I am reminded of the opening sentence from Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For many filmmakers this is the best of times. Equipment is cheap, robust editing systems cost less than a standalone version of Photoshop and if you believe the postings on Craigslist you can assemble a cast and crew for next to nothing because everyone wants to be in the movies. On the other hand, just because you watch Grey's Anatomy on TV doesn't mean you can, or should become a surgeon. There is a requirement to have some talent, some ability, some knowledge if you want to rise above the also-ran. In golf they're called duffers. In aviation they're call pud-knockers. In film and most other professions they're wannabes.
That's where this excellent book comes in. Yes, anyone can grab a camera and make a movie. But here's hoping you don't want to be just anyone. The book is aptly title The Complete Guide to Writing, Producing and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film. And "complete" is the perfect description.
Page by page, author Gini Graham Scott, who has written, produced and sometimes directed almost 50 short films, puts that knowledge at your fingertips. The book is assembled the same way films should be. It begins with several chapters gathered under the heading Pre-Production, then more under the section titled Production, then Post-Production and finally Publicity. More succinctly, she breaks the book down into everything that happens once you are struck by your Big Idea. And let's all hope it is a big idea.
Beginning with Write It, where you will be guided through the finer points of putting your thoughts into words and those words into someone else's mouth, through what you need to do if you decide to Produce your own film, then on to the task of standing behind the camera and calling the shots, then the editing process – and it is a process – to finally what you need to do so that your little masterpiece not only sees the light of day, but gets seen by more than your family and friends on an iffy small screen laptop.
This is professional advice for people who want to take a professional approach to their fledgling career or for people who have made a few short films that didn't quite live up to their original idea and died somewhere along the way in a process than can be physically and emotionally crippling. I forget who said this but there is a lot of truth in the statement "movies don't want to get made." This book will help.
Complete also means there are lots of examples of what a screenplay should look like, the shorthand language people in the biz use for things like close-ups or over the shoulder shots, how to create a sequential scene breakdown, the vital importance of a Producer's Checklist and many examples of what your lists should look like. There is advice on, for example, what to pay an editor and what a written Letter of Agreement looks like should you want or need to formalize your handshake. I particularly liked the pages devoted to creating a storyboard. It will be particularly useful for those of you who, like me, can't draw a straight line using a ruler. The example in the book is instructive and hilarious at the same time. At the back of the book there's a chapter on resources and references that runs just under 20 pages and is full of
information any professional or beginning filmmaker will find useful.
Released in the US in November of last year, The Complete Guide to Writing, Producing and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film can be purchased online from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca. The author also maintains a blog where you can find all kinds of valuable tips and an excerpt of her book.
My advice? Before you make your next, or first short movie, buy and read a copy of The Complete Guide to Writing, Producing and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film. It will make you a better filmmaker.