6 Essential Steps to Writing a Short Film - (you plan to Self Produce)

My storyboards from "jack." a short film I wrote and produced following these steps.

My storyboards from "jack." a short film I wrote and produced following these steps.

YOU | SEE | IT all the time; your friend writes a script they tell you they're setting up to shoot. The following weekend you find out they're on set filming. A year later they've left the industry and become a personal trainer or in school for finance, never having finished the film.
That probably happened because they design stories well beyond their means, got frustrated, felt embarrassed and scrapped it altogether.

I been there. We all have. Took a while but I got through all the "green" mistakes a filmmaker will make all the way from writing a short, to getting it into a festival. It all starts with the script. You need a feasible, realistic, cost effective script that'll give you the least amount of trouble in production. So, to those of you hoping to dodge a few hurdles on your way to star-studded public demand, here are 6 essential steps you should follow when writing a short film you plan to produce yourself.

  1. WRITE AROUND ONE LOCATION. Sounds kind of obvious, and yet when we're writing, our minds will find a way to justify including additional set designs. You'll tell yourself I only need 1 shot there. It'll be real quick. It'll just be me and the actor, I can afford that. Yeah, that's never the case and you know it. One location can very possibly mean a one day shoot, which is a blessing on your wallet!
  2. MINIMIZE THE CAST. Yeah, same situation. Write around one or two characters max. (Minimal will be a reoccurring theme). Less cast means less money spent on actors. Even if they work free, they gotta be fed. They also need to be lit up - setting up lights and camera angles takes time. Time is money. It also means you have to depend on yet another person. If just one person on a shoot is unprepared or a no-sho, you've wasted the entire day.
  3. WRITE AROUND WHAT YOU HAVE. If you don't own a Ferrari, don't write about a guy who drives one! Have a huge collection of G.I. Joe's, maybe a story around that. Own workout equipment? Maybe the protagonist is getting in shape for a scheduled day at the beach and he knows his love interest will be in attendance. The story can center around his battle with a talking refrigerator. Get creative!
  4. FACTOR IN YOUR LIGHTING EQUIPMENT.  If you own a small kit, you're already ahead of the game. But, remember it might not be enough to light up a whole room. Do look for other resources - lamps, candles - they'll add additional lighting and are extremely cost effective. On the other hand if you don't own lights, you're good because DAYLIGHT IS FREE and universally agreed to be the best light you can get. Write your story around day hours. (Just be sure to prepare your angles in advance before production. The sun changes direction within minutes!)
  5. SOUND IS AS IMPORTANT AS SIGHT. If you're going to put your money somewhere, hire a good Sound Mixer. This person is responsible for everything on set from vocals to effects. If you absolutely can't afford that, write a film without dialogue, and record the sound effects afterwards - then mix it into the edits. Or, a character voice over.
  6. STORYBOARD STORYBOARD STORYBOARD! For the love of your reputation storyboard your script! Storyboard like a monkey was going to shoot it. Each frame should:
    • be drawn to the general idea of the frame
    • include the key light placement
    • include a written description of what is happening
    • include the equipment you'll need + lenses
      All your frames should be grouped together in an order that allows you to shorten your shoot time - meaning don't shoot chronologically. So, if the first, fifth, and final scenes all take place in the bedroom, shoot all three together in the same day. That way you won't have to worry about remembering the setup which can lead to inconsistencies in your film.

THESE STEPS are certainly going to test your talent as a writer. It'll take you twice maybe three times as long just to come up with an idea - then of course the rest of the story. But that's a good thing and you should welcome the challenge! It will make you a better writer, wiser director, and superior filmmaker. Still kind of skeptic? Scorsese's first film was 3 minutes of a guy shaving. Seriously, YouTube it! Tarantino shot his first in 2 -3 locations, just people talking!

Best wishes!

Portraits with Dave Paek

WORKING | WITH | DAVE is like your first dive into the deep end; nerve-wracking at first, but very VERY quickly you're at ease and know you're sailing afloat.
He begins with a cup of coffee off a finer connoisseur's espresso machine, and pastry breakfast (which, if you're like most subjects you wont touch until after the shoot). Possibly to get a feel for your personality, or the opposite, just to fill his stomach! Either way you'll find yourself shooting the shit with him and forgetting you're there to perform. It's the casual basics; how'd you fall into photography (he would sneak into his mother's closet and play with her now antique film cam), why'd you leave wall street (better lifestyle doing what you love), and do you really drink that many cups a day? (yes!)
He sets the tone with mood music, changing it with each phase of the session - a common technique. Fortunately we have a the same taste in music, beginning with the Hans Zimmer Pandora station.  

DAVE will leave you open to explore yourself inside each moment (the smallest unit of acting, ode to all actors reading this) but will guide you with what works and what doesn't. He'll construct the lights and backdrop around you to create a very finite space that, ironically, doesn't feel claustrophobic. As your mind drifts away with the waves of the music, the subtle heat from the lamp keeps your thoughts intact - thoughts you should, if I may advise, dive deep into. You should push to allow your senses to experience those thoughts. Once in the deep end, Dave will talk you through them, to his needs... and click! Captured on a tiny screen forever.  You learn about yourself along the way. Something wonderful.

At a turn, he'll ask you to go ahead and change outfits while he alters the mood music (Freddy Mercury!) and the magic starts all over again. You know he got a great shot when you hear "oh shit!," which he generously shows you right away.
Dave I appreciate the time you took to make this happen and look forward to a round two sooner than later.

You can check out for of his work at http://www.davepaekphotography.com/                             and follow him in the Gram at @davepphotography

Head Shots with Michael Cinquino

A | STARTUP | STYLE office off Silvercup Studios in Hipster Brooklyn, Michael has spent years bringing the light out of hundreds of unique talents so that it may burn through their eyes in critically acclaimed head shot photographs.  ...like that one of me!

Have a seat, make yourself comfortable is how he'll start. Then ask you what it is you're looking for and what happened on Tuesday that made you miss your session, Sheru?  ...yea, thought i was 30min early, but was indeed 30min late. Let that be a lesson to always double check the itinerary.

His ceiling-to-floor glass fourth wall acts as his key-light and he uses minimal equipment from there, leaving you to test out the talents you're getting these photographs for! 

You'll learn about Michael - more than you will with most photographers, because he's open, honest, and knows that a real Artist doesn't just learn with his eyes. His tale from Chicago to Brooklyn is a story to be heard (and I'm sorry, but it's not mine to tell) which includes The US Navy, a Graduate Degree in Theater, and serving soup to Keanu Reeves. His story is so far from cliche I left without ever asking the most obvious question: how'd you get into photography? And yet, I think I can speak for the both of us when I say he and I are far more similar than either of us expected (possibly both the reincarnation of our spirit animal Freddie Mercury).

A student of Meisner himself with an IMDB to boast, Michael will direct you with character work like so, who's this guy, and show me the confident guy at the bar and what kind of watch does he wear? It was nice to feel the nostalgia of being in class again. He shows you everything he shoots before each wardrobe change, filtering out the duds as he goes. More importantly, if you're an aspiring actor he'll give you advice to help you with your career. What your strong suit is, what to avoid, and where to play your confidence. You'll leave feeling reassured, and yet eager to keep the clock running.

His turnover time is 24 hours with roughly 500 Hi-Res stills - more than you'll know what to do with, and if you request - he'll keep the goofy ones! Michael my good sir, you're an absolute pleasure to work with, thank you for reminding me to follow my instincts, and I look forward to getting together over a beer sooner than later.

To check out Michael Cinquino's work to go www.michaelcinquino.com                                       and follow him at @michaelcinquinophotography

Advice to my 21 Year Old Self (From Ten Years Ahead)

A | LOT | HAPPENS in ten years. An enormous lot. A person's mannerisms, ideals, characteristics; and you can go either way on everything - stronger/weaker, stubborn/patient, likeable/deplorable. One great positive is that in hindsight you know more about yourself. Way more.

I've asked a couple dozen people what they'd tell their 21 year old selves if they could talk to that person now. The answers are more or less the same across the board. Though I have no regrets about where I am at 31 or what hurdles I've set ahead of myself, I'd definitely have taken the option to be more prepared than not. And while these nuggets of wisdom are useless to me now, maybe otherwise for someone reading along.

1. PUT MONEY ASIDE REGULARLY and not just for the rainy days but for the torrential downpours. For monsoon season. I can't tell you how many times I've changed my career path. When I decided to open my own business I was working in a deli just to cover the construction. Once it was up, I did sales at a gym until business picked up, and yet I've never been without a job for more than three months since I was 14. You don't know where life will take you. Be prepared. It also makes those leaps of faith easier to make.

2. STAY IN TOUCH WITH YOUR FRIENDS. Over the next ten years you and everybody you know will only have time and space for 5 friends. You'll know who they're going to be by the time you hit 28. When you do, see them as often as you can.

3. DO SOMETHING CREATIVE and love it. Even if you suck at it. Have fun. Life is going to serve work and responsibility on a silver platter. Useless creativity, now that you have to do on your own, and it might turnout to be pretty useful down the line!

4. FUCK MONEY. HAVE FUN. I hold this logarithm to be true:

passion + effort = reward

(if you love what you do) + (keep doing it) = (the money will come)

5. LOOKING GOOD IS FEELING GOOD IS LOOKING GOOD. Take care of your health. Never stop working out and eating well. I don't care who you are or what you do for a living, nobody wants to be fat, smelly, dirty and undesirable. Which is perfectly OK! All creatures have a mating season, and what do they do during that time? Strut their stuff in order to pair up and procreate (get laid!). Ergo, it's perfectly OK to be vein! So groom, manscape, pluck, tweeze, shave, remove, run, lift, swim, stretch,  dress well because when you look good, you feel good. When you feel good, you look even better.

6. EMBRACE CHANGE in everyday situations. Your wardrobe and hairstyle, job, home, girlfriend, role model; Change is the Only Constant. That means it's been happening since before you, and will continue right through you. Don't be stubborn. Something might spark if you go with the current.

7. FINISH WHAT YOU START. We're the over generation; over consumption, overweight, over caffeinated, over privileged, (and for the record, overworked and overlooked). It can be a result of too many options, which is why it's so easy to drop what we're doing and run to the next bump of fun. Don't get distracted. Whether it be a painting class, a puzzle, guitar lessons, a favor to a friend / project for a client, or P90 - see it to the end! Strength grows in the doing and peaks at the finish!

8. CUT TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS. No matter who the person might be - you're in a loveless partnership, your best friend is a lazy drug abuser, your mother treats you like you're 15, or worse, like her husband. Relationships are toxic because one person is entirely selfish and sponging the time, energy, and/or resources from the other. They exist because the other allows it to continue. It becomes an enormous weight that sits on your shoulders and tenses you up. That, without a doubt, will change your personality for the worse and your friends will notice before you do. Get rid of toxic relationships. It'll change your entire world. Afraid of what that might be like? See #6.

9. PARTY YOUR ASS OFF, THEN ACCEPT WHEN IT'S TIME TO GROW UP. I had a blast in my twenties. Drank like a fish, psychedelics, owned Vegas, did unspeakable things in Mexico, fell in love and had my heart broken, road trips all across the East coast. But I'm 31 now and if I sleep an hour later, I wake up an hour later. When I drink like a college kid, I puke like a contestant on Fear Factor. If I eat shit, I shit! It's good to find your adult rhythm before you hit your 30's because after 27 your body begins to work against you - and it will show you.

10. STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES at least once a week. There's a beauty in the calmness of the world around you. The air is clean and free. The sound of the earth, the sun. Look up and out and feel small. Learn that you are here for the same reason everybody else is, nothing more, nothing less. And that's OK. You might not even know what that is. That's OK too. Because life is long. Real long. You got plenty of time to figure that out! Breathe.

**. PICK A SIDE AND STAND TALL. I'm a Cowboys and Bulls fan. I hate politics but will be voting this year. Love beer, hate wine. Purchasing property is the best thing a person can do for himself, and marriage by "necessity" is probably the worst. I'm not racist but stereotypes do exist, and yes I'm a stereotype too. Know Thyself. Nothing is more of a turnoff than hearing someone say "I guess," "I don't know," "I don't really pay attention to it." Apathy makes you uninteresting and unappealing to both friends, partners, and potential employers.

**. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR PARENTS. They know more about life than you do, and they'll always several steps ahead. Life will take them away from you eventually. Pick their brain while you can.