Prologue to the feature: My short films. (Part II)

Baby

A couple years after making my first short film (which you can read all about here) I embarked on my second project. This was my thesis film from my master’s program and is the story of a drama that follows when a girl who comes home for a weekend unexpectedly bumps into her estranged father at a nightclub.

This film was a step up from my previous one in terms of scope. I had a bigger cast, more locations and a more complex shot list. Also, a way bigger budget. The budget for this film was $33,394 and in order to finance it I used a series of resources. First, because this was a thesis project, I had the opportunity to apply for thesis grants through the school. This allowed me to earn the James Bridges Award for Directing the Actors in the amount of $12,500 and the Finishing Funds Post – Production Grant provided by the university in the amount of $1,000.

If you are in film school, your school might also have some grants that you are eligible to apply for, but don’t just look into the options the school gives you, there are many organizations offering grants for short films. Check out a list I put together here.

Back to my financing strategy.

As a second resource, I created a crowdsourcing campaign through indiegogo.com that I shared with my friends and family. If you are creative with your perks and make it fun for your backers, this is a great way to get some more funding. You should know though that you might not be able to knock on the door of friends and family with every project you have, so make sure this is the one you want to use that card for. Make a fun video explaining the project and your motivation for doing it so that people feel engaged and involved! With this campaign I was able to raise $5,130 out of a $15,000 goal. When choosing a platform to launch your campaign you should be aware of their requirements. They will all ask what your goal is. Some may allow you to receive the money that you were able to raise even though you might not reach your goal and some may be an all or nothing kind of deal. If you don’t reach your goal, all the money you raised goes back to the backers. I went with Indiegogo because it gives you the flexibility of not reaching your goal, but that of course comes at a higher platform fee price.

The third avenue I used for financing my short was brand sponsorship. I prepared a deck of the project and presented it to different brands that I thought would be interested in supporting an emerging artist. This was a tough one, it’s hard to get brands to give away money for such small projects. I offered to put their logo on our credits with the possibility of the film screening in different festivals around the world which is interesting, but definitely not as enticing as telling them we would have a commercial release. The idea is to make them fall in love with the project so that they support you because they believe in you as an artist. I got many rejections, but I was able to get one brand to sponsor the project with $5,000. You gotta keep trying!

The rest of the budget I covered with my savings.

When the film was done, it won a “Best Female Director Award” from The Adrienne Shelly Foundation in the amount of $5,000 which meant that at the end my investment on this production was $4,764.

Here’s a breakdown of my budget:

CATEGORYAMOUNT (US$)
Pre-Production & Wrap1,519
Shooting Crew Labor10,660
Locations & Travel4,540
Props & Wardrobe850
Set Design700
Talent3,280
Equipment6,145
Meals and Crafty2,700
Post-Production 3000
TOTAL33,394

This was a challenging short to make. From club scenes with dozens of extras to a sex scene that required a closed set and immense preparation to make sure the actors involved felt safe and the scene came out the way I envisioned it. We had both day shoots and dawn shoots, child actors and very old ones. But with the proper amount of preparation in pre-production, the 5 day shoot went smoothly just as planned.

This is my advice: Allow the most time possible for pre-production. Planning a shoot is like building a puzzle. You are bringing in a big team of collaborators that don’t usually work together and as some come on board, some may fall through due to schedules shifting and changing. That is completely normal; expect it to happen. Since all of these people don’t usually work together and they are coming together for your project, it is best to have time to make sure the team works in the way you envision and with the energy you want on your set.

Also, having time in pre-production will allow you to work extensively with your actors to make sure that you make the most out of your shooting days.

This second film was a semifinalist for the Student Academy Awards and screened in various international film festivals getting awards in diverse categories such as Best Student Film and Audience Award.

What did this film do for me?

The most important thing it did was getting me a manager. My manager asked to see the thesis films of that year from my school and mine was sent to him, he liked it and asked for a meeting. The rest is history.

Getting a manager was definitely a big step in my career. What did it mean? That I could now be introduced to people in the industry: producers, executives, studios, etc. And I could talk to them about my future projects. This film served as an introduction letter to those people. My manager sent it to them, they liked it, they wanted to meet with me. So I started going to all these general meetings and raising interest for my first feature length film. I will discuss in depth what a general meeting looks like in a future post, stay tuned!

Overall, making short films is a great way to explore your voice, practice your craft, gain visibility and meet collaborators in the industry.

And nowadays, with the pandemic having us locked in our homes, a lot of filmmakers are getting creative and shooting something contained wherever they are quarantined. Nobody can do a big production right now, so smaller productions are more welcome than ever. Have a great idea that you can shoot at home? Do it. Even if it doesn’t end up being something you want to share, it will help you practice your craft and practice makes the master: Go for it!

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