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How NOT to Shoot a $50,000 Short Film – Lessons Learned

So as filmmakers we all want to make the best films we can. Sometimes filmmakers think that a bigger budget is the answer, that bigger is better. This is what I thought when I went down the road and create my short film Red Princess Blues. After going down this road once before with my first short film BROKEN, I thought bigger had to be better. If $8000 was good (budget of BROKEN) then with $50,000 I could blow everyone away.

BROKEN opened a ton of doors for me as a filmmaker. I was contacted by studios, executives, producers, agents, you name it. BROKEN was an ambitious short film, to say the least. You can listen to that story here: How I Made Over $90,000 Selling My Short Film. 

In this episode, I discuss the mistakes I made when I made a $50,000+ short film. Mistakes with

  • Budget
  • Crew Choices
  • Size of Crew and Cast
  • Production Design
  • Distribution Plan
  • ROI (Return on Investment)
  • Who is the end-user (audience I’m trying to reach)

I do hope to get the opportunity to make the feature film version of Red Princess Blues someday soon, I’m just not sure spending $50,000 for a proof of concept short film was the way to get that train moving.

Here’s the synopsis of the short film:

ZOE, a young teenage girl, is lured into an after hours carnival tent by the sleazy rock n roll carnie RIMO, and gets more then she bargained for. It’s up to the mysterious PRINCESS, star of the new knife show, to pull her out of the wolf’s den.

You can watch the entire short film below:

This is not the first short film I made based on my feature film screenplay. I co-directed, with my brother in arms Dan Cregan, a traditional Japanese Anime Prequel called Red Princess Blues: Genesis starring the legendary Lance Henriksen. Check out that trailer below:

I was a bit ahead of the curve on the distribution of Red Princess Blues. I was the first short film to be distributed exclusively on an iPhone app. Streaming was not a thing yet. I go over what happened with that in the episode as well. Check out this promo I made for the app.


It’s not all doom and gloom. Many amazing opportunities were generated from RPB, I just wish it wouldn’t have cost me as much. = ) These are some interviews and red carpet moments from Red Princess Blues’ World Premiere at the HollyShorts! Film Festival.

You can see how large of production this short film was in this video below.

I do hope to get the opportunity to make the feature film version of Red Princess Blues. I hope you find some words of wisdom in this episode and that you can learn a few lessons that cost me a bunch of $$$ to learn. So if you are thinking of shooting a $50,000 short film, FOR GOD SAKE DON’T. Listen to this first, I beg you! = ) Enjoy!

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Killer Ways to Brainstorm Short Film Ideas

Short films have become a lot more popular nowadays with the advancements in the field of media, but coming up with short film ideas can be challenging. Since short films are easier to make than the feature movies, the production cost is also a lot cheaper. One has to have some ideas and they may be inspired or may come mainly from your everyday life, personal life, personal experiences, experiences of others, or even on the fantasies that you have.

The first thing to remember is that you have maximum 10 to 15 minutes to grab your audience’s attention, so make sure to make the best out of the least. Some people do not have any trouble in coming up with ideas for the short film, and they get it spot on. On the other hand, most people do not even know how long should their short film should be.

Here are a few ways that you should try to come up some great short film ideas:

1. Brainstorm Short Film Ideas:

You can brainstorm a lot of short film ideas to get started, and it can be in the form of a small script or anything. The initial ideas are raw, and they do not have to make any sense, but you have to keep working until you find the right idea. Your short film idea or plot relies on your creative skills and thus, you have to start some brainstorming activities to start with the concept of the short film.

Everyone wants to get done with the visual content first so that they can visualize the main plot or theme of the short film. On the other hand, remember that you have to remain attentive while brainstorming the ideas and do not stop until you find something that you think will captivate the minds of the audience. Most of the award-winning short film ideas come from brainstorming, and you have to use brainstorming as a form of exercise.

2. Write It Out:

There is no doubt that the best of the directors are also one of the best screenplay writers. You have to use those writers as a form of inspiration to get that perfect idea for your short film. Writing about your personal experiences, or something experienced by someone else, can make a huge difference to the ideas that you already have thought of. Write about some believable or unbelievable ideas, even if you haven’t selected the theme or the genre of the short film.

Drawing an initial outline is the first step that you can take towards the formation of an idea. Before writing, make up some scenarios in your mind, and write about the central concept that comes to your mind with that scenario, and then, with the help of a few friends, you can form the idea to give it a defined shape. Work with instincts and instances and add some experiences so that your idea can remain original and the basic plot is set.

3. Create a Routine:

In an attempt to decide the major theme or the core plot of your short film, you can form a routine so that you try to generate the best ideas every single day until you find the right idea. The best times to produce the perfect ideas out of your mind is morning and at night. Creating a routine is a tricky concept as you have to devote 10 minutes in the morning, and that too, before having breakfast or doing anything else.

In the morning, your mind is fresh, and your level of creativity is at its peak, so make sure to use that time well. It is a quite healthy part of a routine and healthy for the mind. Plus, this way you can also use your dreams as an outline, or form something out of the dreams you had before. This similar routine can be integrated into the nighttime as well before you go to bed. There is a 50 percent chance that you will generate the best idea during one of these times of the day.

4. Watch Other Movies:

Everyone wants to make the topic of their short film unique and original. But then again, you can always use other films, or even novels, as a source of inspiration for the idea of your short film. You can become a keen observer to make something out of the most neglected topic in any movie or novel that you’ve seen or read.

You can raise an issue that you think that the director ignored in the film and created your short film around that idea; it doesn’t matter if you are in favor or against that idea. All you have to think of is to find a way to form and present that idea as yours, and make sure that it stays original no matter what.

5. Find The Right Resources:

Robert Rodriguez said it best when he was making his landmark film El Mariachi, use what you have access to. If you have a house, backyard, dog, motorcycle in the garage and a parrot write your story around those elements.  You should list the number of resources and make certain that you visit those places or people to form the right idea for yourself. Furthermore, if you do not have the right resources available for the idea of your short film, then you can start your research to find something that is more visually exciting for your project.

You have to remember that if your initial idea is not interesting enough, no matter how much determination you put into it, your short film will not be good enough. On the other hand, some miraculous directors can make the best movies using the simplest ideas by using the right resources and presenting it in such a manner that it makes the short film a remarkable one. The resources can be many things, i.e. a particular location, props, or anything that grabs your attention.

6. Make Up a Story:

By replicating a few quotes from some of the prominent film scenes, or by envisioning some of the mainstream plots of the most famous movies or novels, you can form some short film ideas, or find something that inspires. You can also create a story by developing individual characters in your mind; for instance, place your characters in a situation where they do not have any resources and no other way to get out. Use different challenging scenarios to make up the perfect storyline for your short film.

Entrap your characters in various and unusual circumstances and limit the resources they have to free themselves from these conditions. However, keep in mind that you should not choose such a conflict that can take too much of the time to be explained. Most of the short film ideas come from the exhausted themes or plots, and you have to find a way to present it in such a way that it becomes your original idea.

7. Stories from Real Everyday Life

Why don’t you look at your local paper for some short film ideas? You can choose an idea from the news, or you can create a short film from the actual real world situations. It can be on the financial affairs of the state, or the political conditions, or anything else that can be extracted out from the newspaper or the headlines. You can form the best short film ideas by incorporating any current headline and forming it into a recognized piece of art.

As they say,

“truth is stranger than fiction,”

you have to find the news that you think needs to be explained on a certain level and you can do in-depth research on the subject to form the plot and idea of your short film perfectly. The idea would be original, and your short film is going to be recognized by a larger audience. A good headline can result in a remarkable plot or idea for a short film.

8. Simple yet Engaging:

There is no doubt in the fact that first-time directors or screenwriters should consider opting for a simple genre, theme, or storyline for their short film. If the idea of the movie is too complicated or grandiose your short film will suffer. Don’t try to complete with big Hollywood tentpole films. Focus on a great story, characters, and plot.

Unless you are completely aware of the dos and do nots of the film industry, you cannot work on complex ideas. The best way to step into this industry is to find something that is simple yet intriguing to the audience. If your first short film is a failure, then most people would not be interested in watching your second film, even if it is one of the best short films of all times.


LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

SPONSORS

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  5. Alex Ferrari’s Shooting for the Mob (Based on the Incredible True Filmmaking Story)

REAL-WORLD STREAMING FILM EDUCATION

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  2. Hollywood Film School: Filmmaking & TV Directing Masterclass
  3. Filmmaker in a Box – Learn How to Make an Indie Film – 18 Hours+ of Lessons 
  4. Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys
  5. The Dialogue Series: 38 hours of Lessons from Top Hollywood Screenwriters

FILMMAKING RESOURCES

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  2. Bulletproof Screenwriting® Podcast
  3. Six Secrets to getting into Film Festivals for FREE!
  4. FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)

Action Items:



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