Here is a list of some of the most important elements to keep in mind when making a short film. Following these guidelines will help you avoid the more common pitfalls. While these are only suggestions, they will almost certainly improve both your film and your filmmaking experience.
Make sure you have a story worth tellingWould you sit through the short film if someone else had made it? The answer for a surprising number of shorts is No. Ask yourself this question before you even start writing the script.
Don’t start production without a budget
Films, no matter how simple, cost money -- and money is always limited. By making sure you have a budget (a simple spreadsheet will do), you can decide in advance where you want to spend whatever money you have. Without a budget, you can almost guarantee that you will either spend more money than you plan, or end up without the finished film.
Get all clearances before shooting
You need, need, NEED releases from actors, music/artwork contributors, and anyone else who produces content that appears in the film. Getting clearance signatures before the shoot is simple and takes you moments. After the shoot, it can be difficult to impossible. Don’t get caught, do it now.
Make the film shorter than you want
Writer/directors always often leave things in the movie that the audience can really do without. It’s so painful to trim away things that were difficult to shoot. Make sure you do it. Your audience will thank you.
When using non-professional actors, cast with personality
I believe bad acting is so common in short films because people are asked to play characters that don’t resemble their personalities. A dirt-poor professional actor can portray the swagger and confidence of a billionaire – but most amateurs can’t. If your lead is an anal-retentive tightwad, don’t cast a slovenly slacker to play him.
Invest in good sound
Bad sound makes many short films (even ones with good stories) unbearable. There are no real replacements for a decent boom mike. Beg, buy, or borrow one and it will triple the chances your film will be watch-able.
Fix it now, not in post-production
Without Digital Domain or WETA working for you, most post-production fixes don’t look/sound very good and take A LOT of time. If you have a mistake in framing, dialogue, or anything else that can be fixed on the shoot, do it!
Don’t zoom in a shot
Don’t touch that zoom switch! A really good cameraman can make a zoom look OK. In almost all cases, though, using zooming is the hallmark of a sad effort. If you need to push in on a subject, use a dolly, camera glider, or a cut.
Know the indie/short film clichés
The most common clichés include using dream sequences, many dissolves/wipes, long credit sequences, or waking to a ringing alarm clock. There even seem to be a few websites devoted exclusively to citing indie/short film clichés. Know what the clichés are so you can make an intelligent choice on whether to use them or not.
Unless you’re shooting on film, avoid night exteriors
Darkness is the enemy of most camcorders. You’ll become acquainted with noise, color shifting, definition drop-out, and more if you choose to shoot at night without a medium size lighting package. It’s usually a lot easier to change the script than deal with all these problems.