How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make Some Stuff, by filmmaker Harry Sherriff

16 April 2020

We’re excited to announce that BFI NETWORK has partnered with our friends at Encounters and Watershed to bring new initiative #shortitout to filmmakers. 

#shortitout is a call to action to filmmakers all over the world to get creative and build a community amidst the global pandemic. We’re inviting filmmakers of every age and experience level to submit 90 second films using the #shortitout hashtag; encouraging creativity and storytelling, as well as opportunities to hone filmmaking skills and connect with their peers. You can find out more details about how to get involved with #shortitout here including details of upcoming live streamed events and opportunities for showcasing your work.

Manchester based writer-director-actor Harry Sheriff makes low budget shorts often set within his flat or his neighbourhood. He’s best known for his short Hits Like a Girl funded through the iShorts scheme and his six-part web series Early Days which received over 80,000 views and is currently developing his debut feature film with Red Union Films (Awaydays and The Violators). To kick start #shortitout, we asked him to share some tips and inspiration on DIY filmmaking.

Harry was also commissioned by BFI NETWORK to come up with a short made at home during the lockdown to get you inspired to make your own. Watch Harry's short film here. 


1. If you had to make a film today what would you make?

Look around the room you are in and think: “If I had to shoot something in this location in a couple of hours, what would I make?” This is exactly the thought process the Duplass brothers employed when they made their short, This Is John. The film was accepted into Sundance and played a huge part in their careers. On the back of this point, coincidentally, the last two super entertaining shorts I watched were set solely in a house, and they were extremely different in style and genre.

2. Try different jumping-off points

Ideas can come from anywhere. If locations don’t get your creative juices flowing think long and hard about what you have to offer that no one else has. Maybe you have a weird antique that’s been handed down several generations. Maybe that weird friend you have inspires you to write something for them. My last short film was inspired by how my dad showed me VHS footage he had filmed when I was three years old. 

3. Don’t put the short film on a pedestal

There is a time to make your BAFTA-winning short film but that might not be now. Don’t think of your career. Just make something that excites you and is personal in some way.

4. Don’t put the script on a pedestal

At the beginning of the year I was thinking a lot about artists. True artists. The type of artists that go to a studio and create. A sculptor doesn’t sit down and waste weeks on a plan before they start sculpting, or maybe they do? I don’t actually know anything about sculpting, but my point is: think about what will get you making. 

5. Build a team

Although the ethos is DIY, that doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself. 

I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, find like-minded, enthusiastic people that are willing to make short films regularly. You also need to give yourself time to find out what type of filmmaker you are. Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t write. Some of the greatest directors can’t write, and the same goes for if you’re not techy. 

6. Find a routine

This is about playing to your advantages and limiting indecisiveness. This applies to every part of the process. For example, in the last couple of years Sundays have been the perfect day to shoot for me. It’s when everyone is free. This might just be the case for me, so find your day!

7. OK, but practically how do I make a film?

Pretty much everyone can make a film these days. Most phones shoot 4K, and you can even edit on the phone. When I made my first film after graduating I borrowed a friend’s DSLR and edited on the family laptop. If you can’t shoot on your mobile phone, borrow a friend’s. The important thing is to make the equipment that you have serve the story, not the other way around. What story or scene would have a greater impact if it was shot on a phone? You have limitations but your creative ways around these limitations will result in something worth seeing.

8. Distribute and start the process all over again…

Since 2016 I’ve made about 25 short films, the bulk of which consisted of my 12 shorts in 12 months project and a six-part web series called Early Days. My working theory is: to be good at anything you have to do it a lot, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Now, there’s an argument I can see you’re already thinking: “Isn’t quality more important than quantity?” And you’d be right! But on the topic of quality vs quantity what I can say is: I don’t regret anything I have made but I do regret that I haven’t made more. 

I believe the quickest way to improve is to make work, show work, listen to feedback about work and repeat. This isn’t a groundbreaking discovery, but I’m amazed at how many filmmakers don’t do the first step enough, let alone the second, third and fourth.

9. …or don’t distribute but still start the process all over again

F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “ … intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function,” so I’m going to contradict point number eight and say you don’t have to put everything you make online. There are short films I’ve made that no one will ever see, and they’d be grateful. Make the film, learn from it and maybe get some feedback from someone in private. 

10. Give yourself some praise!

The morning after every shoot I’ll sit down and write the things I was really happy about. The stuff I got right. I do also write the things I wasn’t best pleased with, but I make sure I fix it 80/20 to keep sane. 

11. “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking” – Haruki Murakami

This links into point number two. Where are you going to be creatively inspired? Every filmmaker is making their way through Netflix. I bloody love a true-crime documentary and yes, of course, I’ve seen Tiger King, but maybe shave a few hours off Netflix and watch a buried treasure on Mubi as well.