The 7 Deadly Sins of a Short Film and How You Can Avoid Them


Making a short film is much harder than making a feature because you have so much to get across in under 10 minutes. But it can be less difficult if you avoid these 7 deadly sins:

1. Subject: How to avoid the typical, boring short.

A short is your calling card, so make a short that people will want to remember you by and that will stick in people’s memory. Something that stands out from the crowd so much that it will make a busy agent, manager, executive, film festival programmer, or acquisition exec not only remember you but, as a result of it, want to call you!

Be creative and original and pick a subject that interests you because that enthusiasm will come through in your short.

2. Medium: How to avoid shooting your short in the wrong medium.

You should decide early in the planning stages what medium you want to shoot your short. Is it Digital Video (DV), film or High Definition (HD)? Because each medium has many considerations that will ultimately affect your story.

Know the pros and cons of each medium for the story that you want to tell before you commit to DV, film or HD.

3. Length: How to avoid making the longest short ever.

Many film programs tell their students to make a 25-minute short – this is horrible advice. No busy executive is going to take 25 minutes to watch a short from an unknown filmmaker. All shorts should be under 10 minutes, and ideally between 3-5 minutes if you want to get people to watch it.

If you really want a short to become viral, keep it between 2-3 minutes at max! Remember that people’s attentions are short – and if you make something that grabs and keeps their attention, they will remember it and especially appreciate your storytelling ability in such a short amount of time.

4. Sound: How to avoid not being able to hear anything on your short.

Sound is the secret ingredient of the difference between a great short film and a short film that no one will watch. Audiences will forgive a short if it doesn’t look like a Spielberg film but has high quality sound. But they will turn it off if it looks amazing but has inaudible sound.

Spend the money for great sound – the expenditure will be worth it! Most productions budget 10% of their budget for post sound alone. This is because there are always unexpected sound problems, so make sure you leave enough money to fix them.

5. Credits: How to avoid spending the entire short watching the credits.

There are two types of credits: opening credits and closing credits. Opening credits generally are only for the writer, director, producer and actors. The closing credits are usually for all the crew, special thanks, caterer and your parents. However, both types of credits can be full of pitfalls that you can avoid by following this advice:

Opening credits:

In general do not have any opening credits in a short. Since it is a short, it is wise to get to the story right away and save the credits for the end. But if you MUST have opening credits – make them very brief, and ideally while the story is actually starting.

Closing Credits:

A two-minute short film should not be followed by four minutes of credits. Your credits should never be more than the length of your film. Ever. Always keep the credits short and sweet.

6. Budget: How to avoid putting a second mortgage on your house.

You always want to have the best-looking short possible, but that doesn’t mean spending a fortune on it. If you know the medium you are shooting in and are prepared to maximize the potential of that format, don’t feel that you need to take out a second mortgage to fund it.

If you are planning to spend $80,000 on a short, make a feature! Even if it is only an 80-minute feature, you will have a much greater benefit from having a produced feature under your belt.

7. Buzz: Working it for your advantage.

When your short is ready to show people, you should never send blind queries. First try to submit your short to festivals and create some buzz off the film. Ideally aim for the better-known festivals because those will add a certain authentication that the smaller festivals won’t.

Also use every contact you have to find a connection to the people to whom you want to submit your short.

In addition, do not send hard copies of your short unless someone specifically asks for one. It’s a waste of your money, it kills the environment and, more often than not, it ends up in the trash.

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