The Eye-Opening & Honest Account of Making My First Ever Short Film

Third year university. Our last opportunity to make a film before semester was over. Each student was given the task of writing a 5 minute script with less than 20 something lines of dialogue. I was pretty happy with what I wrote. The story had potential and it represented the kind of film I enjoyed watching and ultimately could see myself making.

Then came the pitch. The result of which would dictate what 4 scripts would be made into films. Fortunately, to my surprise, mine was selected and soon I had a crew and my very first chance to direct something. Seeing as this was my career goal I immediately started to put pressure on myself. This had to be good!

Even with no budget we began to find our actors, put together the shot list, lock in locations, and quicker than we all probably would have liked, arrived at day 1 of the shoot.

On set with our make-shift scrims

Overall the shoot went well. I had an amazing Assistant Director who kept us all to time, the actors were lovely and easy to work with, and honestly I really did like my script. I was so nervous that I wasn’t sure how to explain what I wanted from my actors though. In my head I had a vision but I struggled to execute. Part of this was the immense pressure I put on myself to be perfect at Directing immediately which, looking back on the experience, was completely unrealistic and I thoroughly regret doing that to myself.

The other reason I believe I choked was not being fully backed up by my crew. Having ones success in passing a course on the line meant a different level of investment in the project to the point where one particular crew member decided they wanted to have a go at direction. Soon my actors became confused about who to listen to and being the meek kind of personality I am I struggled to tell this person off without destroying the vibe of the set and ruining the shoot.

Looking back I’m not sure if the undermining was because of my gender or the age gap between me and this particular person, but whatever it was I took a hit to my confidence and the finished film, though achieved us passing grades, was not the film I ultimately wanted to make.

But why am I even writing about this?

Capture of my first short film ‘The Coat’

For women in this industry there is pressure to be perfect immediately because we are already at a disadvantage. We don’t get to stuff up, dust ourselves off, and try again. In the big budget world of cinema women directors are still (even though its shifting slowly) seen as a financial risk. Even if the film does well female directors may not always be asked to do another project. Men however are given project after project even if they flop, even if its critically slammed. And this was the mindset I had whilst making my film even though it was only a small university film.

I have grown as a person and as a creator since graduating university and with hindsight my first directing experience has taught me a couple of lessons:

  1. Nothing is more important when making a film than the people you are making it with.
  2. Nobody will be perfect at something the first time they try it so allow yourself to make mistakes.
  3. Don’t be so goddamn hard on yourself!

I have not made another film since this one, but this is not a tale of woe designed to turn women off directing. In fact it’s the opposite. After creating my subjective flop all I saw around me were people succeeding. It was hard to look at other students my age move on from uni to film amazing projects and create really interesting stuff. But social media has a way of hiding our flaws and I don’t think that’s as empowering as showing off how many times we failed trying to get there.

Since graduating university I have since discovered my favourite quote of all time from American senator Elizabeth Warren, “Nevertheless, She Persisted.” This has become my mantra, my battle cry, and now sits at the base of everything I do. I have not made another film since this one, but now it’s not due to a lack of wanting to. This blog for me is about creating a community of women who are trying to make films. Some doing it very successfully, others starting out, and others not even knowing whether they have the skill to start.

I’m here to tell you, you do.

So in the spirit of showing our failures as much as our successes…I have included my first film below for your viewing. I don’t think anyone can criticise it more then I already have so if you would like to leave a comment down below then by all means let me know what you think.

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