What it Takes to Make a 5 Minute Film

Go behind the scenes of my short film “Mother’s Day”

At Chapman University, every sophomore creates what’s called an “Intermediate Production” that follows the 3–2–1 formula, or 3 pages, 2 characters, 1 location. The Intermediate Production is the first official short film you make as part of Chapman’s curriculum, the first time you get to screen your work in a theater with your peers.

The film I made is called “Mother’s Day.” It is five minutes long and about a brother and sister overcoming the wounds of their parents’ divorce while writing a song on Mother’s Day. This is how I made it.

Pre-Production

The second week of class, we had to come prepared with three different log lines to pitch. From the three, the class and professor would give us feedback on which film they think would be the best option to make.

The three films I pitched to the class during the second week of school.

I am not a child of divorce, so I was a bit uneasy about writing a film about children of divorce. My first step was to interview someone with divorced parents, so I could make up for my lack of first-hand experience. I then filled out character information sheets, a detailed synopsis of all three acts, and wrote monologues from the perspective of each character.

My a-bit-too-dramatic monologues for each character.

After fleshing out the characters, I embarked upon the journey of writing the actual script. After I finished the first version, I showed it to a screenwriting friend of mine for notes. I wrote a second draft, and I showed that version to three other screenwriting friends for notes. Then I wrote a third draft, which would be tweaked just a bit more before becoming my final shooting script.

How Page 1 of the script evolved over several drafts.

Since my film had musical components, I needed to put the words on the page to a chord progression and melody. My incredibly talented friend Kiefer (studying music education at UTA) was in town visiting, so he helped me write a simple little tune.

I recorded the melody for reference later when rehearsing with actors.

Speaking of actors — I didn’t have any yet! I posted the character descriptions to my University’s casting Facebook group, asking the actors and actresses to demonstrate musical ability along with performing a monologue. Out of the 53 people who responded to the post, 13 actually showed up to the audition.

My two incredible actors who, by the grace of God, decided to audition for my film.

Because spring break led up to the weekend of my shoot date, I was only able to rehearse with my actors once before shooting. I sat down in a small practice room with them, where we talked about their characters, did some improv to build a history between the two siblings, and worked out the kinks in the music and blocking. I was so lucky to have talented actors who engaged with the story and contributed their own ideas- they really made the film what it is today.

After feeling comfortable about performance, I sat down with my Cinematographer to discuss the shot list. I came to the meeting with this story board:

We left the meeting with a mutual understanding of how we wanted to visually convey the tone of the film, where the emotional shifts were, and how we would manage to shoot it all in one day.

The final set-up schedule for Mother’s Day (we finished early).

Production

We had one day to shoot the film, so we all met at 8am to start setting up. My crew was composed essentially of four people.

From Left to Right: Jonathan (Cinematographer), Noah D (Assistant Director), Jon (Assistant Camera), and Noah T ( Sound Mixer)
I made a custom title to fancy up the slate.
We worked with really minimal lighting set-ups, since it was such a small space. Most shots only used natural light from the windows.
Competing like siblings, even when off camera.

The whole day ran smoothly, and we ended up finishing in just over six hours.

Post-Production

Since we shot in 1080p instead of 4k, we ended up shooting about 32GB of footage and audio. The first step was to sync the video with the audio, then sub clip the master media into individual takes, then edit together a rough cut of the film.

The timeline in Adobe Premiere of the final project.

I showed the cut to my class, received notes, incorporated the notes, and made several more cuts until picture-locking. After satisfied with the edit, I added color-grading and sound design. I didn’t really know how to do either of these, so it was a huge learning experience (and I’ll probably hire experts next time).

A frame of the film before and after color correction.

And that’s a wrap! You can watch the completed short film to see what became of my (and my cast’s & crew’s) labors some time in the near future.