7 Things I Learned From Directing a Short Horror Film

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In 2016 I embarked on a very ambitious project, I decided to direct, star, and write the screenplay for my very first short horror. Now, being someone who loves the horror genre, and who loves film in general, I wanted to create a horror film where the woman wasn’t only the victim, but that she could also be the villain. So I managed to convince some friends and my boyfriend to help me bring this project to fruition, and that’s how DEVIL IN THE DETAILS became my first short.

Since it was my first short and the only experience I had with film was working in front of the camera and not behind one, I didn’t quite anticipate a lot of the things that came up later in the process. With a bit of arrogance, I thought, if Quentin Tarantino could direct a film without ever stepping foot in a film school, then I too, could create an entertaining short in with grindhouse horror elements.

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The SEVEN THINGS I learned from Directing a Short Horror Film:

  1. Choose your cameramen wisely. When I first started out, I had two cameramen, and I figured that I could rely on them to know how to take good shots and edit. Well, it turns out that it’s easier to direct both actors and crew to get what you want done when you’re literally behind the camera than rather when you’re also acting in scenes. Being both the actor and director turned out to be far more complicated than anticipated. Also, you need to be able to trust that your cameramen are responsible, I made the mistake of not asking for my filmed scenes till I had filmed them all, which caused for some of the footage to be lost when the cameramen were unable to locate one of the SD cards.
  2. You will bruise or get hurt whilst filming. No one realises how intensive it is to be a horror actor. Hats off to all the veterans of horror and scream queens, because I didn’t realise how labor intensive it is to be a horror actor. I had to put up with fleas from being tied to a post, got bruises on my back from being tied to said post and bruises again from pretending to pass out and trying to make it look natural.
  3. Fake blood will haunt you for days. If you’re one of the actors who dies or gets hurt (as my character did in the short) then you will be splattered with fake blood. The funny thing about fake blood is that no matter how many times you’ve showered, you will somehow miss a spot and won’t know till someone randomly mentions to you two days later, “Are you bleeding?” and then you notice that you have a rogue bloodstain on the inner corner of your elbow.
  4. Don’t have a big cast. If someone would’ve told me just how difficult it is to coordinate everyone’s schedules when most people work on a rotating schedule, I wouldn’t have cast so many characters for the short. So my advice is, start small. Have three characters max, not seven like I did, and three crew members (which makes ten people total), cause let me tell you, trying to coordinate the schedule of ten people is difficult (although since I finished the project, not impossible).
  5. Create a budget. There are many expenses you need to consider when making a short. Some people may have to pay actors (I managed to cut that expense by getting my friends to act), you may need to pay for editing services (again, I managed to cut that expense by approaching a friend of mine from high school that works in film to help me with that, and I greatly appreciate the time and sweat he put behind it to deliver the finished project), buy props (most of our money went towards making the fake blood, but we also had to buy costumes, wig, and lights). Some filmmakers have had to pay for the location, I was lucky that my boyfriend allowed me to use his family’s historic barn house as the location of my film, again cutting expenses. Then there are film fest fees. Some film fests aren’t expensive, you can pay as low as $5, but others will ask as much as $20 or $50.
  6. Be realistic. Chances are your first film won’t be selected to play at Sundance, so don’t even bother sending it to that (not to mention having to pay a $50 entrance fee) because Sundance only accepts around 5% of the films sent to them. You’re better off using that money to enter in lesser-known festivals who are more apt to accept your entry. In fact, you should enter the majority of festivals that fit with your specific genre first, and then enter in ones that are close to where you live as more festivals are apt to select people who will be able to attend the actual festival than if they can’t.
  7. Have fun! Remember, you aren’t making films to make money or become famous (although of course, who wouldn’t want both?), but you must remember that you did this because you LOVE film and want to create something original. If you don’t love the world of film, then you won’t be able to survive the lesser fun and glamorous aspects of film.scream queenAlthough my short fell in post-production hell for two years, DEVIL IN THE DETAILS is finally complete and is currently being considered for several film festivals. Let me know if you’re a filmmaker or an aspiring filmmaker and if you have any advice or suggestions in the comments below!

     

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