The Hustle: Ten Things No One Tells You About Making Your First Short Film

Hi hi!

We have a special guest writer this edition, Blair Waters! *Throws confetti in the air* If you don’t know her name, you definitely know her work. Whether it’s branded video content for Netflix, Macy’s, DAZED, Elle, Amazon, Refinery29 (takes a deep breath), Target, or others (!!). Blair has made her mark as a formidable (and young!) female filmmaker to watch. Despite all of her experience in advertising, Blair felt some huge learning curves while shooting her first short film. Totally normal. We’re happy she’s being so honest with her progress as a creator and journey through her career and sharing this info with us. We love her and we know you will too!

- The Light Leaks

Hi, it’s Blair here. If you’ve gone to film school, or have any basic understanding of narrative filmmaking, this list is not for you, and you’ll probably read this and laugh. Good for you. However, if you (like me) are coming to making shorts completely blind, this is an overview of massively impactful things you (like me) might not be thinking about.

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  1. Look into festivals before production
    When I was starting to put together production for my short, I figured I would just figure out the whole festival thing afterwards. This was stupid — it’s probably a good idea to find the festivals you think are right for your film, and base production around not missing those deadlines. Also, a lot of the bigger festivals have location-based premiere requirements, and by accepting one, you negate your possible acceptance to another. This continues to be mind- blowing to me, and really messed me up, plus like, how is that supposed to work when they all have different notification dates? Which brings me to...

  2. Understand how much money festivals cost

    In my budget I put down $200 for festival applications. Funny, I know, but I had no idea that if you’re applying to bigger festivals, you’re looking at anywhere from $45-150 per festival in application fees. And that’s not even counting if you get in, and want to actually go see your film.

  3. (Actually) Read the SAG Guidelines

    It can be a little misleading when you look into SAG Low-Budget and Ultra-Low-Budget rates. At first, it’s like: a famous actor for $125 a day? And you’re like: sounds great, sign me up, where’s my ballgown, is that the Academy calling? But — there’s a million tiny rules (meal penalties, flight insurance, payroll setup, mileage reimbursement) that aren’t immediately apparent. $125 p/d turns into $1250 per day real fast. If you are completely obsessed with a certain actor, and they’ve agreed to make your film, and you just totally have to have them even though it’s your entire budget, make sure you cast them way in advance, as SAG takes a while to setup. That being said — you can find some really wonderful actors that aren’t SAG, especially in certain states where the rules aren't as stringent and actors aren’t required to be SAG, even if they are frequently in SAG productions.

  4. Shooting outside of a major city ≠ equal less money

    One would think that if you were looking for a sound mixer in, say, Kalamazoo, it would cost less money than one in New York. One would be wrong. Maybe part of it is if you’re coming from a major city, they think you have money and want to suck you dry, I really don’t know, but I was quoted thousands of dollars above what I’d budgeted for, with NY/LA prices. Although it seems counterintuitive, sometimes it's way cheaper to fly your crew to location. And when you’re doing that, don’t just book the cheapest flight you see, since you might be looking at 2X the seat price when you factor in bringing gear. And if you’re bringing gear, remember that Southwest is your friend.

  5. Save all your receipts

    This is one thing I didn't mess up, as I already do this from being a freelancer but...yeah. Save everything.

  6. Bring on some people over 25

    If you have a multi-location shoot, make sure a decent amount of the people helping/driving are over 25. Otherwise you’re in for some fun surprises at the rental counter.

  7. There’s usually no way around production insurance

    It’s a good idea in general, but if you want to shoot somewhere publicly owned (like say, a beach or a park) it’s required. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply for it, as the whole process can take around two to three weeks, when you factor in getting quotes from different places. And don’t expect them to just accept you because you want to give them money — the whole thing is like a bizarre job interview. A good thing to note is also, if you’re applying for production insurance, and you’ve made a lot of music videos, make sure you talk about how you don’t do that anymore. Production Insurance companies absolutely hate music videos, and if you’ve made several “urban” (their words, not mine) videos like myself, they will treat you like some kind of pariah. The whole thing is a bit much, but I would solidly recommend RV Nuccio, which is actually pretty affordable, and has a cool online COI thing where you can fill it out yourself.

  8. Have a designated EQP (Embarrassing-Questions-Person)

    I had so many extremely basic questions about the whole process. If I asked any of the directors I know in the commercial world it would seem like I don’t know what I’m doing in general, which I actually very much do (in general.) Enter Grace, my lovely assistant: invaluable, as I was able to ask her the most elementary things, without being judged. If you get a Grace, you too can seem knowledgable.

  9. People are going to think your film is stupid before you make it

    Maybe they’ll think this afterwards too. I don’t know. All I know is that whenever you take creative risks, don’t expect everyone to be overly encouraging. And few people have the visionary powers you and your screenwriter do, dear reader. They’re not seeing what you do when they read the script. They’re just seeing words, and maybe a bad decision.

  10. I don’t really have a tenth thing, but my dad always says “a creative act is never wasted.” I think that’s really cute and definitely something to keep in mind during this hellish process.


Note: “Princess Rita” is making its’ North American premiere soon, keep an eye out on Blair’s site for updated info + more!

The Hustle is The Light Leaks’s newest resource tailored to YOU! Ask us questions, if we can’t answer from our own experience, we’ll find someone who’s able to. From creative block to actionable career steps, hit us up with your questions at with “the Hustle” as the subject line. We got you.

photos from: Blair Waters