5 steps to getting your short film off the ground

Creating a short film can be a daunting prospect, even if it’s going to be filmed over one weekend with a load of your friends. The to do list quickly becomes never-ending as you think of more and more things that need to happen.

I love producing films, I don’t want to do anything else a lot of the time, but when I first started producing the pressure used to get to me. I had my own never-ending to do list, along with a whole team of people asking me question after question.

It’s the thing I hear most often on calls with people, in their emails, messages and comments.

“I have this idea, I’m just not really sure where to get started with it”

The creative industries can be tough, but I can’t let you not knowing where to get started be the thing that’s stopping you. So today we’re going to break down that never-ending to do list into the 5 things you can get started with immediately. They’ll guide your whole film, and even when it’s crazy, you’ll know what your plan is.

Step One: finish your script

Your script is the backbone of your film. Without it, you don’t really have a film. Your script is going to affect everything (cast, shoot length, locations, costumes…) so finish your script before you move on.

The script will affect your whole team, not just the producer. If you change your location then that’s going to affect your producer, the budget, your location manager, your art director and your film as a whole.

Remember that in short film, you’re often working with friends or people are doing you favours. Changes are sometimes unavoidable, but you have to do your absolute best not to mess people around.

I once found the most beautiful location for a short after weeks of searching. Two days later, the writer/director emailed me to say that we didn’t need that location anymore because that scene was now happening elsewhere. I was crushed (not to mention concerned about the time that now felt totally wasted).

So finish your script. Be happy with it. Give it to friends, family, a script editor, whoever’s around to look over it. Don’t be the one making big last-minute changes. Nothing good ever came out of rushing to get something done because the script got changed two days before the shoot.

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Step Two: define your target audience

It might feel completely strange to be thinking about target audiences before you’ve even confirmed your shoot dates. But this is how producers sell content. By knowing your target audience (and I mean really get to know them) you’ll be able to market your film from day one, giving you a huge boost for when you get to distribution.

Back in 2017 I produced a short thriller with such a strong social media plan we had festivals coming to us. They waived the submission fees just because they wanted us to submit the film to them. We knew our target audience like the back of our hand, so we knew where they hung out online and where we should be marketing to them.

Festivals, buyers, streaming platforms, cinemas – they all want to know that their programme is going to sell tickets. By proving you have an interested, engaged following, you’re guaranteeing interest. So how do you get to that point? It starts with knowing your target audience.

And vice versa, not knowing your target audience will affect the whole process. I was once trying to crowdfund for a film and we literally got less than £100 because the film’s core audience didn’t spend a lot of time on Facebook and Instagram which is where we were marketing the campaign. I felt completely defeated, and I see a lot of filmmakers having the same issue.

Niche your audience right down. Are they male or female? What’s their age? What are their hobbies? What are they interested in? Where do they spend time online? Are they on Instagram or do they prefer Snapchat? Knowing your audience is the first step to knowing how to market to them.

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Step Three: focus on a distribution plan that’s going to work for your film

When you’re holding an idea in your head, all you can think is that you just want to get it made. I always ask creatives, ‘what’s your goal for your project? What are you going to do with it?’ And they always look a little bit flustered and tell me,

“Oh I just need to get it made”

And that’s exactly where they’re going wrong. What if making this film meant launching your career? Or it secured interest in a series version, or a feature-length version? What if it got you the attention you need to stand out in the industry?

Distribution is the key to all of that, which is why producers start planning it from the beginning.

A festival release is a great plan for a short film. But don’t fall into the trap of just sending it to festivals. If a film has the 18-24 female-bias market, it can focus on female filmmaker festivals which will guarantee you more attention and potentially more success. Take your film to the people who are searching for it.

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Knowing your target market links directly to this. By marketing to them, you’re creating engaged interest, which will make you more popular with festivals. You’ll have people messaging you, wanting to know when and where they can see the film. The thriller I told you about spent over a year on the festival circuit before going online and I still get messages from people wanting to watch it.

Step Four: budget like your life depends on it

Your life might not depend on it but your film definitely does. I was chatting to an exec producer on Twitter last week, who told me that a crew came to him once saying that they’d miscalculated their budget and needed an extra chunk of funding or else they wouldn’t be able to make their film. If he hadn’t put up the money, there would have been no film. That short now has 343,000 views on YouTube.

I cannot stress it enough – get your budget right. No matter the size of your production, you need to budget.

Your distribution strategy comes into play here too. I asked a film festival expert what the average short should be looking at spending on festival submissions.

“Any short planning on going to festivals should be keeping at least £600 aside for submission fees”

It’s a lot of money. And it’s a lot of money to try and find after you’re out of post and panicking that you don’t have £600 floating around so can’t submit to the festivals you were planning on. Preparing and budgeting in advance means you have much more time to figure out where you’re getting the money from. And by planning exactly where that money is going, you get to make sure that none of it is wasted.

Step Five: create a social media plan

Marketing your film used to mean shelling out for posters and adverts. Now it means having a good quality image, a unique hashtag and an Instagram account. Instagram, for projects of all sizes, can be the core of your marketing. In order to get noticed, you need to exist everywhere online, but Instagram is the best starting place.

Instagram, like film, works mostly on visuals. The platform also allows you to share your content to Facebook and Twitter. Instagram has over a billion users and it’ll work for almost every target audience too.

Consistency is key for marketing. We are all so easily distracted (I bet you got distracted multiple times while reading this) so you can’t expect people to see one post about your project and be hooked. You need to drip feed your content into their consciousness, so look at posting two project-focused posts per week. Let them know what’s going on in your world.

If you’re doing this right from the start, you’ll be giving yourself a much better chance of your film getting to the people who are searching for it.

Okay, that was a lot of information in one go. To recap:

  1. Finish your script

    Make sure it’s clear and you’re happy with it

  2. Define your target audience

    Niche it right down and find out where they spend time online

  3. Focus on a distribution plan that works for your film

    Again, you can get super specific with this

  4. Budget like your life depends on it

    Go over it all, double check it and get someone else to look it over too

  5. Create a social media plan

    Base it on where your core audience is hanging out and at what time. Be consistent with posting

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