1st Edition

The SHORT! Guide to Producing
The Practical Essentials of Producing Short Films

ISBN 9780815394211
Published June 18, 2018 by Routledge
310 Pages 8 Color & 36 B/W Illustrations

USD $42.95

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Book Description

In this book, Charles Merzbacher offers a concise, definitive guide to the essential skills, techniques and logistics of producing short films, focusing on the practical knowledge needed for line producing and overseeing smaller-scale productions. Drawing on insights from real-life production scenarios, veteran filmmaker and instructor Charles Merzbacher takes producers through every stage of the production process, from fundraising, preproduction and planning to the producer’s role in postproduction and distribution.

Key topics include:

  • Finding a worthy project;
  • Schedules and budgets;
  • Managing the casting process;
  • Recruiting and managing crew;
  • Location scouting;
  • Legal and safety issues;
  • Running a production;
  • Negotiating music rights;
  • And much more!

An accompanying website—available at theshortseries.com—offers document templates for contracts, call sheets, budgets and other production forms, as well as sample production documents and short video guides featuring top industry professionals.

Table of Contents

Introduction - Looking Before Leaping

  • Be Prepared
  • Is There an Audience for This Short?
  • Defining the Producer’s Role
  • The Short Dilemma: Who’s in Charge?
  • Shoebox Redhead: A Textbook Case
  • Terminology
  • Production Management Software

Chapter 1 - Getting Down to Business

  • Financing Your Film
  • Television Distribution
  • Government Support
  • The Funding of Student Productions
  • Private Foundations and Commercial Underwriting
  • Specialized Markets
  • Profit Versus Non-Profit
  • Ownership Versus Sponsorship
  • Online Fundraising Platforms
  • Appealing to Friends and Family
  • Setting Up to Do Business

Chapter 2 - Preproduction

  • Safety First
  • Clearing Rights to Intellectual Property
  • Copyright and the Public Domain
  • Story Rights
  • Screenplay Rights
  • An Overview of Preproduction and a Timeline

Chapter 3 - Script Breakdown

  • What Exactly Am I Producing?
  • Numbering Scenes
  • Measuring Scenes
  • Marking Up the Script: Know the Code
  • Putting the Code into Action

Chapter 4 - Breakdown Sheets

  • Creating Breakdown Sheets
  • How Many Sheets?
  • A Sample Sheet
  • Filling in the Header
  • Some Tricky Details
  • Pushing On

Chapter 5 - The Schedule

  • Building the Shooting Schedule
  • Options for Laying Out the Schedule
  • What Has Priority?
  • How Many Days?
  • Taking a Stab at It
  • The Arc of the Shoot
  • The Schedule in Overview

Chapter 6 - The Budget

  • The Secrets of Budgeting
  • The Architecture of a Budget
  • Different Kinds of Zeroes
  • Fringes, Per Diems and Other Budgeting Terms
  • Negotiating Rates with Vendors
  • To Buy or To Rent
  • A Budget Template

Chapter 7 - Beyond Budgeting Basics

  • Revealing Details
  • How Food Can (and Should) Eat Up Your Budget
  • Taxes, Mileage and Other Details that Can Break the Bank
  • A Walking Tour of a Budget
  • Stunts and Special Effects on a Budget

Chapter 8 - The Crew

  • How Big Is Big Enough?
  • Understanding Departments and Crew Hierarchy
  • Payments, Deferrals and Favors
  • Cutting Deals: From Box Rentals to Favored Nations

Chapter 9 - The Cast

  • The Producer’s Role in Casting
  • The Casting Process
  • Hiring a Casting Director
  • Producing Auditions
  • Casting Professionals and Actors from Other Regions
  • Working with the Actors’ Unions
  • Using Non-Actors, Friends and Other Special Cases
  • Casting Crowds
  • Performer Releases

Chapter 10 - Locations

  • Ask, Don’t Steal
  • Scouting Locations
  • Negotiating and Securing Locations
  • Copyright, Trademark and Fair Use
  • Insurance
  • A Note about Operating Vehicles and Heavy Machinery

Chapter 11 - Production Paperwork

  • Before You Roll: The Final Details
  • The Daily Production Schedule
  • Options for Displaying and Sharing Your Schedule
  • The Call Sheet and Other Paperwork
  • Purchase Orders
  • Working Away from Home

Chapter 12 - The Shoot

  • Once More with Feeling: Safety Matters
  • Riding the Whirlwind
  • Conceding, Settling, Hanging Tough and Whittling
  • How to Manage Crises and Tiffs (and How to Tell Them Apart)
  • Revising the Schedule During Production
  • Tracking the Budget Through Production

Chapter 13 - Music

  • Kinds of Film Music
  • Music Rights
  • Using Existing Music
  • Production Music and Music Libraries
  • Licensing Commercially Released Music
  • Working with a Composer
  • Temp Track Love

Chapter 14 - Postproduction

  • The Producer’s Role in Postproduction
  • Pick-Ups
  • Postproduction Workflow
  • Fixing It in Post: Color Correction and Other Adjustments
  • Mixing, Outputting and Archiving
  • Budgeting for Postproduction

Chapter 15 - Promotion and Distribution

  • The Ladder to Success
  • Distribution Strategies for the Short Film
  • Scarcity Versus Ubiquity
  • The Festival Circuit
  • The Press Kit and Other Promotional Materials
  • Deliverables
  • Online Distribution

Conclusion - The Long and the Short of It

Appendix A - Script for Shoebox Redhead

Appendix B - Budget for Shoebox Redhead

Appendix C - Contract Templates

  • Story Rights Agreement
  • Screenwriter Agreement
  • Example of Screenwriter Exhibit A
  • Work for Hire Agreement for Crew
  • Performer Agreement for Cast
  • Location Agreement
  • Synchronization License for Music
  • Master Use License for Music
  • Composer Agreement

Appendix D - Further Reading

Appendix E - Contributor Bios

Appendix F - Glossary of Terms


About the Author


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Charles Merzbacher serves on the Film & Television faculty at Boston University. During his long career, he has overseen the production of several thousand student films and has delivered workshops and lectures at other institutions at home and abroad. As a filmmaker, Merzbacher has won several awards for his many productions. His feature film, Jane Street, premiered at the British Film Institute, and his short films have been exhibited around the world, including at the Sundance, San Francisco, Seattle and Montreal International Film Festivals.


"Charles Merzbacher—professor and filmmaker—has much to say on not only about how to make a film, but about how to make a GOOD film. His wisdom, insights and advice will be indispensable to anyone setting out on their cinematic journey."

—Richard N. Gladstein, Two-time Academy Award-nominated Film Producer, Pulp Fiction, The Cider House Rules, Finding Neverland, The Bourne Identity, The Hateful Eight

"This book does a great job in showing the kind of thinking and problem-solving film production requires. After so many years of guiding students through this process, Charles knows how to break it all down. He highlights what’s important and then shows examples to support each point. The information here not only addresses making short films, but gives solid advice that would be useful in all filmmaking and project development."

—Georgia Kacandes, Executive Producer of The Hateful Eight, The Wolf of Wall Street and Hugo

"An excellent guide to a complicated and detailed process. This book, from someone who has actually done the job, contains a comprehensive look at the difficult and meticulous line producing process. It should be required reading for anyone contemplating making a short film."

—Chris Hansen, Filmmaker; Chair of the Department of Film & Digital Media, Baylor University

"If you’re yearning to make a short film but don’t know where to start, this is the book for you! If you’ve made short films, but it’s been awhile and you need a refresher course, this is the book for you! If you’re teaching short film production to a group of students and you want to make sure every aspect of the filmmaking process is covered in your course, this is the book for you and your students!"

—Alexandra Rose, Film Producer; Professor at the Dodge College of Film & Media Arts, Chapman University