If you're making a short film, don't be a perfectionist. There's a time and a place for David Fincher's 99 takes for a single scene in The Social Network. But I'm not so sure it's on the set of a no-budget short film.
There are, of course, always exceptions. But when you're making a short film, I truly believe the best goals to have are to learn and gain experience. Making a short film that launches a career just doesn't happen that often. That's not to say be lazy, or don't care about the end result, but it's important to maintain a perspective on what you're doing–and why.
I personally gravitate towards the philosophy of Terrence Malick, especially on short or low-budget film projects. Here's an excerpted quote of Emmanuel Lubezki, cinematographer for The Tree of Life, Gravity, and Children of Men on preparing for Malick's To the Wonder:
He said, ‘If you want to read the script you can, but you don’t have to — in fact, it might be better if you don’t, so you can act like a documentary filmmaker and come onto the locations and capture these ideas we’ve been talking about. I don’t want to prep a movie the way they prep a movie in Hollywood.’
The approach to shooting the movie is connected to the kind of movie he wants to make — the form and content are fundamentally connected. For example, when we talk about using natural light, it’s not because we don’t want to have a truck with lights, but because what we want to capture can only be captured accidentally as it happens in front of us. So we prepped in a very unconventional way.
We were trying to find a more cinematographic approach to filmmaking and a way of using film language that was less connected to theater and literature and other art forms. Terry wants this art form to have its own way of expressing ideas and emotions, and that’s what was very exciting about the movie.
Shoot what you can. Adapt. Don't let it sit and rot. Get the idea out and move on to the next thing.
Perfectionism in short films leads to death by a thousand cuts, "the way a major negative change, which happens slowly in many unnoticed increments, is not perceived as objectionable." It leads to people shooting a film and never releasing it. Of course, just because you film something doesn't mean you need to share it on every billboard in town, but I do believe there's value in showing all parts of the process.
No film will ever be perfect. Even feature films have small little errors or imperfections that I'm sure the director notices and wants to fix. Unlike major motion pictures, short or low-budget films may not have deadlines, release dates, or investors that push the project forward at all costs. It still doesn't mean you should let it sit. Releasing something–anything–is better than nothing.
We just finished our move to California. The good news is that before we left, I was able to finish filming my short film, The Lost Detective. But moving right after completing production means no pickup shots. No redos. We have what we have. I can't go back to Ohio if I forgot something, or if a scene didn't turn out how I'd hoped. Because of the move, I didn't even really have a chance to review what we shot before getting in the car and driving away.
But no matter what, I'll release something. I'll have to make something work. I owe it to myself, my cast and crew, and everyone else that's shown their support. Like everything else, it won't be perfect, but it'll be a learning experience. And it'll be worth it.