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How To Shoot a Short Film In 24 Hours

Updated on March 14, 2017

The Shoot Out

There is a competition that started in Newcastle, Australia: The Shoot Out. From there it has spread north to Toowoomba in the state of Queensland, south to Geelong in Victoria. Across the Tasman Sea to Hamilton in New Zealand, and even as far as Boulder, Colorado.

And the interest has spread to busy regional areas in other parts of the world. It's worth competing as the prizes are lucrative. Or if there isn't one near you and you have a passion for the arts, you may consider franchising the model for your region.

Having been a competitor, participant, preliminary judge, webmaster, production crew and forum admin during the course of the last 5 years I have seen and been both in front and behind the scenes. So what I have to say has some worth. Not sure how much, but I'll leave that up for you to decide.

But enough about me, getting back to The Shoot Out... the most significant thing you should remember is that it has to be no longer than 7 minutes, all 'editing' is in camera, and there are certain items/locations that you need to include, which of course indicates that the film was made in the 24 hours, rather then being made beforehand.

What's Involved...

Filmmakers have from 9pm Friday night to 9pm Saturday night to create and hand in their short films,

i.e. they have 24 hours to complete the project.

The Shoot Out 24 Hour Filmmaking Festival works in the following way:

* by the Friday afternoon of the festival weekend, filmmakers arrive in the host city

* on the Friday night, 2 - 3 hours prior to the commencement of the competition, filmmakers confirm their attendance at the registration venue

* 15 - 20 mins prior to the start of the competition, The Shooting Brief is read out and a hard copy handed out to all filmmakers

* once the competition starts (as close as possible to 9pm), filmmakers have 24 hours from that time to complete and hand in their film

* in the next 18 hours, after all the films have been handed in, from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, the preliminary judging panel selects the top ten films that will be screened on the Sunday night.

* on the Sunday night, the top ten films and the best Under 18 film are screened and the winners announced.

The Story...

Before you think of anything else the most important thing you need is a story. From that you can make a script.

Having a story planned and prepared beforehand is well within the rules of the competition. In fact I and many others encourage it.

A trap many fall into is thinking they can wing it. To come up with an idea on the fly. Usually these entries become nothing more than a chase film. they try to make up for a lack of creativity and storyline by setting up a situation that relies on them running from one location to the next. usally trying to include every single item on the list to compensate for a lack of originality and imagination.

These do not pass the first session of preliminary judging. if it does not entertain the preliminary judges (and entertainment factor can encompass comedy, drama, documentary, or any other film genre) then they will not select them for the next round.

Every single film gets watched by at least two people. if deemed reasonable in terms of how good the idea is behind the film (production values at this stage are not considered...) then as a group the preliminary judges come together and watch the ones they have selected. but more on the judging process later.

Come up with a story that you'd like to see. Write it as a script. Then figure out how many actors you'll require, how much of a crew you'll need, what gear is required and what props or costumes would be appropriate.

The Props...

This is the responsbility of the art director. In a smaller team people may wear more than one hat. Or jobs may be shared. But make sure the best person/s for the job is the one doing it. The Art Director has creative control over the props, costumes and... set design. If in fact you are on a set.

Of course this control is limited to a couple of factors. What required of the production to get the point across and also whether or not it's available. Don't have your heart set on a period piece if in fact the script doesn't require it. Keep things simple. Do we need to make a science fiction epic?

Don't be too extravagant. But don't be too cheap either. Do the film justice as well as your budget.

I once saw an entire house that had its entire interior redesigned to look like a spaceship. Ceilings were lowered, extra walls put in place. All with the use of styrofoam.

I don't recommend going to that extreme, particularly because the set, albeit the entire house, was one big fire hazard waiting to happen.

While I didn't think it made an appropriate set (too cramped for a cameraman to move around and get the shots needed) if I were wont to get completely drunk and I woke up in this place I would have believed I had been kidnapped by aliens. It was quite an experience.

The Art Director, especially if they're coming in from out of town (and doesn't know the area that well) should spend a bit of time with the Yellow Pages and a map and become familiar with costume hire outlets, hardware stores and discount shops in case a last minute costume, prop or repair needs to be made.

Shooting Schedule...

Outline a plan of what scenes will need to be shot. All in sequence of course. Estimate the time you think you'll need to shoot a scene. Be generous just in case you need to reshoot the scene. Also include travel time between each location/set. Be sure to set aside time for a lunch break. you don't want to be running on empty. Your producer should be the one on the day who will have this shooting schedule with them. use it as a guideline. if pressed for time the director and producer (if they are seperate people) should consider cutting unimportant scenes.

Though if it's likely to get cut in the event of a tight timeframe it might be a good idea to consider this at the writing stage. because while the film can be no longer than 7 minutes long doesn't mean it has to go for 7 minutes long. a well shot and executed 3 minute short film will have greater impact and a better response then one that has been padded out for twice the duration.


If you really want to be ahead of the game then have someone illustrate storyboards. This helps the director get the point across better to both the actors and the cameraman. It's easier to show the composition of a scene with a pencil, paper and rudimentary drawing skills then to have to explain it via word of mouth.


The camera should be familiar with his/her equipment. If for some reason the equipment is hired or borrowed and is something different then the cameraman is used to then they should put the video cam through it's paces. Auto-focus/Manual focus, white balance, pause, stop, RECORD... don't forget record, playback, what effects are available. Of course use effects sparingly and only if it appropriate.

The important thing to remember is that only In-Camera Editing is allowed.

Other than having a camera that is operational, being familiar with its features, being aware of what you are and are not allowed to do and not turning up with a hang-over, the only other thing to remind you is... spare batteries... DON'T FORGET TO TAKE SPARE BATTERIES! I don't really need to elaborate this point do I?

And don't forget a blank video tape.


Your actors should at least be familiar with the script if not have rehearsed the lines.

More info coming soon...


Even a silent film has sound. You can really go all out on trying to get an excellent sound production. Even as far as lifting the soundtrack off your completed film and editing it as you see fit and then getting it back on there at the dubbing stage.


If you're taking music along with you, you will need a performers release. And do they hold the copyright ownership over the music? Original songs will make the grade but doing a cover will mean that the songwriter or publisher must give permission too.

Otherwise you can avail yourself to the music library. But again get in early and before the competition, because you'll have to find a song that fits the theme of your film. And you don't want to waste precious hours doing it during your 24 hour shooting spree.

Of course you can always choose to not have any music but then your credits will probably feel like an anti-climax. Though as far as I recall there is no criteria to judge you on the best choice of music to accompany credits scrolling or otherwise.

But the right music can set the perfect mood in a poignnant moment during your film. It could be the deciding factor that gives you the edge that gets you into the Top Ten films that get screened on the Sunday night of the Awards ceremony.


There are dubbing facilities available and if you want to get a good time you better sign up as soon as they're taking bookings. Leave it too late and the last and/or latest available slot will be a couple of hours before midday on the Saturday. And if you start shooting at 7 or 8...? Then you'll only have two hours to shoot and film and get there.

Alternatively you can do it yourself. As a matter of fact I'd advise that you do.

Bring your own VCR with you, hopefully you can find power to operate it. And be aware of whether the VCR has stereo or mono inputs. The same goes with your camera. Figure out what you've got and experiment. Keep doing it until you get it right. Both the picture and sound quality. If you're going to be overdubbing music or voice-over make sure that you can do it before the big day arrives. You only have 24 hours to shoot the film, and under no circumstances do they even allow someone who arrives a minute late to hand in their film.

So make sure you have the technical side figured out as well as the stuff that has so far relied on your creativity.

The Prize...

Okay so you've done everything and you still managed to keep ahold of your sanity AND you've won the competition!

What do you do next?

Use your prize money to make ANOTHER film!

Check out the book below for your next step to Hollywood domination!

Got a question? Or just want to say hi?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I highly recommend doing this if you want to do film for a living. Once you have created something in 24 hours, nothing is impossible!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I would love to have an opportunity to make a short film in such a short time. It sounds like a lot of fun. I wish something like this was near where I live.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      7 years ago from UK

      This sounds like fun, but also a whole lot of hard work, especially in the planning stages. It's amazing how much effort has to go into just 5 minutes of quality filming. These helpful tips will make it easier, and thanks for pointing out copyright issues too.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      interesting info,learned a lot

    • GeoDitton profile image


      10 years ago

      Very good advice on here, I've taken part in two 48 hour film challenges with the same basic format except your not limited to in-camera editing and (obviously) your allowed 48 hours instead of 24.These kind of competitions are great fun & I urge anyone interested in filming to have a go at these competitions if there are any near them. I also urge you to take notice of the advice on this page as it is very good, my 1st 48 hour competition we were just making things up and it didn't go very well, the 2nd time we planned and it went much better. The most important thing of all though is to have fun.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      10 years ago from Canada

      I am forwarding your lens to my son who, with a group of teenage friends, has been talking about making a film...I'm sure it will give them something to think about.Brenda

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Awesometastic lens on shooting a short film, Glen! Great content. I gave it 5 stars. I wish you much success with this project.Ray


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