The Making of a Proof of Concept Short

The second of a blog series for Pictoclik’s Promotional Scholarship.

If you read my last post, you would think that I would just focus on my screenplay and the story would end there. But I knew I had to do something (sense a trend here?). True, I didn’t have my feature-length screenplay completed but I wanted to take advantage of the fact that at least one of my actors (my college friend Gabby) was still in town.

Then, I read an article that gave me the boost of creativity I needed. Titled “The Microbudget Filmmaking Method” by Film Doer, the article (or rather the infographic) explained how to revamp Hollywood’s way of making a movie and reconfigure it to low-budget filmmaking. Instead of adopting the “traditional” model of making a movie — writing the script, finding actors, etc. etc. — a low-budget filmmaker should not write the script until locations and actors are secured. Essentially, making a movie backwards.

Even though the article was written for a whole feature film, I knew the same concept could be applied to a short film. Not only would shooting a short take less time, I could use the short as a “proof of concept” to show to potential financiers and also, build confidence in my own filmmaking abilities.

To show what I mean, I’ll outline the steps and show how I took this method to heart.

  1. Start with a concept (not the script!)

The main idea behind this first step is to make sure the idea of the film is exciting. I thought about 501 Miles and brainstormed ways a short film could fit into the context of the whole feature. In the feature screenplay, there’s one scene where we see Emmy graduating and the next is at her graduation party. I thought it’d be interesting to make a short based on her moving from her college graduation ceremony to her graduation party at her house. Maybe she finds something in her room that triggers a memory? After a serious brainstorming session, I came up with the log line: A recent college graduate reads a letter she wrote to herself as a college freshman.

I wrote it out, shared it with a couple people, and everyone I talked to thought it was an intriguing story. So first step…DONE!

2. Secure your micro-budget.

Fortunately, my executive producer Ian was kind to provide a couple hundred bucks for the film. I ponied up the rest from my personal savings/ paycheck/birthday money.

Total: $800

3. Find your locations first.

Since I graduated from Stanford and am now living in the area, I knew I had a plethora of places to choose from. I knew I needed a dorm room, a view of Stanford’s campus, a graveyard, and Emmy’s childhood room. Since Stanford was in summer session (and we were working with Stanford students as PAs), there was no problem getting on campus. The others came from friends or a little bit of stealth (you can guess which location required which approach).

4. Find your actors.

I already had my main actress/ muse (she’s been in so much of my stuff it’s hilarious). The only question was who would play her younger half? Funnily enough, my amazing little sister Teni looks uncannily like Gabby and she’s used to being forced to be in my films. So I had my two actresses! I knew I would write the script just featuring them to keep costs low and time to a minimum.

5. Write a synopsis.

I wrote out the general path of my characters. Young Emmy was writing a letter and heading back to her college dorm whereas Present Emmy was packing up the last of her belongings before getting ready for her grad party. I knew that I wanted the narration of the letter to dictate and provide subtext for these scenes. To make the letter authentic, I decided to write a letter in a notebook, as if I was an incoming freshman going to college. I wrote a couple letters that came in handy for the next step.

6. Write the script.

Ironically, this part was the easiest of all the steps. Since I already had my locations, knew the capabilities of my actors, and wrote out the “script” already in journal form, it was just a matter of writing out everything in screenplay format.

I only wrote one draft and sent it out to some close friends for feedback. Everyone I sent it to loved it! Which, I have to say, definitely surprised me. I don’t consider myself a strong writer but I knew I had a vision and it was just a matter of writing it down. Fortunately, it translated well to the page.

Next step….

7. Find the right crew.

I wrote the script with mostly voiceover so it eliminated the need to hire a sound guy (what a relief!). I brought on my amazing DP, AJ Young, who I was planning on hiring for the feature. This short definitely built a rapport between us and I know for sure he’s definitely the right guy for the job since he knows how to deliver high-production value in low-budget situations. I also got a couple friends to help out as PAs.

Total crew team: 5 members.

8. Shoot the movie!

My DP and I framing a shot with my actress, Gabby.

We shot the short over one weekend. Everything went pretty smoothly overall. We had a pretty funny mishap with my sister falling over her bike and other shenanigans. But shooting this short reminded me why I loved directing: this short brought people together to tell a story that I have envisioned in my head and have it manifested in real life! I think that’s pretty cool.

I’m currently editing the short film with the goal of completion in October. Who knows? Maybe Pictoclik will host a screening! Stay tuned for the release!

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