How to create a short film on a budget

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(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

A short film is a gateway to the world of feature films. Making a quality short film can leverage a filmmaker to the next level where she could be hired to write, direct or produce a feature film — which is a dream come true for a filmmaker. Thus, it is imperative to make a high-quality short film no matter how limited the budget is and the resources are. Even with high limitation it is possible to make a high-quality short film if the planning and the management is done right.

I have produced and directed six short films, the budgets for which have ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Resources were always limited due to my limited budgets. However, with meticulous planning I have always managed to create high quality products that have garnered accolades in film festivals.

My short film, “Junk DNA,” a comedy with a scientific backdrop, was shot in a highly expensive biotechnological laboratory. The filming continued for two days with over seven actors and over five crew members. Although the budget was limited, I made sure to feed my cast and crew good quality food. Cooking the food at home — my parents helped in that — not only raised the quality of the food, but saved me a ton of money as well.

“Junk DNA” received the highly prestigious REMI award for “Original Comedy Short” at the respected World-Fest Houston International Film Festival.

You can watch the full film in the video below:

Making a short film is not just an artistic endeavor but also a management project that must be executed with high precision. Following the steps as indicated below in the same sequence will not only save a filmmaker a lot of hassle in future but will make sure that the project is delivered with highest level of efficiency.

  1. Full Script: Once the full first draft of the film is ready, it must be worked on and rewritten a few times in consultation with other filmmakers. A Table read of the script could be arranged and the feedback on the script must be incorporated. This will ensure a full draft of the script that will most probably not need any major revision once the pre-production starts.
  2. Storyboard: The storyboarding for the entire script must be completed right after the script is ready. Storyboarding is extremely important in context of the whole project. This is the visual representation of the film and must be completed at the very beginning of the project.
  3. Script Breakdown: The filmmaker must work on breaking down the script scene by scene in the next step. This will give her a clear understanding of the different elements (characters, locations, props etc.) needed for each scene.
  4. Dates: The filming dates must be fixed according to the convenience and the availability of the filmmaker. Once the dates are fixed, everything else will follow.
  5. Locations: Potential filming locations must be scouted. The necessary locations must be booked as soon as possible based on their availabilities.
  6. Key Crew: The key crew such as the director of photography, the sound guy, the first assistant director and the hair and make-up person must be booked right after the location is fixed. These are the key crew who are essential in making a short film.
  7. Cast: Potential actors must be auditioned, and the cast must be booked based on their availabilities for the filming dates. It is important to keep in mind that booking a talented cast who is available for the filming dates is more important than just booking the most talented cast!
  8. Pre-Production and Rehearsal: The pre-production for the film includes getting together any other crew members who are needed, craft items, lunch on the filming days, wardrobe for all actors, props and any other related matters. Rehearsal for the scenes with different actors must also be conducted at the same time. Rehearsals are very important since that will save unnecessary waste of time during filming on set.
  9. Filming: Filming on set should run smoothly if the above matters have been dealt with and a rigorous pre-production has been conducted. However, there are always unknown factors that might disrupt the filming schedule on set. So a filmmaker must be extremely flexible and always ready to adapt and accommodate to new plans and strategies as needed to make sure the filming is executed on a timely manner.
  10. Post-Production: Once the footage of the film is with the post-production unit, the filmmaker must constantly communicate with the editor, the music composer, and the sound mixer to make sure the final product comes out as desired.

Once the film is ready, running it through to different film festivals gives the filmmaker a chance to showcase her talent and at the same time also gives her a great opportunity to network with fellow filmmakers and move to the next level.

Learn more about my filmmaking process in the video below:

Koushik Chattopadhyay originally hails from India and has a doctoral degree in human genetics, but lives in his dream city of Los Angeles where he currently pursues his longtime dream of becoming an "Indian in Hollywood." Learn more on his website,, or follow him on Twitter at @indianinhollywd or on Facebook at Indian in Hollywood.

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