My First Short Film. The Journey. Part 4. Creating A Backstory

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If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might know that I’m currently working on my first short film.

And if you’ve been reading about this project from the beginning, you know that I’ve absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

I make a living by shooting corporate videos and making animated explainer videos for companies. Not post-apocalyptic sci-fi films. And for some reason, my clients never ask for any zombies nor decayed buildings.

But a creative urge to try something different sparked the idea of trying to create some cool effects in After Effects. And the short film idea kinda evolved from that.

This means I’ve started on this journey by doing all the things, you should never do when shooting a short film:

  • having no script (just wanting to make something look cool in AE) – aka prioritizing form over matter
  • shanghaiing my girlfriend (who isn’t an actor) as the protagonist
  • having no crew – so no gaffer, no DP, no cameraman, no nothing
  • having no money (okay, this is probably true for a lot of short films)
  • having no time (okay, this is probably also true for a lot of short films)
  • and soooo many more mistakes.

The Film Prop Backstory

Way too much text to be used in the film. But creating a newspaper film prop helped me get a better idea of the backstory.

Okay, so I had these ideas for some scenes, and then I’ll try to string’em together in the end.

But as the ideas started to pop up, I realized that I needed a couple of film props.

One of those props was a newspaper, which you’ve already seen if you’ve read my last blog post about the abandoned amusement park.

I knew my protagonist was going to find a newspaper that would act as a clue as to what had happened to the world – and in the end herself.

But as I wasn’t quite sure about how much of the newspaper would actually end up in the movie, I decided to just write a couple of real articles for it e.g. some telegrams from all over the world.

The idea was that the articles in the newspaper should help drive the story forward, but it was just as important to not have the pages appear blank.

After I had written the articles, it became clear that it was waaaaaaay to much text to fit onto a screen. And that it would be incredibly boring (not to mention almost impossible) if the viewers should sit and basically read a whole newspaper, I had filmed handheld.

So I ended up using just the front page, which featured some big headlines and letters (which were much easier to read) and a couple of big photos:

Here’s the front page article including an ad for Survival Jacks Convenience Store. Again, way too much text to read on film. Only the headlines are readable. But it was fun to write and create.

But writing the other articles gave me a much better sense of the backstory for the short film. Well, let’s be honest, it created the backstory for the short film.

And it was SO fun to write and create the newspaper. And it provided me the opportunity to play some more with intertextuality, which I love.

There’s going to be a lot of subtle references to my favorite sci-fi movies in the short film. And there are also some references hidden in the newspaper articles above. See if you can spot them. Some are subtle – and some are pretty obvious.

I just wished I had the time to dip the paper in tea and coffee before the shoot to make it look really old. I had to do that in post with an overlay of some old paper.

Conclusion

So what can you learn from this experience?

Well, first of all, it’s probably a good idea to create a script and a backstory first.

Second, it can be really helpful to create a backstory – either as a film prop or as some notes in a sketchbook – even though they may never end up in the film because it gives you a better understanding of the story and characters in your film. And it provides context.

Third, it is impossible – and incredibly boring – to show a lot of text in a short film. So don’t!

Read Part 5 about shooting a film noir sequence here.


About the author:

Jan Sørup is a videographer and photographer from Denmark. He’s the owner of filmdaft.com and of the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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