Saturday, October 20, 2012

What I Learned On My First Short Film

I’ve been shooting as much of everything as I can. It’s one thing to shoot your tree being removed, some birds at the park or the dogs playing in the yard, it’s a completely new experience to write, direct, shoot and edit your own short film. Though I learned a lot from the 24 hour film challenge I entered last year, I’m not considering that my first short film. Happy Birthday, You’re a Zombie is my first short and it is very short; just over one and a half minutes long. 

The most important thing I learned shooting this short is that I have a lot more to learn. A lot more! Though I’m well versed at screenwriting, I’m as green as they come behind the camera and as a director.

My friends and family are priceless! When they committed to help then showed up on time and ready to go, it was the greatest feeling in the world. It gave me confidence and it let me know that these truly were people who wanted to be there. They wanted to help, to be a part of what I was trying to do. It inspired me to do my very best. 

My wife is a Saint. She filled so many roles on set that I should have credited her as not only the zombie, but wardrobe, makeup, props master, candle wrangler and a heck of a lot more. I could not have completed this film without her.

Lighting is the bane of a filmmaker’s existence. Therefore, lighting is now the bane of my existence. I’ve been a photographer for thirty years but learned that shooting stills is far easier than shooting film with existing light. I shoot in one direction using settings gleaned from the available light and the shot looks great. Turn the camera around to shoot in the opposite direction and the shot looks like hell. You are constantly checking to ensure consistency in your lighting and it is a hell of a chase.

You can never have enough lighting. I MacGyvered a light that I never used, but I was so happy that it was there just in case I needed it. I had four lights available and I would have been comfortable, and happy, with even more.
Timing is everything. In a time when digital means you’ll never waste film, there should never be a shot not covered. I still kick myself for not getting more (and better) coverage of the amazing zombie makeup by Karen Dance. I may never have used it in the film, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t use it in a reel or that she may have wanted some footage to use on her reel. There were a few instances during edits that I wanted to reassemble the team and shoot just a few more angles, a bit more footage. Something I hope to avoid on future shoots.

My creativity has to extend beyond the idea, script and shooting to problem solving. The aforementioned lights were one such dilemma. I had no budget for lights and used a 500W halogen worklight indoors with a reflector to help extend and/or diffuse it. The Dollar Store is a lifesaver. Home Depot should be renamed Problem Solving Depot. I created my own dolly using two eight foot long channels laid on the ground side-by-side and used string to pull a $17 Walmart skateboard across them, the wheels of which I swapped out for Rollerblade wheels. I was forced to think on my feet and come up with affordable solutions to what seemed like problems only lots of money could solve.

My parents often said, “You’ll never get the jail for asking.” They were right. Sometimes it’s hard to pluck up the courage and ask your friends, loved ones and even strangers to help you with your film projects. I took my parents’ advice and asked a lot of people for help because truly, the worst thing they could say was no. No one gets hurt. No one goes to jail. And, I’d never hold a grudge against anyone for saying no. But, now I’d beat myself up if I didn’t ask. And, one more time to all the people who helped me on my film, a great, big thank you!

I’m sure more lessons will penetrate my brain as the weeks go by. And, I look forward to it, both the learning and the filmmaking.

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