May 23, 2015 at 5:16PM

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I just finished my first short and its terrible, now what?

As the title says, I just finished shooting my first short film. As I am putting the edit together, its pretty clear that this movie is awful. That realization isn’t me being overly critical, it’s an honest and objective assessment of the work.

Going into this I was aware of the old trope that “everyone’s first film sucks”. Despite that I tried my best to do as much pre-production as possible and I tried to be conscious of what I was shooting, but it didn’t seem to help much.

I guess my question boils down to, is there any value to finishing this? Or should I just take the lessons learned and move on to the next project? Anyone care to share their experiences on getting from that first project to where you are now?
Thanks
Joel

26 Comments

It's always good to finish off a project... but when it's an absolute stinker it's hard to find the motivation. My first short wasn't great. I made some other shorts - they weren't great either. Then I made a couple that were half decent, and a longish one that was alright...

...and then I made a feature. Keep plugging away at it, and you'll get better. I've got a lot of improving to do, but it feels like I'm going in the right direction (finally!).

Alex

May 25, 2015 at 7:15AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3379

Joel, the important piece to understand is -- "why did it suck?" My first shorts had a lot of shaky camera and out-of-focus moments to the point footage was uneditable. So the next shorts were shot keeping this in mind. The next shorts did have their own problems, but at least through iteration cycle of identifying mistakes and fixing mistakes they did get better and better.

May 25, 2015 at 12:42PM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
3635

I think it's best to finish editing it, though I sympathize with how you feel.
For one, I think it's important that you finish for the sake of getting the full production experience, if you stop now, you miss out on part of the experience you'll need for next time. You might also be surprised at how much just cutting a scene or reevaluating how you're thinking about your project can guide you into editing it into something passable. I also feel that a director owes it to his or her crew to finish a project. I don't know how many other people you had helping you, but they might be disappointed that their time was wasted on a project that was never finished, especially if they aren't as into filmmaking as you are.
Frankly, I started seriously making shorts films about six or seven years ago and I have yet to make anything that I'm truly proud of. There have been some really big disappointments, and even multiple occasions when I said I was never going to make a film again. Unfortunately, that's the way things go, but at some point you'll make something that, despite its imperfections, you're quite happy to have made. So I think it's best that you finish the process, get the full experience of filmmaking, then go back and question why it didn't become what you wanted it to be.

May 25, 2015 at 12:45PM

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Brett Allbritton
Cinematographer
315

Finish it up, at least you can look back at a shitty first attempt as a whole completed piece. Other wise if you abandon it you may end up with many unfinished projects and get into a bad habit of doing that. You are your worst critic, so sit down judge the hell out of it, learn from it and you should learn from the experience as a whole and not a half.

May 26, 2015 at 12:04AM

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Graham Uhelski
Director of Photography/Video Editor
519

Hide it away and make another one?

May 26, 2015 at 9:00AM

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Mich Fawgel
Master of Wisdom
251

I agree with Mich, bury it in the backyard and move on to your next project.

Keep moving forward and learn from your mistakes.

May 26, 2015 at 2:51PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30885

The key thing is you have perpective, so many people that do anything creative don't. You have the ability to look at your work with a critical eye and say this stinks. I have met so many filmmakers who say what do you think of my short? And it's absolute junk, junk beyond belief you give them constructional feedback and they aren't interested all they want to hear is 'you're brilliant'. Putting your heart and soul into something and then turning round and saying this is bad is a skill and one of the most important as a filmmaker, because as filmmakers we never stop learning and learning from your mistakes is the best way to learn, it shows that you are observant and your primary focus is the work. If you can't identify your mistakes it will take you a lot longer to learn.

I wrote a screenplay when I was 14 about teddy bears trying to take over the world, my toes curl even thinking about it. 4 years ago I made a short film at uni that put so much work into and it sucked, no story just pretentious montage bullshit with no real story nothing an audience could sink their teeth into. The editing was ok, technically it wasn't great but there was an improvement. Since then I've been filming constantly writing and shooting online video sketches, doing documentary work and video promos. I'm making my second short film at the end of the month I'll put my heart and soul into it, here's hoping it doesn't turn out like junk and if it does I'll move onto the next one. My advice would be to finish the edit purely to learn from it and watch it a few times see what went wrong. Then leave it for a few months watch it again I bet you'll think that's even worse, pick holes in it and figure out the mistakes you made then put it to bed. The only thing is people who helped you out may want a copy, it's important to keep your crew and cast happy.

May 27, 2015 at 5:38AM

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Gino Lynch
filmmaker
153

Good luck with it all and next ones will be better!

May 27, 2015 at 5:48AM, Edited May 27, 5:56AM

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Gino Lynch
filmmaker
153

Finish it!
You'll learn the most from a finished short, because it will give you the best overview of the flaws AND you can make some mistakes in the end as well. And mistakes aren't bad as long as you learn from it :-)

Film.
Edit.
Die.
Repeat.

The edge of filmmaking :-p

May 27, 2015 at 8:11AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9356

If you are not happy with it, the burn that bitch to the ground and move on. Just learn what made it terrible. Did you rush production? Was it your actors? Shoot more. Go shoot just to shoot. Doesn't matter what.

May 27, 2015 at 10:43AM

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Carl Busch
Film Maker
176

Assuming that the only cost would be time, I'd recommend finishing it. Try your best to get something half-decent - giving up without even getting across the line doesn't tell you much about what you should have done better. Plus it's not a bad skill to develop - I'm guessing even the most professional, well-funded filmmakers get to the edit and wish they'd had one more shot, one more day etc. Sometimes working with what you have is a skill in itself.

Gino Lynch makes an important point about your collaborators. Assuming you worked with other people, and quite possibly for little/no money, you should be careful about chucking the towel in without thinking about them first. At the very least have an honest discussion with them about why you're considering abandoning the project and perhaps offer them the footage (actors may be able to salvage something for their reel).

Finally, assess why this went wrong. On my first short, I was cursed with bad weather, I was ill-prepared and I was consumed with nerves. When I looked at the footage I just thought - f**k it, I'm not cut out to do this. But then I eventually sat down and calmly listed what went wrong and what I'd do differently. Luckily I only had one actor and was able to get them back, re-shoot 90% of it and I was really happy with the finished film. Point is, if I'd just given up then I would have probably made the same mistakes on the next one - assuming I hadn't given up completely.

And finally - in the words of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: "I tried, goddamn it. At least I did that." Don't beat yourself up too much.

May 27, 2015 at 11:45AM

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Jon Mills
Filmmaker
825

Get it finished and at the very least stick it up on YouTube. You have made a film, that is pretty damn fabulous. Most people will never do that, so be proud of that achievement in itself.

May 27, 2015 at 4:53PM, Edited May 27, 4:54PM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1426

Learn from it, hate talking about it (At least for a few years, lol), and make another one. You will never get the first one right, or the second, or the third. At least they won't seem perfect or right to you.

Don't take this as a never try thing, but as a strive to make that film that just feels right and satisfies your within.

Oh and always look for feedback from everyone, even those who aren't filmmakers. Good luck and keep filmming.

May 27, 2015 at 9:33PM

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Kyle Acker
Cinematographer/ Video Editor
512

Finish it, give copies to the team. Do another one.

May 28, 2015 at 6:31AM, Edited May 28, 6:31AM

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Álex Montoya
Writer/Director
602

Finish it. Anything can be salvageable. Just cut the hell out of it and make it as short as possible. I've shot and edited some terrible films (other people's scripts) that people have actually thought were good!

Even with my own films at the beginning I hated them and wish I could have done so much differently but I was surprised that in the end people actually liked them and they were being honest. Film making will always be an unending learning experience

May 28, 2015 at 10:35AM, Edited May 28, 10:36AM

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I say finish it, I think you could learn more stuff when you are editing as well.
I am in a process of finishing up a short interview/doc right now and I am not as please with the out come right now but I intend to finish it.
Also think I don't have enough b rolls so I intend to shoot a little more footages over the weekend. I don't think you will regret finishing it. imo

May 28, 2015 at 2:26PM

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Keith Kim
Photographer
1503

You should always finish your projects. Even if its bad you have something to compare to future projects to see your progress.

May 28, 2015 at 4:15PM

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Andrew
Director/Cinematographer
256

Keep working on it, make it the best film you can make it for now. Better to finish or you will find yourself never finishing anything. Also when its finished put it out there, let other people see it and give you feedback. You've got to make a lot of terrible stuff before you can make good stuff. I still never like anything I make, but I try to make a point to finish it and get it out into to world.

May 28, 2015 at 5:35PM

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Matt Clark
Producer / Writer / DP
734

As others have stated previously... FINISH YOUR FILM. It is important, not only because it's just good to finish something, but there are plenty of other lessons to learn in the post process as well as distribution and promotion - if you wish to take it that far. Take it from someone who has had a history of starting many things and never finishing them, it begins to weigh on you over time. You'll be happy you completed the film. Thanks for sharing and best of luck Joel.

May 29, 2015 at 10:47AM

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Bryan Tosh
Director of Photography
539

Im so proud of NFS community. It's full of moral support and amazing tips from a personal point of view. Keep it up my friend, it's no biggie, dont lose that inspiration.

May 29, 2015 at 12:05PM

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Tommy Plesky
Director / D.P / Editor
1999

"Making terrible films should never slow you down one bit!" -M. Night Shyamalan

May 30, 2015 at 11:42AM, Edited May 30, 11:42AM

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The acting was the weakest part of my first short film. So I took months to read about acting, ask actors questions, watch any and everything I could on youtube to understand how to do better my second time around.

The second time around, I think I had some more success.

Everyone has written good things above but I just wanted to add my two cents in. I think you should try to finish it. Maybe not spend a ton on audio mixing or anything but do what you can on your computer to have as close to a finished film as possible then put it behind you, you are not that film.

May 30, 2015 at 12:42PM

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Brooks Reynolds
Director/DOP
637

Of course you should finish it. You don't want to get in the habit of never finishing your projects, it's something that can kill your passion for film and video production. It's good that you've already learned several lessons thus far, but there's even more lessons to be learned in the rest of the process.

And you know what, even if we know our films are going suck, my friends and I still love to make and watch them. There's always something special about your own movies. Be proud of what you've done. I've also come to realize that when I have an assigned project, say in one of my broadcast classes where we have to make a PSA for a non-profit organization, my final product is always of higher quality than anything that requires actual acting. Consistently the weakness in my movies is the acting. I think it's partly because of my journalistic background rather than having a film background.

May 31, 2015 at 1:55AM, Edited May 31, 2:05AM

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Charles Duoto
Studio Floor Director
1378

The very first film I ever made was this fan film project. The whole thing snowballed from being a small community thing into this massive production with over 200 crew members from 30 countries. I had a love-hate relationship with my producer - they were brilliant but it was readily apparent that they didn't realise, when they took the project on, that I was an absolute rookie, and for this they hated me with the fire of a thousand suns. It was an abusive relationship that I had to deal with for the best part of four years.

Three years after filming the teaser with VFX for the four minutes still incomplete, about a year of which they had spent completely incommunicado, they tried to convince me to agree to cancel the project. The footage was owned three ways between me, the producer and the DP, who had long-since moved on from the project. I said no. They told me to think on it. I still said no. So instead, they said they wouldn't allow me to go out on my own and finish it. The film was canned. I was left hung out to dry.

Since then I've worked with some great people on a couple of documentaries and corporate bits, and I have come to realise that the pain I went through for all that is about as bad as it could ever get. I have recovered from that abusive experience and I am about to embark on my first "big" project since that one failed. But my *biggest* regret as a film maker, having been subjected to all that, the rigours of learning the film process, after investing time and money and all that jazz, was not having something to show for it.

Finish your film, whether you love it or hate it. It's a part of you, and if you do can it, one day you WILL regret it, for one reason or another.

May 31, 2015 at 7:30AM

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Peter Cooper
Writer-Director
74

I read an article where Rian Johnson, who has Directed Feature films; Brick, Brother's Bloom and Looper, as well as heralded episodes of Breaking Bad (I might have missed something) claimed to have shot over 300 short films, yet none of them are on the internet. He said they were unwatchable for the most part.

My "debut feature" shot 6 years ago was never completed or shown to anyone publicly, because it was absolute garbage of the highest power, along with most of my shorts, and yet I'm gearing up to shoot a second Feature later this year across multiple continents!...you need determination to keep going but the harshest criticisms can come from those who films are intended for...the audience, as they are the ones to make or break a film.

So show it to people close to you, but the problem with releasing it online, where you are judged, is that it can stain your "image". People may remember that piece of crap that you uploaded, even if you delete it. Festivals are great, because if your film has anything unique then it may get accepted, but if not, no worries, no one paid it any mind and there is no stain on your "image".

June 1, 2015 at 2:02AM

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Zachariel Shanahan
Writer/Director
1099

June 2, 2015 at 2:02PM

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