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The short filmmaker’s guide to short filmmaking

The short filmmaker’s guide to short filmmaking (photo)

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They may not get a lot of press, but short films and short filmmakers are the lifeblood of film festivals. They are the place to discover great new filmmakers. Before Steven Spielberg blew up with “Jaws,” he was a 22-year-old kid with a short called “Amblin.” Before Martin Scorsese reinvented the gangster genre with “Mean Streets,” he was a film student with a six minute movie called “The Big Shave.” Before they were famous filmmakers, they were short filmmakers.

Short films are a great way to get your foot in the door of Hollywood, but if you’ve never made a short before, it may be tough to know how to even open that door in the first place. With that in mind, we recruited the team behind the Fantastic Fest short “No Way Out” — actor A.J. Bowen (a.k.a. one of the stars of the multiple Fantastic Fest award winning feature “You’re Next”), writer/producer Eric Vespe (a.k.a. Quint from Aint it Cool News), and director Kristoffer Aaron Morgan (a.k.a. the director of the upcoming feature “The Home”) — to give us five tips for aspiring short filmmakers. Here’s some great practical advice from a couple guys who know what they’re talking about.

TIP #1: Be prepared.
Kristoffer Aaron Morgan, Co-writer/Director: “Storyboard. Have backup plans to your backup plans. Having a solid prep and battle plan will let you sleep well the night before your first day shooting, and give you the confidence you need to do your job. Direct the storyboards while you’re fully rested, so the sleep deprived bastard on set at 3:00 AM can ask your former self for help when he needs it.”

Eric Vespe, Co-Writer/Executive Producer: “There’s a term in poker: set yourself up in the best position possible. There’s always going to be problems when you’re shooting. It took two hours on the first day for A.J. to get into his appliance. If you’re prepared and you know what you need, you’ll be able to handle it.”

A.J. Bowen, Star: “I live in a movie world largely of improv. That can’t exist if you’re not prepared and don’t already know exactly what you’re trying to say. These guys showed me artwork, they showed me video. We spoke beforehand about everything we were going to do. That let me go in and be free to find happy accidents that occur on the set.”

TIP #2: Focus on performance.
KAM: “At the end of the day, the greatest resource you’ll have to make your short successful is a motivated and talented cast. While important, don’t let technical craft and aesthetics distract you from the most important thing you should be worried about: is your actor telling the story the best way he can? Are you giving him the resources he needs to do so? That’s your job. Let your crew worry about the other things, that’s why you recruited people smarter than you in those positions to begin with.”

AJB: “We shot on a soundstage, which is atypical for shorts. It was a rich environment. I didn’t have to work hard to imagine anyting because they created this amazing playground for me. My job was just to hit that light and then that light.”

TIP #3: Make sure you have a dedicated support system of producers to help you with logistics.
KAM: “This way you can focus fully on the creative. My suggestion is to have, at the very least, one producer that helps you manage the technical/creative aspects of filmmaking, and one to oversee general resource and logistical management. Make sure you get along with them very well, they’re going to be your emotional and logistical foundation during the entire process. You have to trust your producers, otherwise you’ll be up all night with a worry-ape slugging away at your chest.”

EV: “You know that saying that no one will care more about your movie than you will? We didn’t find that. These people were sweating their butts off for three days like it was their own project. It was as if it was their project.

AJB: “That’s the thing; it was their project. Everyone just wants to get behind something that they believe in.”

TIP #4: Be an actual short.
KAM: “Know what you’re trying to say, and say it in as concise of a manner as you can. My rule, keep it under fifteen minutes. Ten is better.”

AJB: “A short should be, in my mind, under ten minutes and you’ve got to tell a beginning, middle, and end of a story. I don’t see the point in making a short film that’s supposed to tell part of a different story unless it’s episodic. Shorts fail when they treat the medium as a lesser version of a feature. I don’t want to see the first act of a feature film as a 30 minute short. Just get your shit together and make the feature.”

TIP #5: Don’t be intimidated and too shy to ask for help from professionals.
KAM: “Even the biggest names want to practice their craft in their off hours, that’s what makes them the best. Also, be humble when asking for favors, but bold when pushing for people’s best work.”

AJB: “I was getting ready to go shoot a movie and Eric called me and was being way too kind, acting like I had the ability to turn anything down. He asked if I’d read the script and I said of course I would. Any chance to work with people whose opinions you respect who you think are talented, it should go without saying: that’s why you do this.”

KAM: “People think we legitimately spent $30,000 on this thing and we didn’t. What we spent was a lot of hard work and passion and favors from some very, very talented people here in Austin.”

What’s the best short film you’ve ever seen? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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