie face,CU Rosie’s hands holding television remote

Step 9: Post-Production

Now comes the most time-consuming part: Editing or post-production.

You now have your script, storyboard, schedule and your time-coded notes on how all your scenes went. Using all your resources, you can begin to piece together your film.

If you are new to editing, then look up a local youth club where they have film editing equipment and a youth worker to help show you how to edit. Your school may also have a film club or a teacher who knows how to edit. If you are really stuck on how to edit, you can call Claire or Melissa at IF and we can help put you in touch with someone who can help. Open Source software is available, or check out Movie Maker with Windows or Apple iMovie. If you have a bigger budget, look at Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere.

Feedback:Once you are happy with your rough cut, review it to people who can give you an honest opinion. Use these comments to polish up your rough cut until you have your final cut, making sure you have all the information you wanted to convey in the film as well as continuity and that the final film is under three minutes long.

Step 10: Submit

So you have your 3-minute film and it is polished and ready to submit. Congratulations!

Before you send it off to the Intergenerational Foundation via the Guardian website, make sure you have all the permissions you need, including any signed release forms that show us the people in your film have agreed to take part and to be entered into a film competition.

Make sure you review our terms and conditions once again to make sure that you have met all the criteria. You can read them here.

Once you are happy, send in your film, pat yourself on the back and relax!

Deadline 5pm, Wednesday 27th March 2013

Good Luck!


Written by Melissa Jane Knight

If you have any questions on the competition, please email claire@if.org.uk