How To Make an Indie Short Film

Want to start producing, writing, or directing your own indie short films?

Whether you’ve been making shorts for a while or are excited to enter the world of short filmmaking, take a look at how we’ve done things here at Orange Hat Film Productions.

Sam Didi in short film “Conscious” 2014.

When getting the ball rolling on a new short film there are a few things you should think of right from the start.

Ask yourself:

Who are the key production crew members?

Have you assigned key roles such as Director, Writer, Assistant Director, or given thought to Actors, Producers, Editor, Sound mixer, or Special Effects artists?

What is the goal for the final product? Will it be released online to be available for free, will it be toured at festivals, will physical copies be sold in retail?

does it have to fit within a certain genre, length, or include a certain theme?

“Look What You Have Become” is a 3-season series created for the web. Available on YouTube.

Well right there, that’s where to start,

But it’s easier said than done. Let us explain.

Here’s how we’ve done it:

1) Get an idea

Get a few ideas, write them down. When developing a feasible and interesting story, jot down more than just a one-liner about something a character does.

By idea we mean something along the lines of this:

Jamara Forbes, filmmaker, with paperwork

A character/group of characters (of an attainable age) are at a location (you have access to film in) encountering an event or a change (that sets a genre) with something at stake (drama, challenge, setback) - at this point it’s not necessary that you know all the meat of the story but DO have an idea of how you want it to end and why.

Usually spending most of our time in the character phase, making sure each of the people in my story are entire people that actors can grasp onto and bring to life. Oftentimes, if the characters would act in a certain way in a situation it can make motivation for plot points or dialogue more believable and easier to write.


2) Share your idea

As you write the screenplay out in format be open for criticism, collaboration, or alternative perspectives. On the first draft don’t focus too much on exact order of scenes but rather try to get all your ideas down in an accurate way.

Only accept other eyes to gaze upon your work when you feel you’re ready. We find that a peer evaluation, especially if planning to submit the screenplay to contests or festivals, is incredibly valuable. It’s important not to take every suggestion to heart, but to value the audience/reader’s perspective as just that.

Scriptwriting at "Orange Hat Film Productions

Try finding avenues to collaborate if you have a friend that does SFX makeup, music, or acts - I’m sure they’ll l appreciate an opportunity to showcase their craft. You could even write in a larger part or more complex special effects based on their skill-set. This is also a great way to get your project seen by a larger crowd simply by association.

Take a look at Film Freeway or Without A Box for up-to-date screenplay festival submissions and contests with cash and other prizes!


3) Pre-production ensues

Breaking down the “.44” screenplay.

Revisions should continue; we choose to write on Celtx software, but there are many others available. A short film depending on certain festivals is anything shorter than 40 minutes. After the screenplay is written, get the script broken down by scene (we’ll provide a link to our future blog about how exactly to break down a script). A rough schedule can start to take shape and help you see when it will make the most sense to film certain scenes.

Casting should be sorted out at this point, if you have actor friends even better. If you’re not as fortunate try your local theatre house, college theatre program, Facebook groups, etc.


4) Rehearsal, Table read, camera tests

Table Read for “Look What You Have Become”

Once you’ve chosen some of your key crew arrange with them a a series of dates for a table read. A “Table Read” is just everybody involved in the project sitting in around a table, or just in a living room, reading through the screenplay aloud allowing interruptions for discussion on production logistics.

If possible, get all of your chosen actors to come to the table read for not only rehearsal, but to hear the dialogue in the chosen voice. This is the perfect time to make any suggestions or necessary changes for clarity,cheesiness, or pronunciation before a final script revision to lock in the shooting script.


5) Principal Photography

Rules of thumb: 1 Page of script = 1 Minute of screen-time,

Filming 1 page of script = 1 hour shooting

Therefore, for a 10 page script schedule about 10 hours. That could be a 2 day shoot - 5 pages each day. Sort out which scenes are shot when in your schedule to avoid location changes and be sure to arrange sufficient room for transportation.

On set of “.44” with Cinematographer Darryl Ayles, actors David Parisian and Zachary Litt

Use the equipment lists you created from the breakdown of the script, make sure you have enough memory to record at the quality you’re after whether it’s 1080p, 2.5K, 4K etc. Be sure to get all equipment rentals in order, make a production calendar if that’s easiest.

TIP: Don’t forget to record room-tone while on location. Room-tone is one minute of silence in the room you plan to film in to use as a layer of ambience under the scene in the edit to create a smooth sound.

6) The Edit

“Look What You Have Become” complete editing timeline in Avid: Media Composer.

Depending on the requirements of your camera you will be recording onto certain memory cards and will need to offload this footage onto an external hard drive to edit on a computer. Our Canon XA10 camera records onto SD cards, usually for about 10 hours of filming we would need about a 32GB SD card. We choose to use a Lacie hard drives; we have a few of their Rugged 500GB and a desktop 2TB. usually one of these projects ends up being around 22GB so we can fit quite a few of these small projects on this drive with ample room to edit and export.

Another extraordinary plus about the Canon XA10 camera is the internal sound recording that integrates and syncs sound and levels into the footage. This tremendously speeds up our editing process as opposed to having double-system sound separately recorded and synced in post. This is definitely something to think through in pre-production.

“Look What You Have Become” rendering the editing timeline.


7)The Final Touches

Without fail we have made simple #hashtags for use on Instargam, Facebook, and Twitter for almost all of our projects. We love to keep people in the loop on project updates, releases, behind the scenes photos, to not only generate interest but to be present in the online Canadian film community.

If you’re required to make a press kit, start it early and keep it concise.


8)Delivery & Exhibition

"Conscious" short film screening at Hamilton Music and Film Festival 2014.

Once the edit is complete and the film is polished it’s time to prepare for its debut. Whether you want to invite the public to view it with a social media campaign or plan to do a local screening at a community cinema for family and friends of those involved, set dates and make it happen.

If you’re self distributing make sure you’ve saved enough budget to get the film to retail, if entering festivals don’t forget the non-refundable submission fees. If you’re submitting to festivals beware of festivals that demand they premiere your film - be sure to read all fine print upon submission.



We’re new to this part of the process, we’ll let you know how it works out for us this fall.

Ways to actually see some profit back from the films that you create are:

  • Sell the film at markets to distributors, networks, or studios - this is significantly easier with an agent.

  • Submit to online streaming services like Amazon Prime Video.

  • Manufacture physical disc copies on DVD or Blu-Ray to self distribute or find independent retailers.

  • Upload to YouTube and hope it goes viral enough to get monetized and see a return.

  • Sell merch, posters, or the soundtrack to your film to fans.


Have we missed anything in the process? Let us know if you have any tips for making a successful short film below!