A Level Media
*The short film tips also are relevant to the title sequence notes.
Students need to think carefully about the title of the film and how you can cleverly incorporate it in to
your sequence. How many titles do you show?
Be aware of the pacing and what the sequence is serving, is it narrative or stylistic, and are the titles part
of the look? (Panic Room, Se7en)
Do the titles start immediately or do they come in after big opening sequence (Raiders).
Think carefully about the colour and tone of the sequence, what colour should the titles be?
Are they editorial punctuation marks (white against black) or do they sit in the environment seamlessly?
Think about how the music is used in the sequence. Is it a sound design or composed track? Original
music is always better.
Try and record ambient sound effects using the camera to layer up the sequence. Sound is 50% of the
Think carefully about the use of editing; are you composing an exciting and energetic opening with
jarring cuts and snatched moments, or are you building up questions and suspense with lingering moody
shots and ambiguous images? Understand your tone and mood and shoot with that clearly in mind.
Don’t rely on ‘the edit’ to sort everything. Shoot for the edit and you will have a richer and fuller
experience with many more options.
Short film tips:
Remember it is a short film and the idea can be very simple.
Try to write from some form of experience. Try to use events or situations you have experienced to
draw upon. It may just be a thought or a sensation; the closer you are to it the more authentic it will
Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite again. Make sure your script is absolutely nailed before you start
storyboarding. Know your story and know your characters.
Keep your story authentic and your setting authentic. You want your audience to believe in your
characters and your ‘world’.
Do not try to remake Star Wars or some other big blockbuster. It’s all about the story first.
Think carefully about what genre your story is in and then utilise that genre’s conventions to maximise
the film’s effect
A great idea/story shot simply is far more effective than a competently shot piece with a mediocre
Storyboard your shots and ideas out, and try to do a paper edit. Even go as far as to film your
storyboard and do an animatic with basic sound effects to get a feel for the pacing and story
Try to cast properly with people who want to do it, not friends under duress. Get some time with the
cast so they have some time to work out their approach. Workshop with them if you get time.
Research your locations carefully. Make realistic choices and scout the location at the time you are likely
to shoot, to know about traffic noise and other obstacles that may not be initially apparent.
Try to keep your locations close together, so as not to waste shooting time travelling to all the different
Think about power outlets and ways of lighting and powering your location. How accessible is your
location, can a car get there with your equipment?
Feeding your cast and crew – very important. An army marches on its stomach.
What props do you need and are they easily accessible? Break down your story into scenes and make
sure you have all the props you need for each scene in advance. Don’t leave things to chance.
Create a shooting list of shots from these broken down scenes and have them in order of priority. Expect
to lose some shots as your shooting day progresses; things always go wrong. If you have storyboarded it
well you will easily know which shots you can afford to lose and the ones you MUST get!
Be realistic about what you can shoot in a day. Better to have 10 very well crafted shots than 20 barely
acceptable ones. You will never use them.
Learn your camera equipment. Try to go fully manual mode if you feel confident. It will create a more
professional look and the shots will have more continuity. Play with DOP (depth of field) in camera, a
longer lens will make the background fall out of focus and draws the eye to your in-focus subject...it also
looks very filmic!
Use a tripod and have clear steady movements when panning. Go handheld if the idea requires that
immediacy and twitchy feel.
Think about your background when you are framing up your shots, don’t put something hugely
distracting behind your characters unless there is a story reason to do so.
Consider your framing carefully, what are you trying to convey to the viewer. Wide establishing master
shot will help your viewer understand the environment and placement of people. Then actively go in
tighter and tighter to grab your details. However, think about how much information you want your
viewer to have access to. Are you hiding stuff from them on purpose for dramatic effect? Would a tight
ambiguous shot be more in keeping with your approach? These are important questions for students to
Play around with different lens sizes, but remember the more you zoom your lens the more unstable it
looks, with every movement amplified. Use a tripod to help you achieve stability. The wider the lens
the more in focus the whole shot will be, the longer the lens the shallower the DOP.
Try to get your sound as clear as possible and remember you can re-record later if desperate. Dodgy
sound lets a film down, no matter how great the pictures look. Always record ‘wild tracks’ in each
location so your scenes have continuity in sound as well as pictures. Also worth recording extra sound
effects on a subsequent day if your shoot day is very rushed.
When editing, try to do a very rough assembly first; do not get bogged down by fine cutting little bits at
a time. You always need to see the bigger picture and how each scene works against the others.
Imagine the edit from a profile view, where are the peaks and troughs pacing wise, when does it slow
down in your head, and then when does it pick up pace and race along? Your edit might not reflect
what you had originally imagined but that is absolutely ok.
Keep the edit as lean as you can. Short films have no fat. Everything in the film must push the story
You make the film 3 times: Once when you write it, then again when you shoot it and finally when you
edit it. It will evolve and that is ok. As long as decisions are clearly explained then it’s all relevant and
valid. You need to let the rushes tell their story.
Spend a good deal of time on the sound; it is 50% of the film watching experience. Re-record dialogue if
it sounds too rough. Go out and get extra sound effects to fill your audio space. Sound design can be as
involved as the picture cut so make time for it.
Think carefully about your use of music and where it lies in your film. Usually less is more!