Sign In
Available Runners
Member Reviews
Success Stories
MFJF Alumni
Why Go PRO?
Why Go PRO?
Our Credits
PRO Member Rewards
Career Resources
Career Guides
CV Advice
Example CVs
Industry Essentials
Find People to Work With
The Screening Room
Our Blog
Film Courses
Post a Job

My First Job in Film has two sites.
Which would you like to enter?



We'll save your preferences


A Guide On How To Make our First Short Film

February 2023 | Dávid Bodrogi

How go you make a start on making a short film?

This article will show you how a film is generally produced and how you can elevate your first film through the examination of my own experience, it will also cover mental traps to avoid as a creative.

I have adored films and watched them over and over again as a youngster, if I were a few years younger I would’ve destroyed countless VHS tapes from the repeated viewings. I was captivated by the magic of the silver screen and I wanted to understand how it’s done. I decided to become a filmmaker, and instantly I knew I desired to be a director. 

Straight after high school, I went to study Film Production at a university. I struggled to enjoy its first 2 years. I was let down by the expectations of my university. I wanted to learn a wide range of subjects in depth like art/film history, music theory, lighting, psychology, directing actors and writing to name a few, but I’ve felt like I wasn’t learning as much as I’d like to not even nearly. The other reason I didn’t enjoy my course was I couldn’t direct a project until the second half of my degree, and I’ve had very limited influence in the films I’ve taken part in. I didn’t feel fulfilled.  I was eager to prove my directorial proves when I had my first chance. I was destined to fail with that project. I’ve had a great collaboration with my writer, but that is one of the few aspects I can look back on with pride. I wanted to do more than I could handle, and the production crumbled under my leadership. I couldn’t get the production value I wanted to. I’ve had problems with most of the crew and I had to do a lot of additional work instead of them. We had to start the production meetings and even principal photography (hours) late as crew members showed up late. By the time we started shooting, I felt this was doomed and I couldn’t muster an ounce of confidence. Every time I tried to give directions to the actors, I questioned every word I uttered, and I felt I have no clue what I’m doing, and that I don’t belong there. On the first night, I also suffered an accident which probably left me with a concussion for the rest of the production and we also got stranded in the middle of a forest on a winter night. The postproduction ran in a similar fashion my editor disappeared for long periods of time as he fought his own personal struggles. I didn’t have the footage at the time, so it was a struggle to take the edit over. I had to showcase this work to my peers and tutor, I was so petrified that I was physically unable to say anything to them, so my writer spoke instead of me. Nobody understood the film or had an emotional reaction to it, even though people have been aware of its storyline from its inception. 

After this fiasco, my thoughts were wrapped around my failure. I didn’t know if I should still pursue this career if I was really any good at directing. I was obsessing over what to do with my final year at university, whether I should specialise as a cinematographer or direct my thesis film. This was a daily topic in my household and I just didn’t know the answer. I didn’t know if I would have what it takes to potentially go through a struggle like the last one. I also had no idea of a story that could or would drive me. But this completely changed over an afternoon when my Dad told me about a legend on how a Jewish community dealt with their sick. Without revealing too much this community tried to heal their sick through spirituality and faith. I’ve got fascinated by this story and I couldn’t help to imagine scenes from a story like this and how I would put my take on this story. It took me about a day to say this is what I will settle on after months of heartache over my incompetence. I quickly titled it Tale of Life. From the start, I knew I wanted to make a film worthy of it’s potential to deal with sophisticated themes which permeate every society such as religion, life, death, faith and philosophy. It was my last chance to prove to myself I can actually make at least a good film while wanting to make a great one. I’ve had to ask myself what the mistakes were that I made and how could I avoid them when making Tale of Life.

The first challenge, after facing my insecurities, was writing the script. I have never written a script before and I was unsure how to progress the story forward and how to write dialogues. I knew very quickly the rough outline of the story beats, but I wasn’t sure how it could be tied together. I thought a lot about it, but I couldn’t see the forest from the tree. I had to start writing my ideas in a more formulated way to see that I’d been missing the big picture when I was concentrating on the details. Don’t misunderstand me the details are important, but there is a time and place for them. At the start, I should’ve been exploring the story and not worrying about scene transitions or specific dialogues. I should’ve explored the world and the people living in it, I should’ve asked myself where could this journey lead. The other major revelation, which is silly to even write, because it’s so self-evident is to start writing! The first draft will be awful, but it will nevertheless be a piece of text you can think about and move forward with. It will be something that you can show to other people and ask for their opinion about it. I can not stress this enough - be open! As creatives, we want to protect our darlings and hold on to them even when we shouldn’t. In some instances it took me a long time to agree to a change suggested by my tutors or peers, it’s hard to know when to stick to your guts and when to listen. 

People often say ‘write what you know’, which is great advice, but I think you’ll never know or feel like you know enough. It’s an important part of any piece of writing to do your research! Research writing itself, the themes you deal with, the human psyche, the setting and the time period. For instance, I’ve had to spend time finding software that would support all the languages in that I wrote my script. Tale of Life is a film that I shot in Hungary, I’ll tell you why later, hence it was written in Hungarian, but I’ve had to translate every draft so that I could show my English professors what I wrote. As a Hungarian Jew, I wrote about a fictional Hungarian Jewish rural community that lived before the Great War. Even though I like to think I know my roots and community I’ve had to do a fair bit of research about the details of a community from that time, from what they believed to how they spoke and what they wore. It’s crucial to reinforce your existing knowledge with research! I left the most general and probably the most important advice last, learn about story structures there are an infinite amount of breakdowns that you can find such as Joseph Campbell The Hero’s Journey, William Goldman Adventures in a Screen Trade, John Truby The Anatomy of Story, John York Into the Woods. If you’re not much of a reader I suggest that you watch YouTube channels such as Lessons from the Screenplay or Just Write. 

From the start, I wanted to shoot this film in Hungary, because I knew my possibilities and my resources were immensely better than in England. This is something you have to consider before starting any project what can you do with your resources? You have to use what you’ve got. I’ve got a fairly wide social network in Hungary and I knew I could build on that. I knew that I could get locations from the Hungarian Jewish community, that I couldn’t dream of in England. I knew that I could reach out to top actors and actresses a lot easier as the industry isn’t as bureaucratic. I could ask friends and family to help in various ways. When I thought my script was at the stage where I could start ‘casting’ I got to work on finding the right people, I needed 7 actors for speaking roles. It was an interesting experience and unlike most films where most casts go through a thorough process to get the role, in this film only the leading lady sent in a casting tape. I asked an actress friend, Kata, to take part in it first, I think knowing that she said yes gave me more confidence to go after the other cast members. I reached out to two more acquaintances, Dorka, was to play the leading lady and Gábor was to play one of the leading forces within the community. I didn’t know Dorka well or her acting chops. She is a young actress, so she was keen on working together even before I told her any specifics she sent me an amazing video where she spoke about her connection to the character and I was sold by it instantly. With Gábor it was a different situation I helped on the set of a short film as a camera trainee where he played a role. I felt that he probably didn’t even remember me about a year and a half later when I reached out to him and I had to persuade him in a little. There were three other roles that I ended up getting three truly respected award-winning actors for, who have been part of this industry before I was even born. I would look at the galleries of different theatres searching for the right characters for the three roles, when I felt I saw a face that would fit, and a little bit of research backed this up, I sent a short email through the theatres telling them about the project and myself. When they said that they were interested and have time for it I sent them a copy of the script and that’s when they confirmed. Jewish prayers had an important part in the film so I wanted to give that role to a famous Jewish cantor, who I thought I had secured or so I thought. (More on that later.) I met with each and every one of the actors which I think is a huge part of why or how I got to work with them. I was able to show them locations, costumes and all sorts of visual ideas, I spoke about the world of the film and their specific role and what this film means to me and what they can bring to it. Above all, I was honest about my skill level and asked for their patience and help. You’d be surprised how much these people are willing to help launch young artists' careers. 

Learning from my failure in my previous attempt I knew I had to find a crew I could rely on. I’ve had friends who were kind enough to work with me on this project. I found others through common friends and through contacting the Hungarian film school. We had very frequent and strong communication with everyone through Skype. Even though we were countries apart as they were in Hungary and I was in England, I felt that it was almost like a normal production office. Speaking about every detail of the story, the visuals, the sonic language and so on. We showed each other what we’ve been working on and what we think and progressed further. We also used Google Drive to share documents, visuals and sounds with each other. Having good communication with your crew is crucial! It may seem weird, but thanks to technology a film can be prepped almost the same way from afar. Thanks to cheap flights I was able to fly back to Hungary for the winter break to have face-to-face meetings with my cast and also my crew. That’s also when we went on the location scouting and did everything that we might not be able to do online like test shoots. 

After roughly half a year of preproduction, we got into principal photography which is the time when in most cases everything turns upside down and you have to throw out your carefully laid plans and improvise. As a director you have to solve every problem with the available resources, you have to create an open and relaxed atmosphere where everyone can explore ideas and add to the creative process. We got to our set which was a small folklore museum, this museum was the home of our heroine in the story. We had a lot of work to do with the room as it was arranged as a museum not like a bedroom, as we got rid of the needless clutter, we discovered one of our major problems. As the bed was rearranged it felt too light. It turned out that we didn’t actually have a complete bed, we had the outer frame of a bed and a mattress shoved on it, but if someone lay on it there was nothing to hold the mattress in place. It was crucial to have a bed as our heroine was on her deathbed throughout the whole piece. Obviously, this wasn’t something we prepared for, and we had to find a quick and easy solution. We ended up taking a table apart and shoving the top of the table under the mattress to hold it up, but as it wasn’t the right shape parts of it stuck out, which we had to hide from the camera. I think that this is one of the best examples of the kind of surreal problems you can have on a short low budget film set that would never exist in real life. You have to expect the unexpected and be ready to face it! After a successful, but stressful first 2 days of shooting, I lost the cantor due to scheduling conflicts. I was supposed to shoot with him on the 3 days of shooting in a week. I’ve asked Balázs or probably begged is a better word one of the leaders of the synagogue, I was to shoot at, to play this role as he was already helping me on the day and consulting on the film. I was elated that he said yes, and I had one less problem to deal with. But once the day came, he felt camera shy and passed the role to someone else from the community who came to be an extra. This has happened without anyone telling me about it. I sort of heard about it as gossip. Once I was really told I spoke with the old man that this role got passed on to. It was one of the most awkward interactions I’ve had to have on set. He was in make-up with half his costume on and I didn’t even know his name. I was trying to get him out of the costume and make room to have a chat with him, but he was adamant about finishing the make-up (fake beard) and putting on the costume. After a while I got him to come with me and do a quick little rehearsal with just the two of us. All I could think was how can I tell this sweet old man that he isn’t right for the part when he is clearly excited about it? He was supposed to be a religious singer and I couldn’t hear him from a distance, and he couldn’t do any basic improvements from my directions. I had to tell him that I am so honoured he would spend his free time helping me make this film and that I would love to have him be part of the film as an extra, but he isn’t right for this part. After this conversation sadly he left as he felt playing an extra was beneath him. I went back to Balázs to persuade him, but he told me to try one more person if that person wouldn’t good, he would do it. This ended up being a blessing in disguise as Sándor looked exactly right for the role. But to utilize this we had to rewrite the script on the day as he just wasn’t able to learn his lines or get the rhythm of the scenes. He was perfect as a cantor singing the prayers and as he wasn’t a trained singer like I initially imagined, he brought a sense of reality as a small rural community would’ve had someone like him a very spiritual and enthusiastic cantor without formal training. This situation could’ve completely killed the film if it wasn’t rewritten on the spot, but this way it’s a subtle strength of the film.  I’m going to end with this sentiment, you can become lucky, but you have to recognize that luck and use it to the maximum. 

Contribute to the community

Would you like to share your set stories, write reviews or blog about your journey into the industry? MFJF would love to hear from you!

Contact Us