If living in a city with a cinematic heritage as rich as Romes brings out your inner Fellini, Rossellini or Dario Argento talents, then perhaps you may want to try your hand at making a short film. You may have seen film productions around Rome with big trucks full of lights, cranes and hairstylists. Forget all that. While a few short films receive state funding or are produced by a production company, the vast majority are home-made, using hired, borrowed or consumer-level equipment, freely-available locations and jerry rigs such as a microphone stuck on the end of a broomstick as a boom.
I began with a sci-fi Lego epic as a kid and then 15 years later managed to get a real camera and some actors. Professional director, Andrs Rafael Zabala, tells how he started: When I was a child I played the flute, then I broke my finger and couldnt play for a while so my art teacher lent me a video camera and that was it for the flute.
One of the main reasons why people make short films is that they are a passport to feature films. Unfortunately, while both audiences and film-makers are becoming increasingly aware of short films as a worthwhile audiovisual form in their own right, most distribution outlets take them without paying the film-makers, or even worse, they ask a fee to distribute them. The sad truth is that short films are not commercially viable.
As Zabala puts it, Short film directing is different from the kind that gets me work. In short film directing, I direct as I like to direct. When I work on corporate communication, on documentaries, on television programmes, I often have to tell the story the way it has to be told, with other rules.
If you want to try yourself, the first thing you need is a script. Either write one or persuade someone to write one for you. It is important to work out are what you can afford to buy, whom you can afford to hire and, most importantly, what or whom you can get for free. So you might want to scratch any scenes involving helicopters and big explosions.
Last year I volunteered to work for Zabala on a short as microfonista or boom-operator, holding what the professionals refer to as a broomstick. I showed the camera guy my script and persuaded him to work on my shoot afterwards.
The rest of the crew were all friends or acquaintances. Id lived with a trio of actors and they brought other actors / actresses on board. Id worked with the musician at a summer camp. The sound guy, who worked at RAI, was a friend of the actors. We filmed in Pizzeria Spaccanapoli, where the lead actor knew the guys who worked there.
For The Happy Temple I wrote a script set in two rooms with two people. We shot it on a borrowed Canon XLM digital camera, used a few hired lights and asked a friend from work to hold the broomstick.
Some good ways to meet fellow film-makers in Rome are to leave an ad on the billboard at Cinema Pasquino in Trastevere, look under the cerca troupe (crew search) section of the Shortvillage website, check out mandy.com and ask around, as almost everyone knows someone who knows someone.
A cheap place to hire lights and other gear is Aries near Piazza Mazzini. Another option is to buy security lights from DIY stores; sunlight is even cheaper and you can always use mirrors and polystyrene boards to reflect it.
The next step is to edit your film. Almost any high-end computer can run editing software such as Adobe Premier. You may want to get an editor on board; having someone around who can look at your footage objectively is invaluable.
Once the film is made the next step is to get it out there and festivals are a good place to start. Venice, Cannes, Turin and the Rome independent film festival only accept films that have not been shown before. While most festivals in Italy are free, many in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada have an entrance fee.
Theres definitely a buzz in getting into a festival. For my films shown at LInvasione degli Ultracorti and the New York international independent film and video festival, we had to make an NTSC (American video format) copy at a place called Olivud (spelt the way Italians pronounce Hollywood), near S Pietro station.
Marcello Cotugno is a short film-maker and theatre director by profession. Trained in theatre in Naples and in film in New York, he considers Europe to be the place for the true cinema dauteur. He believes that independent theatre and cinema are related. Teatro Off and indie shorts have in common the fact that there is no money, he said. And on the artistic side? My influences are primarily cinema I believe in both a cinema and a theatre that has a sense of the spectacular, but which is also able to go beyond the superficial.
Cotugnos student film, Dont you Need Somebody to Love?, won prizes in the United States, and when he returned to Italy he made the self-produced short 2001 A Space Odyssey about a one-man theatre production of the Stanley Kubrick film. It was a finalist at Bellaria film festival and he was then able to get a short film, Fuori del Giro, produced professionally. This won him the best director and audience award at La Cittadella del Corto festival in 2001. Hopefully all this will lead to a feature project based on his play, Anatomy of the Death of
As for me, I havent won any prizes yet but after writing this article I cant wait to start on my next project. Or maybe Ill come hold a broomstick on yours.
You have until 30 June to enter the Venice film festival; entry forms are on www.labiennale.org/it/cinema. The deadline for the Milan film festival is the same, and entry forms are on www.milanofilmfestival.it. Until 14 December you can submit work to the Rome independent film festival, which takes place in April 2005. Entry forms are available at www.riff.it. Films can also be submitted to Emme Film for distribution; for details see www.shortvillage.it
Film festivals are excellent places to network future collaborators. Arcipelago festival is running in Rome until 10 June; see www.arcipelagofilmfestival.org for further information. Coming up soon is the Pesaro film festival, 25 June to 3 July, with open-air screenings in the towns main square; see www.pesarofilmfest.it. The Genova film festival runs from 28 June to 4 July; information is at www.genovafilmfestival.it.