how to create a film in two weeks

Europe in Summer - It doesn’t get much better than that right?

If you said that in June, Datu would agree. Who would wouldn’t enjoy a refreshing ice cream in Rome? Or a swim off the back of a yacht in Malta, with water so clear you couldn’t tell if it was 2 metres deep or 10.

In shorts and a light top and a strap over his shoulder, a borrowed xt100 with a fixed lens was the only camera gear he had: a much needed respite from carrying heavy rigs with production monitors and fears of early onset arthritis. That being said, he couldn’t stop the voice in his head leading him back onto the film set. Like an ocean calling to a salty sailor, his mind had already begun its circumnavigation back to Sydney and into the office.

Cut to two weeks later at the end of a fantastic trip, he calls the team together for a project with a very short deadline: less than two weeks…


Story comes first

In 99.9% of films, the story is everything. But to make a film in under two weeks, the story must be short and simple. How short? Well, that depends on your budget and crew; for us, that was zero budget and minimal available crew, so we went with one minute. That short.

We spend one week on the story, keeping everything simple. We watched it evolve and change as we tossed and turned different ideas, combined ideas, trashed ideas…. ending back at square one with nothing. So, we did what we do best: brainstorm. Big brainstorms are key to simple, creative ideas, which can then be refined into a cohesive story. Make sure you get the ideas passed through a few sets of fresh eyes: something that might make sense to you, may be as confusing as tuna in an apple pie to someone else.

Don’t skimp on pre-production

Script, location scout, storyboards, shot-lists, meetings, call sheets, phone calls! Don’t skimp on pre production. If you don’t spend the proportionate number of hours on pre-production, you will pay for it on shooting day or post production, or worse still, in overall quality.

I repeat: Do Not Skimp On Pre-Production.

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Let’s talk gear

Let’s address the duck in the room: How much should you budget for RED rental and anamorphics? The answer is, you don’t need a red or anamorphics.

From our experience, it’s the lighting, acting and set design which contribute more to the overall quality than the camera. There is no point spending big money from a small budget on a top of the line rig, leaving nothing for the lighting and acting to support it.

Spend your money on a decent lighting package, a good crew and good crafty (food). This is too often overlooked but the truth is, a good camera won’t cover up unnatural lighting. Our advice is a 4 C-Stands, 1 Key light (300D or 2k), lighting modification (diffusion, negative fill, bounce), a few light panels such as Aputure Tri-8’s and PLENTY of shot bags to hold everything in place.

Production day

The shoot day never goes to plan, but that’s what you plan for, right? At the end of the day flexibility and empathy is key. Our makeup artist pulled out the afternoon before, leaving us in a tough situation. However with a bit of persistence (and luck) we managed to find Melinda Allan, who did an amazing job. Much better than Datu’s plan of dipping the actors in red food colouring (just kidding).

Post Production

Step 1: Get the cut done as soon as you can. Not only is the shoot fresh in your head, but the excitement of seeing the film being pieced together will disappear in a few weeks, then it’s just another project, and you’ll lose motivation! Step 2 is to set a deadline. Ours was under two weeks, yours might be more or less than that, but don’t make it two years. We have seen all too many projects fall into the background and never get finished.

Spend a good amount of time on the sound design: the audience will forgive some odd visuals, but if anything sounds off they will reach for the tomatoes. Layering is vital; build it up from the room tone and don’t forget the clothes rustling. Oh, and don’t forget to you use EQ carefully. We had over 27 audio layers…

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recap

  • Set yourself a deadline. Don’t make it too long, but make sure it’s realistic!

  • Story is everything. Even if it’s simple it’s still king. In fact, keep it simple and focus on good storytelling.

  • Don’t skimp on pre production. Spend MOST of your time on pre production. Have everything planned! Save yourself all the production day stress and write a shot-list and a gear list, (and don’t forget anything on these lists).

  • You don’t need fancy camera gear…. would be nice though if the budget allows

  • Empathy and flexibility - you are working with others

  • Get the cut done quickly, then refine it! Focus on good audio, remember to layer it!

  • Most importantly, just get out there and shoot!