The Short Film project

Still from the 1981 film, “Raiders of the Lost Arc” (Dir: Steven Speilberg)

Your assignment: Write, Direct and Edit a narrative (fiction) short film with dialog and action in class (or on location, with teacher’s permission). This builds off of the documentary we just watched, “The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing”


  1. Form a crew of 3 or 4; come up with a “Production Company Name”
  2. Come up with an idea for your action sequence with your crew
  3. Write a 1-2 paragraph treatment (description) of your short film
  4. Write a script (in screenplay format) for the dialog scenes
  5. Draw a storyboard for each shot in the action sequence. (The storyboard form is at the bottom of this post, and is handed out in class)
  6. Scout locations, find props as needed, and cast actors from class (pre production)
  7. Shoot your film during class time, somewhere on campus; OR, with permission, shoot outside of class.
  8. Edit

Skills (we will learn)

  1. How to shoot a dialog scene
  2. How to use a boom microphone
  3. How to shoot with one or two cameras, with a clapboard
  4. How to script (screenplay format)
  5. How to storyboard
  6. How to keep continuity between shots (match action)
  7. How to control the pacing of the film
  8. How to edit (includes creating a project, inserting and moving shots, the “L-Cut” for dialog, cutting to music, basic sound mixing, titles and credits, and transitions / color correction where needed)
  9. How to watch, compare and critique each other’s final work.


  • Length: 3-5 minutes total
  • No weapons, sexual references, drug references or profanity. No violent fight scenes. No blood.
  • Characters: Two characters. You may have students in your crew to act in your film.
  • Plot: The film should start with an “instigating event”–some situation that starts the action. The chase ensues. The chase must resolve or end in some way with a final short scene
  • Dialog: You must have a short dialog scene (at least three lines each character) at somewhere in the film (often it works well at the beginning or the end)
  • Shots: At each moment in the film, the editor should have at least 2 shots to cut to (this is called coverage).
  • One random prop: You will be assigned one random prop that you must incorporate into your film, in a major or minor way
  • One random line of dialog: You will choose a line of dialog at random that you must use in your film.
  • Style: The dialog scenes need to follow a traditional shot-reaction shot structure (2 singles and a two shot). The action sequence must be shot two different ways–for example, all in close ups and all hand held.
  • Edit: Each crew member edits their own version, with an alternate ending! 
  • Music: Edit the chase to music
  • Finishing: Titles and credits


A storyboard form is here:

The PSA (Public Service Announcement)



  • Communicate a message that’s important to you: First, identify problems in the school and give students the opportunity to come up with their own issues to tackle. In class, we will brainstorm areas of concern (no matter how big or small). Some suggestions:
    • ‘Don’t text and drive”
    • “Eat healthy”
    • “Get enough sleep”
    • “Get more exercise”
    • “Stand up to bullies; cyberbullying – see something, say something”
    • “Stand up to sexism/racism/etc”
    • “Help a student who needs it (ie suicide or drug addiction)”
    • “Get involved in politics/protest — speak your mind”
    • “Protect freedom of speech”
    • “Positive body image – Eating Disorders (raise awareness)”
  • Identify audience. Is it fellow students? Teachers? The community? The world that needs to know?
  • Find a visual way to convey this message, that is creative—think outside the box—don’t just stand there and say it. Show it! Tell us a story or create a scenario that cleverly relays this message.
  • During pre-production, you will storyboard this project and get more creative with camerawork (shots, angles) and editing (cuts, transitions, effects and graphics)

First Assignment: On Campus Interviews

0823-ron-burgundy-1For your first shooting and editing assignment, your crew will film interviews with ten people in the hallways and common spaces around the school! Half can be fellow students; the rest must be staff members (adults).

We will shoot for two or three days. You will need a camera, handheld microphone, XLR cable, and headphones. You will rotate positions (interviewer, camera operator, and if you have three crew members, producer). You need to get steady, well-framed medium shots of interviewer and interviewee, and record your subjects names and positions. All shooting will take place during class time. You will learn a bit of digital editing to import and cut your shots together, and add lower thirds and titles to your piece.

Before you go out to shoot you and your crew needs to plan (or “pre-produce”), by researching and writing questions. The planning is a graded part of your assignment. Download the planning sheet here as a Word Doc, so you can type right into it: Street Interview Assignment.


Recommend your Favorite Short Films!

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-10-05-42-amIn class Assignment Description: Using the website, find short films to watch and review. Your picks will become part of a class database of recommended films, found here: Film Recommendation Google Sheet. You will use class time when not otherwise occupied editing, shooting or planning your films.


  1. Watch films. One film must be a documentary. Hint: Select “Channels” and then scroll down to find Award Winning films (as well as films grouped by genre, topic, medium, etc).
  2. Recommend any film you think your teacher or peers should see.
  3. Fill out all columns, including your name, a description of the film and if you feel it’s a good film to show in class.




You will want to draw storyboards for all your film projects, so that you can pre-visualize how your script will turn into images (and sounds) on the screen. Each shot should be represented by a storyboard frame (think of thumbnails on your computer which stand for video clips.) You can show everything from the proximity of characters to each other, the angle of the shot, how wide or close up it is, movement (of actors and/or camera), and so on. You can write in notes on the shot (what the camera is doing), as well as character actions or dialog/voiceover. Your storyboard becomes your shot list on location–like a grocery list or shopping list, you can check off your shots as you shoot them. A storyboard is an invaluable tool for the creative filmmaker!

Watch this funny and informative video on storyboarding–

“Storyboarding for People Who Can’t Draw” video

Watch this interesting video on how a well known director, Robert Rodriguez, uses storyboards to visualize his films:

Storyboarding with RR


Short Documentary Assignment


Paul Van Ness, awards Victoria Robbins the first place award as co-director for the film STAINED GLASS. Photo by Mary Shea Photography
Paul Van Ness, awards Victoria Robbins the first place award as co-director for the film STAINED GLASS.
Photo by Mary Shea Photography

Objective: Create a 3 to 5 minute non-fiction film that explores a subject interesting to the student through interviews and visuals. We will enter your films into this year’s Salem Film Festival’s Five Minute Student Doc contest. Link: Salem Film Festival

Possible topics: A biography of a subject; an exploration of a hobby, sport, or passion and the people who do it; an investigation of a controversial topic, exploring both sides of the issue; documenting an event; a historical documentary, using still images. See examples at the bottom of this post.


  • Subject is student’s choice, but must be approved by the teacher
  • Topic is concrete; film should also explore a theme or larger idea
  • No more than 5 minutes in length
  • 1 main interview (more if needed)
  • 30 shots (“b-roll”) to illustrate that interview
  • Still images, historical images or “found footage” (pre-existing media) if needed
  • Music can be used for montage sequence(s), intro and ending
  • May use text or a voiceover to convey information beyond the interviews


  1. Choose a partner, or choose to work alone. Your teacher may pair you up with someone you haven’t worked with before.
  2. Identify and research three subjects.
  3. Discuss them with your teacher.
  4. Identify and arrange interviews (subjects, locations) or an event to document
  5. Type up a pre-production packet: 
    • In a treatment (4 or 5 sentence paragraph) describe your film (story, characters, theme)
    • A list of interview subjects (with a one sentence description of each)
    • Interview questions (at least 5) for each interview subject
    • A list of locations 
    • A list of shots (“B-Roll”)
    • voiceover script or on screen text (as needed)
    • A production schedule (when you will be shooting, and where)
    • An equipment list for each shoot
    • A list of five next steps for your production (what do you need to do from this moment to get your production rolling)  … download this production packet template here: Documentary Production Packet
  6. Practice technology needed for shooting (wireless lavaliere microphones, camcorders, location lights with umbrellas)
  7. Shoot the video
  8. Rough Edit (Shooting may continue while you begin editing). This means putting the pieces in place to tell the story. Resist using effects or doing extensive audio editing until the story is complete
  9. Screen for fellow students and teacher
  10. Fine cut (trim, effects, color correction, transitions, titles, credits, audio effects and mixing)
  11. Share and screen with the class


Search the Short Film of the Week website to find short documentaries on your own. Also, watch these select outstanding short documentaries for inspiration and ideas…

The Most Quoted Man in the News

Follow Your Fears

A Brief History of John Baldessari

Mo’Ne Davis: Throw Like a Girl

In Guns We Trust


Every Runner Has a Reason

Marie’s Dictionary

A Kiss Deferred

Clint Smith: Beyond This Place

Still Image Sequence Assignment


Verna Fields film editorVideo_Editor1920x1080

Description: For this assignment, you will edit a sequence of still images, taken from the internet, into a story (narrative). For a theme, choose an issue–local, national or international–that you care about. It can be personal as well as political. Choose music to edit to, that can speak to your theme in terms of lyrics, mood or both. You will learn the basics of Adobe Premiere–image placement, trimming and effects–in order to create your sequence.



  1. Pick a theme (or come up with several ideas from which to choose)
  2. Choose a piece of music (or several possibilities) to go with your theme
  3. Create 5 folders for 5 different types of images for your video (these will become your chapters)
  4. Save at least 50 images (10 per folder) from the web for your video that support your theme. Images should be LARGE: 1080×1920 pixels (the size of an HD screen) or above is ideal.
  5. Using Adobe Premiere, create a project. Over the course of two weeks, you will lay down your music, edit your images into place to the music, trim and refine your edit based on ongoing class critique, add effects and transitions, as well as titles and credits, then “share” your video as a high resolution quicktime movie.
  6. We will watch your videos in class.

Examples: Go to the “Video Student Work” category on this blog to see a variety of high quality past student Still Image Sequences. (Scroll down and follow the links). Past Student Films

Pre-Production: Use the form on Google Classroom to write about your theme.