Reality Bites: How to Save a Short Film Production That Falls Apart

Actress Bridgette Wellbelove as “Jane,” slating a scene.

by Lexy Anderson (@lexy__anderson) & Ben Murray (@benthemurray)

We are a filmmaking duo based in London who regularly collaborate on short films. Our most recent film, “Reality Bites,” is a mockumentary following the marriage of a young woman and a zombie, and the challenges they face in that relationship.

We wanted to share the process of how new filmmakers can be small and economical with their films. In this case, we managed to shoot the whole thing in one day with a pre-production turnover of just 24 hours.

That’s right. 24 hours.

The Idea 

Lexy Anderson: I’m first and foremost a writer, and Ben and I became friends towards the end of university when we realized we had the same obsession with paranormal stories. We decided to hangout and talk ideas one night, and had such a similar wavelength when it came to ideas that it seemed wrong not to co-write something.

Ben Murray: I’ve been making shorts since I was about eleven, and I had always worked solo, so I’d never co-written/co-directed anything before, and neither had Lexy. “Reality Bites” was a really significant test in terms of collaborative filmmaking. But from the start, our ideas and way of thinking about filmmaking were super-synchronized, so it made for a really fun and relaxed set.

Lexy Anderson: The process of writing it didn’t feel much like a process at all. We were just talking nonsense for a good few hours, and in doing so, conjured up a collection of concepts, one of which was “Reality Bites.”

Ben Murray: I’m not sure what specifically inspired it. At one point during the session, someone asked “What if you married a zombie?” and the next morning, there was a script!

Pre-Production Flexibility

Lexy Anderson: That writing and idea session let us build up an archive of short scripts we knew we could realistically shoot on an indie level. That actually ended up saving our bacon, as we only shot “Reality Bites” because another production fell through.

Ben Murray: As far as pre-production went, we had no time to sit around. We had about twenty-four hours to prep due to an actor cancelling last minute for another script we’d wanted to shoot.

Lexy Anderson: We had a script, auditioned cast, gathered equipment, scouted locations, and… it all fell through! Thankfully, we turned to our script archive and pitched “Reality Bites” as an alternative to our remaining actors who were both game for a last-minute-switch-a-roo. I love creatives like that.

Ben Murray: So we pulled what we could from the ashes of that cancelled shoot, and rebuffed the prep to instead make “Reality Bites.”

The Shoot

Ben Murray: Considering all the madness leading up to it, the shoot itself was very relaxed. We had a shot-list and a script, but we used them both as more of a guideline. For us, even as screenwriters, if we have the luxury and freedom to explore an idea further, that’s what we want to spend time doing on set.

Lexy Anderson: Because we were shooting “documentary” style, we knew that genre could incorporate some ad-libbing, and the actor’s improvisation actually became the driving forces that saved several scenes. We ended up with approximately 50% scripted and 50% improv dialogue.

Ben Murray: If we’d have been shooting a different genre or style, we wouldn’t have deviated as far from the script. You have to really understand what you’re shooting to know how far you can stray from the page.

Lexy Anderson: But having a co-director meant we’d spot when we were straying too far. It also sent our productivity through the roof, as the burden of decision-making was halved. We both had someone to go to if we needed to bounce ideas around, or explore why something wasn’t working.

Lexy applies some light touch-ups to Jorge Andrade’s “Michael” makeup.

Lessons Learned

  1. Shoots are stressful… if you let them be. But if you’re focused on enjoying the process of problem solving, you can actually have fun.
  2. We highly recommend building an archive of scripts in your back pocket. That way, if actors/locations pull out, you have alternative material to potentially use and not waste a day booked off work.
  3. Always be adaptable. Whether you’re the director, camera-operator, or the editor, be open and allow people to respectfully stray away from the written page.
  4. Embrace your limitations. We had so many ideas we wanted to do, but restrictions meant they’d take too much time or cost too much. We embraced our limitations and concentrated on exploring performances.
  5. Whether you’re part of a team or on your own, just write something you like enough to go and shoot. Big budgets and VFX aren’t important at this stage. Showing people you’re a writer who can get something from the page to the screen is impressive in itself.

And you know what, even if everything you plan falls through, if you’ve got a backup plan and a ‘can do’ attitude, you’ll get through it. Yes, sometimes life sucks (or, “Reality Bites”), but if you want to be a filmmaker, you’ll find a way to make it work.

Check out the film,Reality Bites.”


To find out more, get involved or get in touch, feel free to contact either of us via Instagram @lexy__anderson or @benthemurray.

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