The Short Film / Student Film Experience

For those wanting to become film directors, often the best path is simply to make your own independent film productions of short films.

This series of stories from the novel non-Hollywood follows a young aspiring filmmaker as she goes about the business of learning how to make films.

So have a listen (and read along if you'd like) as author Neal A. Yeager reads some stories about the short film / student film experience.

Watch above, or click to view on Youtube

Shadows in Short Film

Chapter 3: Shadows in Short Film

The petite girl went by the name Icon, even though this was not the moniker her mother had blessed her with eighteen years ago, and even though she was quiet, introverted, and basically not the type who you would think would choose such a bold pseudonym for herself. For years Icon had been fascinated by the idea of one day becoming a cinematographer and a film director. Today she sat on the beach at Santa Monica and stared out at the ocean. She had been doing it all day. It was a research project.

Before her was a small digital still camera on a cheap tripod which was facing out at the ocean; on her right was another camera, but it faced northward up the coast; on her left was a camera facing southward down the beach; and behind her was a camera facing back toward the cliffs upon which sat the city of Santa Monica.

She popped a few antacids in her mouth — her stomach was constantly burning — and glanced at her watch: a quarter after. Icon stood, then walked from one camera to the next, snapping a single photo with each camera. She had started this little ritual just before dawn and it was her intention to keep going until sundown, snapping a series of photos every 15 minutes. Her aim was simple: she wanted to see where the shadows fell at certain times of the day. She hoped that this would allow her to choose the perfect time of day for her shots.

For the past few months she had been working on a short film for one of her classes. While many of her fellow film students were writing and shooting what amounted to little one-act plays, she had chosen to make her film based on imagery. Though she recognized the importance of being able to work with actors, she also felt that a skill which many beginning filmmakers lacked was the ability to convey emotion just by how a shot was composed and filmed.

As she sat back down in the sand she picked up her headphones and slipped them back over her ears. She had been listening to instrumental pieces that she might use for her short film. She had pretty much settled on Night Waters, a chill synth and strings tune by The Dolphin Mantra which seemed to have the right feel for this project.

Aside from the fact that she felt that this group’s music would go really well with the imagery she was shooting, it also felt quite appropriate that the music she listened to at the beach would be by a band called The Dolphin Mantra.

She had titled her short film project Thoughts & Feelings. The idea was that she would pick several emotional concepts and devise a quick scene for each. She had chosen ten concepts and had already shot seven of them. The concept which had brought her to the beach was ‘eternity.’ This scene would feature several shots of ocean waves, which would dissolve into a starry sky at night, footage which she planned to shoot out in the desert at Joshua Tree National Park.

For today she would simply sit here on the beach photographing shadows on the ocean.

This was her idea of eternity.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Icon.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 13 ]

Short film production is the ultimate goal

In the world of independent film producing, often the first step for a filmmaker is to make a short film. And even a short film can present challenges.

This chapter introduces us to our independent filmmaker Icon, as she does some research that will enable her to shoot a great short film. She is studying shadows.

In everyday life this might seem like an odd pursuit, but in the life of someone who wants to spend her life shooting film production, it makes perfect sense. Where the shadow are when can determine wether a shot looks fantastic or flat.

And Icon wants her short films to be fantastic.

Her film production is already on its way, as though she is still quite young, she has taken the art of cinema quite seriously. She has already created several short films (and is in the process of shooting two of them at the present time). Entering into film school (for which this planned short film will be shot) her study of shadows is all in the service of achieving great cinematography.

Watch above, or click to view on Youtube

Stars on Hollywood Blvd.

Chapter 13: Stars on Hollywood Blvd.

“How long do we need to wait?” asked Jasmine.

The petite girl standing next to her lifted a small handheld piece of equipment to the sky, but said nothing.

Jasmine asked timidly, “Icon?”

The girl, who went by the name Icon, lowered the piece of equipment with a concentrated look on her face. The piece of equipment was a light meter and she closely examined the position of the needle to determine if conditions were yet right for them to start shooting the scene which they were about to film.

Icon looked up from the meter and stared intently at one of the corners of one of the buildings along Hollywood Blvd. The shadows were just starting to fall on the famous terra-cotta stars which lined the sidewalk of that famous street.


“I’d say just another few minutes. I want that shadow right there to move to the edge of the building. Then we’ll go.”

Icon popped an antacid into her mouth — something that she did many times throughout any given day — then knelt down to the large duffle bag at her feet. The bag contained her camera, a few extra magazines of film — because yes, today she would use film not memory cards — some filters and a collection of other things that a cinematographer might need in order to shoot on film.

The bag was heavy.

“Oh look,” said Jasmine, “You’re kneeling on Ernest Borgnine.”

Icon looked down and, yes indeed, her knee was smack dab in the middle of the star of Ernest Borgnine.

“Hollywood Blvd.,” said Icon, “You’re always stepping on some celebrity or other.”

Jasmine giggled and said, “Yeah, but Ernest Borgnine. That’s funny.”

“Why?” Icon asked.

Jasmine merely shrugged.

Icon started prepping her camera without taking it from the bag. She and Jasmine were about to “steal” a shot — movie jargon for shooting without a permit or permission — so she had to be sneaky about it. Especially since she was using an actual film camera. Actual film would actually be rolling through her actual film camera. Her digital video counterparts had it easier in the shot-stealing department because video cameras weren’t out of place. Shooting with one of those you could just pass yourself off as a tourist and blend in. But film cameras were a bit more conspicuous and Icon was one of those holdouts who preferred, whenever she could afford it, the beauty of film to the convenience of digital. Today she had left the digital camera at home.

Even the film camera itself was aesthetically pleasing. She shot 16mm using a camera which had been manufactured two decades before she had even been born. The camera was softly rounded with a nicely designed curved motif — so completely unlike the cold, square modules of the digital video cameras — an outer shape which echoed an age wherein something functional was also allowed to be beautiful. It was a French-made camera, whose name most Americans could never seem to pronounce correctly, that had been a favorite of independent filmmakers before the digital age. She was certainly not the first independent filmmaker to steal shots on Hollywood Boulevard using one of these cameras. Though it was quite possible that she might be the last.

Icon stood up while leaving the camera in the bag. “I think I’m pretty much set. Just a little more movement from the sun and I think we’ll be ready to shoot. Is Seth good over there?”

“Seth’s good everywhere,” said Jasmine with a devilish smile.

Icon said, “What I meant was is he ready?”

“I know what you meant, and yes, I think he is,” said Jasmine as they both looked down the street at a young man standing a block away. He waved.

Icon said, “So, you’ll wait for him here. I’ll be close up on you then I pan over to him walking toward you and he walks into the 2-shot, pauses, and you hug.”

“Got it,” Jasmine replied.

Icon looked back at the shadow on the building. The shadow had moved a hardly perceptible amount. But it had moved. “Just a few more minutes,” she said.

“Okay,” Jasmine replied.

Icon looked away, cleared her throat and said, “So, did you read my new script?”

Jasmine shifted a bit on her feet. After an awkward moment she replied, “Oh… I haven’t, well, I haven’t finished it yet.”

“You started but you didn’t finish? That’s not a good sign, is it?”

“Oh, no, it’s not that Icon. I just haven’t had the chance.”

Icon looked away again, ostensibly watching the shadow on the building. She said, “Scripts aren’t that long, Jazz. They’re like the length of a magazine article. If you didn’t finish it in one sitting, that sounds like it didn’t hold your interest.”

Jasmine put her hand on Icon’s arm and said, “No, it’s not that…. I just… I kind of got stuck on the motel room scene.”


Jasmine let out a long breath and continued, “Well, it’s like 10 pages long and it’s a guy and a girl in bed in a motel room and…” Jasmine trailed off, obviously unable or unwilling to articulate what she found wrong with the motel room scene.

Finally, Icon asked, “And?”

“And… all they do is sit there and talk about religion. And then the scene ends and that’s it.”

“Well, that’s the theme of the film. It’s an exploration of the different levels of belief.”

“Okay,” said Jasmine quietly as she looked at the ground.

Icon saw the look and suddenly felt guilty. She didn’t think that she had sounded defensive, but maybe she had. She said, “Sorry Jazz. I asked for your opinion, so… sorry.”

“Oh, it’s okay Icon. I get it.”

“I’m just trying to understand. Are you bothered by what they’re talking about? Is there something… offensive in there? Something like that?”

“No, it’s not that,” Jasmine replied, “It’s just that that’s all they do. Talk. They sit in bed in a motel room and they just talk.”

Icon puzzled through what Jasmine was trying to get across. She didn’t want to sound upset or defensive, but she really didn’t understand what in the world Jasmine was on about. They just talk?

They just talk.

Icon looked at Jasmine and asked, “Would it be better if they had sex afterward?”

Jasmine brightened, “Well, yeah.”

“Okay, but that’s not what the scene’s about.”

“But guy. Girl. Motel room. And they’re gonna have Bible Study?”

“It’s not Bible… Okay. Sorry.”

“No Icon, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you mad. You’re really good with that camera and I’m sure that you’ll make it look really pretty. And when I see it all pretty like that I’m sure I’ll be pulled in and stuff.”

Icon looked back up at the shadow on the building. It had moved a little more. Without looking at Jasmine she said, “But it needs sex?”

“Oh it definitely needs sex.”

Icon knelt again on Ernest Borgnine, pulled out the film camera, then stood and waved at the young man down the block. As he started walking toward them Icon began rolling the film. The scene played out just as expected: the closeup, the walk, the hug.

“Cut,” she said as she lowered the camera. She took a look around to see if anyone was taking notice of them, since what they were doing was technically illegal. She pointed. Seth ran back to the corner and they did it again: the closeup, the walk, the hug.

Then she put the camera back in the large duffle bag. “Okay,” she said, “I think we’re good.”

They all took one last look around for the police. Jasmine said, “I don’t think anybody noticed.” Then Jasmine and Seth began to walk back toward the parking lot. The two therefore did not notice that as Icon reached to pick up her duffle bag her hand was shaking uncontrollably.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Icon.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 25 ]

Independent film production & the art of stealing shots in public places

The concept of "stealing shots" has a long history in the world of independent film production. Since film permits can be costly and difficult to acquire, independent filmmakers often risk getting into trouble with the law in order to get the shot that they need.

And Icon is stealing her shots along none other than Hollywood Blvd. An instantly recognizable area, Hollywood Blvd, has been the setting for many films, both mainstream and independent. But the fact that Icon is stealing the shots, makes her very, very nervous.

Another interesting thing about Icon: she is a fan of using film rather than HD video whenever she can. This nearly-lost art fascinates her, and when she can afford it she will whip out the film camera for her short films. This film is a case in point. And she has to wonder if perhaps she will be the last filmmaker to steal a shot on Hollywood Blvd. using this particular classic camera.

But it should make a great short film. Fingers crossed.

Watch above, or click to view on Youtube

Student Film

Chapter 25: Student Film

Icon looked around her at the disaster that was this student film. It wasn’t her student film, mind you. Icon would never approach a film that she was directing in the way that this one was being approached. She wanted to be a director and she took student productions seriously. But apparently many of her classmates did not. And this was the film of one of her classmates. And said classmate seemed to have no idea what he was doing. Nor did he seem to care. It seemed to her that for this so-called-director today was just basically an excuse to have a day out with his buds.

Icon had seen this sort of thing before. For some reason that she could never understand it was not uncommon for students to not take their films seriously. She had to wonder if maybe the inexpensive nature of shooting on HD was what caused it. Were student films taken more seriously in the days when Lucas and Spielberg were in college and shooting on precious and expensive film? Or had it always been this way because student films were shot by students?

Icon didn’t know. All she knew was that she had been recruited as the cameraperson on this debacle, which meant that as other people started to drift away as things fell apart, she was kind of forced to stick around as she was the one who had signed out the camera.

She had only volunteered for this position because of the mother of the so-called-director. The so-called-director was a spoiled rich kid who seemed to have nothing much more on his mind than partying, but his mother was one of the top executives at one of the studios. Icon’s quite logical thinking had been that if she could shoot some impressive footage for this drunken idiot, the product might be shown to and therefore impress the guy’s mother.

However, it had become terribly obvious that if they ever did manage to get anything shot it was likely to turn out being terrible no matter what magic Icon tried to provide.

Icon looked over at where the so-called-director and his friends, his so-called-cast, sat drinking beer and talking. They were not talking about the film. For the entire time she had been sitting here they had not once talked about the film. Instead they were at present sharing some anecdote about their recent trip to Hawaii and how they had surfed naked with some beautiful Hawaiian girls. Icon had no idea whether this story was fact or fiction but she could tell where it was heading. And where it was heading had nothing to do with the film.

So she took the camera and started composing random shots of the surrounding scenery. Why not? She could entertain herself with it. She had a camera and she had things to shoot, so she went ahead and shot them. And perhaps whichever lucky person volunteered to edit this train wreck of a production might actually find something of value that could be edited in.

Icon put on her headphones and started up her Dolphin Mantra playlist. It was nice to listen to the instrumental tracks as she looked through the camera’s viewfinder and composed her shots. As she panned the camera across the clouds which punctuated the blue sky, above the music of The Dolphin Mantra on her headphones she could hear the laughing of the boys and the shouting of some rather disrespectful comments about Hawaiian girls.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Icon.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 36 ]

Student film production is not always real film production

Sometimes college students will take their student films seriously. And sometimes they won't.

Our independent filmmaker Icon always takes her productions seriously, as she wants to be a serious filmmaker. But often she finds that her fellow film students do not share the same approach of devotion to the craft. And since student filmmakers often find themselves working as crew members for other student films, she gets to see both the serious and the nonchallannt styles at work. And unfortunately, today she finds herself working on one of the least profession student films that she has ever worked on. The best she can hope for is to do her part well. And then go home.

Short film / student film