How to Make a Good Short Film for Beginners
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read

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There are few activities quite as thrilling as making a film. As a medium, it's a chance to explore human emotions and mythic qualities all at once. Making a short film is a great way to produce wonderful work which helps build your reel, puts you on the path to becoming a director, and stands alone as a remarkable achievement.

Making a good short film requires understanding and planning. Short films usually have a run time of under 40 minutes, and the challenge in such a short format becomes streamlining one's vision while also staying true to your artistic goals. Regardless of format, all filmmaking can be organized into five standard steps, and careful planning will help you get your short film off the ground and onto the screen!

How Long is a Short Film Script?

Filmmaking starts with the screenplay, the blueprint of a film. Whether you use software such as Final Draft, Squibler, or Trelby, or you go old-school and write your script by hand, you should be careful to format your screenplay properly. Screenwriting software is designed to output pages that are equal to a minute of on-screen time. This means that your 20-minute film should have a script that's about 20 pages long.

Storytelling is paramount when it comes to writing a good script, but your screenplay must also inform the production of everything that will be heard and seen on screen. A solid script will describe every on-screen element, from sets and wardrobes to facial expressions and on-screen sounds. Everything you do from here will be guided by what you write on the page, so be sure to include all elements to tell your story.

What's The Standard Budget For a Short Film?

Now that you've written your screenplay, you need to create a budget. The first step is to analyze the script to see what you will actually need for your film. This means accounting for everything from cast and crew salaries to location costs, wardrobes, props, insurance, food, fuel expenses, and even lodging if applicable.

Watch out for common budget red flags: large casts, multiple locations, special effects, complicated camera rigs, and expensive shots (i.e., driving scenes, large crowds). Shooting the fewest days possible will help. If you review your script and if you find any of these potential issues, you may want to scale your script down. Once you've figured out what your production will cost, add in a 10% contingency for unforeseen expenses.

First Step For Making a Short Film: Pre-production

Once your script is ready and your budget is set, you can begin pre-production. This stage of filmmaking is absolutely crucial to ensuring that you're ready when filming begins. Pre-production involves everything from assembling your crew and casting to scheduling and storyboarding.

Prep the Crew

In traditional filmmaking, there are twelve department heads that are crucial to keeping production moving forward.

The assistant director coordinates the production crew and the schedule. Cinematographers lead the camera department. Sound mixers and boom operators are the heart of your set's sound team. Electric and grip department heads will be in charge of setting up lighting tools and maintaining your power source. Grips will also physically support other departments.

On the art department side, the prop master and set dresser will ensure anything that isn't the cast in the film will look right. Your wardrobe, hair, and makeup professionals will keep the cast looking great. Caterers and craft services keep everyone fed and hydrated. And of course, the producer should be on hand to solve unexpected problems.

Short films will not necessarily always have as large a crew, and it's possible that the constraints of your budget will necessitate some people wearing multiple hats.


Nothing is more important than having good actors in your short film. The greatest script in the world will fall flat without convincing performances. Solicit auditions and review as many candidates as time permits. Be sure your casting call is specific to your needs (i.e., gender, age, type) and make ample time for rehearsals.

Script Breakdown

Use your screenplay to craft a script breakdown. This is a scene-by-scene summary and inventory of what you will need to create your film and includes all basic elements necessary for each scene: location, cast, crew requirements, set design, props, wardrobe, makeup, and filmmaking equipment.

Ask your production team what equipment each scene needs, from lights, cameras, filters, and microphones to power sources and cables. Be sure your cast is ready and well-rehearsed. Finally, check to be sure your department heads have everything they need to pull off each scene.

Location Scouting

You need to secure each place where you'll be filming, whether it's a set, a private residence, or a public space. Scout your location to be sure it serves the scene and get permission to use the space. You may need permits from a local municipality, or permission from a friend to use their apartment. Whatever the case, be sure you have a reliable place to shoot your short film without the threat of interruption.


A production schedule tells your cast and crew when and where all shooting takes place.

The most efficient way to break down a schedule is by location. So if scene 1 and scene 5 both take place during the day at the park, schedule both scenes to be shot on the same day, or on consecutive days. If both scenes are night shoots with close locations, you can group them that way. Between a script breakdown and a schedule, you will have the logistical tools you need for smooth shooting.


It's strongly recommended you have a storyboard. This is a visual breakdown of your scenes which will help you plan camera angles, closeups, camera movements, and scene blocking. As a graphic representation of what you are shooting, it will serve to inform the cast and crew of what the final product will look like and can assist in editing.

Shot List

Organize a basic shot list. It can be very simple. What matters is that you place into chronological order every shot you want to get for your film. Use your schedule and storyboards to capture consecutive shots which use the same camera setup. This will save lots of time, as changing camera setups is the most time-consuming part of production.

Second Step For Making a Short Film: Production

Now that you've completed all of the rigorous planning and organization that goes into pre-production, it's time to actually start shooting!

What matters the most at this stage is time. Daylight will run out quickly, nighttime will yield to sunrise, and cast and crew will tire. Apply all your planning to efficiently and effectively capture what is necessary to create your vision.

Daily Production Setup

Before shooting can begin each day, it's imperative that each department be completely ready. This means that all equipment needed to capture each scene is in place and that the actors are in costume and have had their makeup done. Planned logistics ensure everything is running smoothly and on time.

Shot Setup

Each scene you shoot will likely require multiple camera setups, each of which will require basic framing of the shot, blocking the cast, set dressing, and lighting. Each camera setup burns significant time in the day. It's important for your assistant director to be organized and prepared for the full day's shoot. Your crew will need to smoothly move from shot to shot to stay on track. Everyone must be focused and ready to follow the lead of their department heads.

Actors must know their lines and their marks. The camera team needs to be ready with lenses and screens in place. Wardrobe and makeup must be sure script requirements are met. Sound mixers and boom operators must be off-screen and in position to capture dialogue and on-screen sounds.


At the end of your production day, make sure you have enough time to wrap. This means packing up all crew and equipment and getting everyone home. When budgeting your time, you have to be sure that efficiently wrapping the set is included. Longer hours can be costly and wear down the crew.

Final Step For Making a Short Film: Post-production

Post-production is the phase where you sculpt the captured shots into a final product. This is done in several stages, and will end with a finished short, ready for audiences to enjoy!

Film Editing

Film editing is the process of taking the individual shots you've captured and arranging them into order. Following the script and storyboard, you will craft the sequences necessary to relay your vision. You can also add in additional shots, animation, or special effects at this stage. Typically, software programs such as Final Cut, Premiere, or iMovie are used by professionals for film editing.

Sound Editing

Once the picture is edited, you can add in extra sound. That means everything from dialogue that was missed on set to voiceovers, music, and sound effects. Once sound is locked down, put it through an EQ process so it is even throughout its runtime. You can use software like Logic, Pro Tools, or Garage Band for sound editing.

Color Grading

The very last part of your practical post-production process is to make your short film look professional by applying color grading. This technique assures visual consistency throughout the film. You can use software like Final Cut, Da Vinci, or Premiere for color grading.

Film Festivals

Now that your film is complete and ready for viewing, you're ready to move on to the very final part of your filmmaking process – finding an audience! The primary way to do this is by entering as many film festivals as possible. Research which fests make the most sense for your genre and be ready for months of lead time for submission. Film festivals will find you the fans and patrons who will help you launch your career!