How I made my short film ‘At the Fort’

Original article published 2014, updated August 2022

I was out running on the coast near my home a few years back when I came across the remains of Lavernock Fort, a Second World War gun battery. It seemed like a great location for a short film.

I like to use short examples at the beginning of my filmmaking courses, to help people realise how much is involved in telling a story with film. So I decided that my film would use a variety of shot sizes, lenses, sound, editing and camera angles.

I came up with a story about someone discovering a mysterious object. I drafted a storyboard in pencil, and then recruited actor and film educator Matt, and my daughter Rhian, to act in the film.

Storyboard

The first page of my storyboard. I used this to create a detailed shot list.

Filming

I filmed it on a Canon 60D DSLR. I bought mine new, but you can pick them up used for £150/$200, a fraction of the price I paid. The most expensive item I used was a 10-22 ultrawide lens – again, they’re very affordable used. For the shallow focus shots I used vintage 50mm, 85mm and 200mm Olympus OM Zuiko manual focus lenses.

I also used a plastic Steadicam JR stabiliser I bought on eBay (not recommended – it doesn’t stay balanced). I also used a tripod, a monopod, an old wheelchair, and five-in-one reflectors.

Filming would have been easier with my current setup, a Panasonic G85 and DJI Ronin-SC stabiliser.

It took several sessions to get all the shots I wanted. I followed the shot list, and filmed extra shots as well. I returned on my own later to record ’B-roll’ (details of things like walls, plants and puddles).

Dialogue

I also filmed a dialogue scene, using a Zoom H1 recorder mounted on a boom pole. The dialogue sounded OK on headphones, but when I got home I realised there was terrible echo from the concrete walls.

I ended up having to do manual ADR (automatic dialogue replacement). Basically I re-recorded the dialogue, with several different takes of each line. In my editing program I lined up the waveforms that matched best, adding ‘room tone’ (silent background sound) underneath. Next time I’d use wireless lavalier microphones, or record from lavs into phones and sync the sound afterwards.

Editing

When I came to edit the film I ended up leaving out several shots that seemed redundant in favour of a shorter, punchier version without the dialogue scene. I edited, sharpened and graded the film in Final Cut Pro X.

Shots All the shots in the final film. 

Edit it yourself

You can edit the film – and the dialogue scene – yourself. My downloadable package EditClass includes over 90 shots, with alternative lenses, framing and camera position.

EditClass header

The package includes

  • a user guide covering editing principles, workflow and tips, and basic and intermediate editing activities
  • ‘getting started’ guides for Adobe Premiere Pro CC (PC and Mac), Final Cut Pro X, iMovie (Mac and iOS).
  • a 34-page PowerPoint introduction to the continuity system.
    Learn more…

Five stars  “An excellent resource that my students loved.” Jennifer M
Five stars “Extremely satisfied…just learnt so much about film editing.” Fraser F

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