January 20, 2016 Contessa Abono

5 Major Differences Between Shooting Feature and Short Films

A good short film should not simply be a feature film jammed into a small space.

There’s an art and craft to making a short film that is essentially different from a feature-length film.  If done well, short films have a potential to reach massive amounts of viewers on Vimeo and other sites. The downside of a short film is that while you personally may gain experience working with a crew, cast and technology, you won’t be exercising, testing or expanding your understanding of elements of story, character, theme, myth and metaphor that the short film, simply by its duration, does not fully explore.


What’s considered a short film? A short film is any film not long enough to be considered a feature film. No consensus exists as to where that boundary is drawn: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as “an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits.”

So what about shooting a full feature-length compared to a short film should a filmmaker consider? That’s where this list comes in handy.


Man with beard in glasses sleeps in office on the table over laptop with coffee in hand

For a full-length feature film’s shooting phase, it can take about ten to twelve weeks. This is just one of the creative phases in making a movie. Post-Production can take up to six months or more.

A short film. Can cut your time across the board but it doesn’t mean you will spend less time creating quality content for a truly quality piece. A short film basically is any film that is too short to be considered a feature film. The special effects, music, actors, and all other aspects of a movie are irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant to defining a film as a “short film” is simply its length.

So before delving into a production consider how much time you can commit to a project.


A young marketing office worker drawing pie chart and graph on wall at financial meeting concept

Obviously less film will cost less on a whole. Due to less filming time you have less to edit in post-production, etc. In the micro-budget student/indie world, it’s much easier to get quality actors to work for free/cheap on a stand-alone 10 minute short than for an open-ended episodic project.

To keep it simple this article will just discuss the actual cost of making a movie the “above the line” costs (writers, producers, director, actors) and “below the line” costs (production crew, locations, equipment, materials, food, and incidentals.)

It takes a considerable amount of effort to put together a feature-length film. There are many ways to plan for this. Countless articles about what are the costs, how to avoid costs, how to get by with practically no budget at all…but for the sake of this article we are showing you the highest “Hollywood” budget and a lower “indie” budget. You may fall anywhere in between there.

On the site www.the-numbers.com they find an average between:

Highest Budget films (total production cost of top 20): $4,589,000,000 
Lowest Budget films (grossing at least $1 million @ B.O.): $795,000 
Average Movie Budget of these 33 movies: $139,084,697

This gives us an average costs of about $139 million to make a major Hollywood film.

Just putting everything into perspective with those numbers. What about a more “indie” budget approach? Check out these “indie packages from jamesriverfilm.”

Professional “Indie” Digital Package

  1. Black Magic Digital Cinema Camera + Quality Zoom Lens – $4,000
  2. Apple Macbook Pro w/Retina Display+AppleCare- $2,600
  3. Adobe CS6 Production Premium (Professional) – $1800
  4. Lifespan of software and gear – 2 years

Total: $8,300/15 minute short a year cost = $4,250

Professional “Indie” Film Package w/ Photo-chemical Finish

  1. Bell and Howell Filmo 70DR w/ C-Mount Lenses – $500
  2. Viewer/Rewinds/Splicer/Projector – $200
  3. Film Stock – 1500ft/45 minutes  – $450
  4. Processing/Workprint – .$40/ft – $600
  5. Photo/Chemical Finish Print – $1000
  6. Lifespan of gear: lifetime (Equipment cost is subtracted for the second year.)

Also an option is raising a budget from Kickstarter. Or other campaign sights, which are a real, doable step that you should always consider.

If you can’t get the $2,000 for equipment then use whatever you have. (yes that includes cell phones – even full-length films are being shot on cell phones these days, à la Tangerine.)


couple of actors

As mentioned above a good short film should not simply be a featured film jammed into a small space.

Filmmakers who make short films should do so only because they have something to say that can only be said in a short span of time. Otherwise the piece can end up being superficial and feel like it’s lacking in depth or substance.

Short films are a learning experience. Shorts are a great way to learn about the process of taking something from an idea through filming to presentation. There comes a time, however, where you are simply learning how to make better short films and not much else. It’s one thing to make shorts as a pastime but if you are truly dedicated to your craft, it’s best to move on as soon as you get a grasp on how to make the whole process work, unless you’re making it short for a reason.

A feature film length with allow you to move beyond that learning experience and delve into a matter on a level you can explore greater possibilities. Develop characters further and really get on a whole new level with your story.

Shooting Technique


  1. The entire short film may be shot in the same location.

This can be the biggest difference between the shooting techniques you would apply to a full-length and a short.

For a short many times they’re shot using one location. That means you really have to work on your camera angles to create new shots and keep it fresh. Also you might be shooting entire sequences in one place because you are utilizing the space as much as possible. So you really have to get creative with your shooting.

  1. Working with actors in a short amount of time versus extended amounts of time

When you’re working on a short film, you might plan to have an actor come in for one day and shoot all their scenes at once. This is perfectly fine.

On the other hand with a featured film you need to create a working relationship with the actor because it will probably take several days of shooting together to get all the shots down. So you start to get a feel for their style and sometimes this leads to them having more freedom and more time for improvisational acting.


People watching movie in cinema. Selected focus on boy in the first row on the right side

Film festivals, YouTube, Vimeo, Web series, shorts, theater distribution. Where is the right place you’re your film?

As mentioned before, if done well, short films have a potential to reach massive amounts of viewers and gain tons of hits on Vimeo and other sites. You have a whole genera to create for, the internet viewer, the smartphone viewer and the quick, entertain-me-on-my-lunch-break, social network viewer.

Then there’s always time for a movie and popcorn. What to watch on the weekend on a rainy day? Your feature film, perhaps?

It can be very confusing but this is why it’s so important to plan things out before you even plan your shoot. Know what kind of audience you are going for can make all the difference in the end.

Plenty of film festivals have a short film category so you’re not restricted to the internet. Check our video maker events guide to see upcoming film festivals!


So what are you trying to say? What’s your film’s underlining message?

When the filmmaker understands the importance of the story, it doesn’t matter which format they use.


Want to work on your film project with others? Try LookAt and get your film ideas across in a simple, clear manner!



Sources: www.the-numbers.com, www.slashfilm.com, www.imdb.comhttps://jamesriverfilm.wordpress.com



About the Author

Contessa Abono Contessa is a journalist from the San Francisco Bay Area that specializes in entertainment, online and photojournalism. She has written articles, shot photography and videography for many online and print publications such as SF Weekly, The Guardian, Guitar Player Magazine, The Press Newspapers and Pinpoint Music. Her favorite genre of film is documentary, usually about the supernatural or pop culture. She is also an avid pecan pie and kitten enthusiast.