The 5 stages of producing your short film

The process for producing a short film doesn’t need to be complicated or anxiety-inducing. 

Here it’s broken down into the 5 essential phases to get you from script to screen the fast way. 

You can also grab the producer’s checklist for first draft to distribution.

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Every producer has their own style and way to make films, but these are the 5 vital steps to producing successful films.

Phase 1: Development 

A strong story is the backbone of your film. Which is why it pays to spend as much time as possible in development. 

In fact, the biggest error for creatives producing feature films is to not plan and budget long enough for development. 

So spend as long as possible developing your story and perfecting the script. 

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The first step to developing a film is to outline the idea. Break it into 3 acts, and create a beat sheet. 

I use Blake Snyder’s template and rework the structure slightly for short films. 

This outline will serve as the framework for the film. Having a concrete framework will allow you to rework the script as much as you like, whilst staying true to your original idea. 

Read more: The simple script structure that takes your story from idea to award-winning film

Once you’ve got a complete outline, you can start writing your script (or hand it over to another writer). 

You need to be able to afford to spend a lot of time here. There’ll be a lot of back and forth and rewrites, so it’s important not to rush it or set high expectations. Outlining an idea can be done quickly, but writing is where the true craft happens. Give it time. 

Phase 2: Funding and crew

If you aren’t writing your own script, you can be going through this phase whilst the script is still being written. 

This phase is all about getting the puzzle pieces in place so you can start pre-production. 

(Alliteration is the food of filmmaking… just kidding)

Read more: Defining your filmmaking career path

The two main puzzle pieces are funding and key creative crew members. 

Getting another producer attached to your project will help you secure funding and develop a potentially profitable distribution plan.

(If you don’t need another producer on board, you can skip straight down to funding) 

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Start by researching films similar to yours, and reaching out to the producers on those projects.  Find out if they’re taking on new projects and give them the quick version of your pitch. 

If you attach a second producer, it’s usually their responsibility to help source funding. But if you’re the lead producer, or a creative diy-er, it’s up to you to secure the entire budget. 

The quick guide to funding your film:

  1. Confirm your schedule – you need to know how long you’re going to be shooting for and how long you need your cast + crew.
  2. Create your budget – you need to know how much it’ll take to make your film.
  3. Decide where your funding is going to come from – crowdfunding, private investors or an institution like BFI. 
  4. Prepare your pitch deck and start inquiring with your funding route – either create your crowdfunding page, or start reaching out to investors/companies.
  5. Pitch + publicise – creating excitement for the film online will make securing funding faster and easier. Investors want proof that the film is worth backing, and interest in the film is the best way to prove that. 
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The next part of the process to attach creatives and crew to your film. Depending on what gaps you have, you’ll need to attach a director, DOP and lead actor. 

Funding bodies and investors will often want to know who’s directing and who your lead actor will be, but waiting until you’ve started to secure funding is a great way not to get caught out.

Funding might be dependent on a  specific director or actor, so waiting to confirm these roles means you won’t be stuck in a tricky situation later on. 

But once your director, key cast and funding is in place, it’s time to get started on pre-production.

Phase 3: Pre-production

The three biggest gaps productions usually have at this stage are remaining cast, remaining crew and locations. 

Start by attaching crew and arranging auditions to get casting underway. 

This process will depend on the size of your production – how large is your cast and how large does your crew need to be? 

Pro tip: remember that a few people are likely to drop out or be unable to make the shoot. Always have back up ideas and options so you’re not totally stranded. 

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Start looking for locations, or get a location scout/manager in place. If you just want someone to search for locations on your behalf, a location scout is all you need. But if you have a fairly large shoot or multiple locations, you might be better off with a location manager in place. 

Once you’ve got your desired locations, you need to confirm your start dates and get all the paperwork in order.

Make sure you have signed contracts from all your crew members, even if it’s only a one day shoot. You never know when you’ll need to rely on the paperwork.

Read more: 5 steps to getting your short film off the ground

Work with your 1st AD to confirm the schedule, and make sure you have release forms for every cast member and the location owner. 

When you’re producing a film, one of the purposes of pre-production is to make your life as easy as possible during the shoot. 

Producer’s Paperwork:

  • Cast release forms
  • Location owner release forms
  • Schedule
  • Call sheet(s)
  • Risk assessments 
  • Scene breakdowns 
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It’s definitely a lot of paperwork, and if this is the first short film you’re producing it’s going to seem a bit ridiculous. But it’s essential to the smooth running of your shoot as a producer, it’s a part of your job. 

Phase 4: Shoot and edit

With the paperwork complete, funding in place and a shoot ready to go, this is where the producer can afford to relax a little.

During a feature film shoot, a producer has to stay on top of expenses, problems and delays. 

Read more: Here’s what to actually wear on a film set

But producing a short film is much easier during the shoot, because there are fewer expenses, problems and delays likely to happen. 

Of course these things can be unavoidable at times, so don’t leave your brain at home. But if you’re fully prepared, the shoot will run smoothly and efficiently. 

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As the producer, it’s vital to make sure everyone is happy.  Preempt any problems and work closely with the 1st AD to ensure the shoot runs on time. 

If it’s a small shoot, the producer will often jump between roles and departments to keep things moving. They might be helping to prep the location, arranging coffees and lunches, or acting as script supervisor. They do whatever is needed at the time. 

During the edit the producer tends to be pretty hands-off, but depending on your editor and director, you might need to arrange post-production.

Phase 5: Release and distribute

If you don’t need to be hands-on during the edit, you can start work on  the release and distribution plan.

It’s said that a producer never stops working on a film, which is definitely true when it comes to distribution. There are screenings, festivals and deals that can continue for a long time after you wrap. 

Just as with the shoot, it’s important to develop a smooth and efficient plan for getting your film seen.

Pro tip: you can start developing this plan during phase 1, and then all you have to do is execute it. This is also useful if you’re going to submit to festivals, because you can include submission fees in your budget. 

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If you’re choosing a festival release, add the earlybird deadlines to your calendar.  If you’re choosing an online release, set a date that works best for your team and your audience, and add that to your calendar. 

Read more: How to Know Which Distribution Route is Right for your Short Film

Start creating the publicity materials for the release and add them to your calendar. Half the job of producing a short film is getting the film seen by as many people as possible, so publicity is a huge part of your job.

Setting deadlines for releasing publicity materials is a crucial – and often missed – step. Creating a plan for publicity is the key element to getting your audience excited to see the film. This is the game-changing step for getting accepted into festivals and blowing up your online release. 

Planning it in advance also means you can schedule social media posts, leaving you free to execute your distribution plan and start work on your next project. 

These are the 5 essential phases for producing a short film, and getting from script to screen (then get eyes on the screen). What are you currently working on?

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