This summer, we wrote, directed and edited a short movie called The Real Quinn Hardy, about an aspiring singer-songwriter who thinks she’s about to make it to the majors. When it all goes wrong, she digs deep to write a song that she hopes will change everything.
It all started back in April, in Nashville, at the Bluebird Cafe, where inspiration struck in the middle of eating a black bean burger, forcing us to actually stop eating (damn it though the burger was SO GOOD, the muse does not respect the burger) and start scribbling the first few ideas, beats and lines of dialogue.
Later that night (after an AWESOME Bluebird set by the way — shoutout to Jessica Roadmap!), we pretty much had a first draft. We spent a month polishing and rewriting it, because all writing is really rewriting, then a month in preproduction where we cast our brilliant and wonderful actors (Rachel Keefe, Ana-Lisa Gunn, Brian Gallagher and Brittany Kleban), storyboarded it, designed the sets, and wrote the song too (which our fantastic lead actress Rachel also sang!).
Then, yikes! We shot it. D went full Spielberg, while A basically ran the set. It was awesome.
11 hours, 3 scenes, 70 shots later…
…it was time to edit.
So, we edited. And edited. And edited. And six weeks later (glossing over Apocalypse Now levels of insanity), we had a short movie.
Like, we made a thing, guys. It’s real!
We learned SO MUCH from this experience.
The most important, practical thing? Write what you can reasonably shoot with the resources that you have. Think about who you might be able to cast (friends, family, nonunion local actors, your super famous A-list third cousin), what kind of props you can scrounge together, where you can shoot, and then base your story around that. Yes, spaceships would be cool. Couple of dinosaurs? Obviously awesome. Superheroes who can fly? Hell yeah. But, realistically, it’s more likely to be people drinking coffee. Which is FINE –two people talking in a room can be beautiful, epic, hilarious, devastating… As long as you write it that way!
No less a filmmaker than Judd Apatow summed up his entire filmography as exactly that — people sitting around talking. You could say the same thing about Cameron Crowe (the brilliantly mind-bending Vanilla Sky aside).
It’s all in the HOW, not the WHAT.
The what is “people talking.” The how is the kind of people, the subjects they talk about (and around), and where they’re talking. Are they in a cafe, on a space station, arguing about comic books, dealing with an alien invasion (you know, the usual short movie topics).
The question you need to ask yourself is how can you make your people talking interesting? What’s the hook? What’s the thing about your story that is purely you. The thing only you could do in that moment? Because there is something — you just need to find out what it is. Felicia Day was a hardcore gamer when she started writing her groundbreaking web series The Guild — it’s people talking, but the hook was gamers talking about gaming.
In our case, we love music, and we write music, and we were SUPER INSPIRED by the awesomeness that is Nashville. So we based our story around a songwriter.
Also important!! Don’t worry about whether you have expensive cameras, a crew, or access to all your dream locations. In the end, you have to find a way to make it happen on your terms, with what you have in front of you. If you can’t shoot in a real cafe, dress a room to look like one. If you don’t have RED cameras, use a regular camera, or even your phone. Make whatever you’re using work for you in the context of the story. Write the scene or the movie, find some actors, feed them, let them do what they do best while you point your camera at them. Then edit it together and…
Over the next few months we’ll be posting regularly in a lot more detail about every stage of making a short, from concept to script to preproduction to shooting to postproduction and beyond.
But for now, we’ll leave you with this. We didn’t want to sit around thinking about why no one has offered us the next Star Wars movie (side note: Lucasfilm, please offer us the next Star Wars movie) — we wanted to make something — so we made something.
And you can too.