3 Producers On The Challenges of Short Filmmaking (and How They Overcame Them)

Pura Vida

Chris Shimojima

This post is in partnership with Cadillac

Cadillac and the Producers Guild of America recently launched Make Your Mark, a short film competition that challenges producers to create compelling content with limited resources. Contestants will make a short film over a single weekend in late June, and the 30-second Cadillac spot featuring the grand prize winner’s film will air during the 2015 Academy Awards.

Your eyes are bright, your heart is full, and your optimism is high. You want to attempt to join the ranks of those creators who’ve gain notice by crafting a sensational short film. Maybe you’ve got a thousand ideas swarming your mind, or maybe you’re quietly panicking while waiting for inspiration to strike. Maybe you’ve got the camera but no crew, or the crew but no camera. Maybe your credit card is going to ache in the morning.

No matter what situation you’re in, making your short film is going to have challenges — both technical and creative — and it always helps to hear from those who have come before you.

Here are three producers who have all crafted uniquely excellent short films describing the biggest filmmaking problem they faced and the way they faced it.

Ben Kitnick – Writer/director/producer The Photo Man

“Our biggest hurdle while creating The Photo Man was our lack of resources. We had two days to film and owned minimal equipment. But my collaborator Saxon Richardson and I drove from Phoenix to Los Angeles in hopes of making something special.

We overcame this hurdle by embracing and adapting to the circumstances. Due to the time constraints, we simplified the story to emphasize Mark Kologi’s profession rather than his backstory. And as a result of our lack of equipment, we focused on creating a relaxing, comfortable environment for shooting. With simply a camera and a mic, we were able to have a genuine and engaging conversation with Mark without the pressures of multiple cameras, lights, and reflectors filling his garage. I think our hurdles resulted in a better film.”


Matt Steinauer – Writer/director/producer Gumshoe

The main challenge was my self-imposed limitations. It would be black-and-white, seemingly shot in one take, and use a limited POV. Also, I wanted the story to move quickly and by using mostly off-screen sound, the goal was to engage the viewer’s imagination to fill in the visual blanks. 

During production, the choreography was challenging, and I kept stepping into the chocolate syrup ‘blood’ a bit too much, making me nearly slip and fall every time I squared off against the big guy in the hallway. It was sort of like a Rube Goldberg machine, trying to balance the visual interest, storytelling, and entertainment value. After the camera dropped down to me on a pulley, I held it for the remainder of the shot. The challenge was to coordinate the lightning strikes, character shadows, and speed rail pipes that lifted me up when I’m ‘choked.’

We did it with such a small crew that no one was left to catch me at the end when I got ‘shot’ and had to fall on my back. The location still had wiring from the ‘20s so we popped a lot of circuits but still ended up shooting it in about eight hours.”


Chris Shimojima – Writer/director/producer Pura Vida

“The trickiest thing was figuring out how to make Pura Vida on a small budget with a loose script. I couldn’t afford to fly out a crew, so I knew it was just going to be me and the two actors, who were willing to cover part of their trip.

To stay mobile, I had to carry a DSLR around my neck, another lens in my backpack, and wireless audio receivers in a pouch around my waist. Rainy season in Costa Rica also became a problem, so we lost a lot of time being rained in or protecting the gear. And on top of making sure we had usable footage, we had to keep in mind the narrative thread, which was tough because we were improvising various moments and in no particular order.

It came down to having lots of character conversations on the bus rides. And it meant losing several beautiful moments once in the editing room. But I think the challenge of shooting like this was also our biggest asset. It helped me reconnect with the spirit of being independent. It just felt right.”


Learn more about the Make Your Mark competition.

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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