You’re dreaming of becoming a filmmaker. You’ve browsed the Raindance website; maybe you’ve signed up for your first Saturday Film School seminar. Let me spoil something about that seminar for you: Elliot’s going to ask you if you’ve got an idea for a film. He’ll ask you if you’ve got an idea for a second film. I bet you do. But just as important as knowing what the story is going to be about, is the dilemma of how to best tell it. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (and Raindance!) defines a feature length film as being over 40 minutes. Yet maybe you realize that the most effective way to tell your film’s story is to do it in a shorter amount of time. That you want something more concise. Shorter. Sweeter. You can now fully embrace the power of a short.
Shorts are perhaps not the most obvious route a beginning filmmaker might take. You can’t pop down to the local theatre and see them. The only ones you can recall being in the public discourse are the ones shown before Pixar blockbusters. So what’s the point? Why even bother? If it’s not a feature – what use is it, because no one’s going to see it anyway?
Whether you’re just starting out or an old pro, shorts DO have a point, you SHOULD bother, and people WILL see them.
1. Artistic Freedom
Let’s start with some of the reasons you’re on this website, why you might be reading this right now: Curiosity. Passion. Drive. All obvious qualities you know you’ll need to get your film made; qualities that are driving the concept and execution of your film – your art. When you free yourself from the burden of making sure your concept has to sustain a 60-90 minute running time, you free up your creative instincts to let them guide you on just how long your film should be. Certainly the longer film is not always the better one.
2. Practice Doing Riskier, Unique Work
When you free up your creative instincts from some artificially conceived running time, you’re freer to create riskier, more inventive, more interesting work. How many times have we had to write an essay of at least a minimum number of words, and thought “If I didn’t have to inflate my ideas – if I could just say what I wanted to say regardless of how long it had to be, it would be such a better essay”? That’s what’s great about being a filmmaker working from his or her artistic soul: No one’s barking down on you telling you anything has to be a certain length. So why not take advantage of it? At the heart of your film might be a message – a statement you want to make to the audience through your work. A shorter message can be more incisive than one diluted by length. This leads to one of the most quintessential benefits of doing a short: The practice. Anyone can do risky, creative work. But the skill to do risky, creative work well takes practice. Shorts allow you to hone every aspect of your filmmaking skills, and experiment in areas you have less aptitude for.
3. Post-Production Ease
Now think ahead while the film is in post-production. You’re doing long hours in the editing suite, revising footage, inserting sound effects, doing the voice-overs. All so that your concept – your message, your story – is as effectively told as it can possibly be. You’re going to be pouring over every detail. Imagine how much more efficiently you’ll be able to pay attention to every frame and shot you know is necessary to tell the story when your running time is 15 minutes instead of 50. How increased your ability will be to go back and refine, go back and refine, go back and refine until it’s just right.
4. The Almighty Budget
You’ve just finished production on your short and my-oh-my look at how much smaller that budget ended up being than you originally imagined! Getting your film made, the story effectively told with as low a budget as possible provides obvious benefits. As if you need to read anything about its virtues. But that idea extends deeper than you might expect. As part of a thought-piece on the Raindance website on what “talent” really is, Elliot Grove has this to say as his most important takeaway: “The film industry is obsessed with money. It is a business after all. If you want to impress the movie-business moguls, all you really need to do is understand exactly what the realistic income is for your movie. Then make it for less than that. You will be deemed to have talent.” In the end, while you want the film to impress viewers, you want your budgeting skills to impress executives. Your hours of practice and refining of skills proves to those executives that you’re worth taking a chance on, and that you know how to make a picture that doesn’t risk money.
5. Online Marketing
Impressions. Ultimately, you want your film to be a launching pad for audiences and executives alike to give you the support to make more films. That’s what it’s all about: how are you going to get your film seen when you’re a budding filmmaker, with a low budget, and fewer reliable contacts than your more established peers? A short can be easily put on YouTube, easily posted as a status on Facebook, tweeted on Twitter, or embedded in an article on an indie-film website. You’ll be submitting your short to the same festivals where feature-lengths are, but you have the advantage. You can go viral. A short can provide the break or breakthrough you need to launch your career.
6. The Untapped Market
Going viral is even more likely in this digital age than it ever was before. Much has been written about our shortened attention spans. Many theatre shows are almost three hours, and movie tickets are expensive. I fully believe there is a budding market out there for short films in the popular marketplace, because shorts allow an audience to see a greater variety of interesting work. Check out the lineup of “Best UK Shorts” nominated at the 2012 Raindance Film Festival – Achele, Bird, For Elsie, Mapmaker, A Thousand Empty Glasses, and eventual winner The Pub. Six films that, compiled together, provide the running time of one feature film. Six wildly different, innovative, high quality, stunning films that wouldn’t work nearly as well if each had been a feature length.
Imagine your short in that lineup — seen by audiences, industry critics, the press, and executives alike. You did it for less money, with more creative freedom and attention to detail, that you can easily market on the internet.
Even better, getting your short screened at Raindance allows you to qualify for the Best Short(Animated or Live Action) Oscar. As if you needed any extra incentive. As Elliot says: “Stop reading this right now, and go write, shoot or direct your short, feature of documentary. Power through. Then do it again.”