Why make a short, you ask?
Feature film directors like Ridley Scott, Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze and David Lynch have all turned to making television commercials; an unexpectedly demanding task given that one has to tell a story and make it interesting in a very short amount of time. It’s a great way of honing our storytelling skills by making sure every moment counts. And for those of us just starting out, it gives us the chance to explore our voice as a filmmaker. Sometimes a lightbulb moment strikes, and we know exactly what story we want to tell. Other times, we need a little push towards the starting line. Here are some examples of acclaimed short films that will help entertain and inspire:
A cautionary tale of the dangers of working overtime.
A brilliant tragi-comedy by Sundance Short Film Grand Jury Prize winner, Jim Cummings. Shot in one take.
With no dialogue whatsoever, Lichen delivers a masterful lesson in the importance of photography and tone.
Who doesn’t love a solid zombie film?
And here’s a short that’ll make you want to abandon sound equipment altogether by Kino veteran, Vanessa Dang.
Still don’t know where to start?
Here are a few narrative storytelling principles that you can use as a foundation for your story:
- A main CHARACTER with FLAWS
- Forced into action by an INCITING INCIDENT (either external or internal)
- Pursuing a GOAL (compelling, measurable)
- Something is AT STAKE (it matters whether they achieve their goal or not)
- Facing OBSTACLES/CONFLICT (challenging)
- With a BEGINNING, a MIDDLE and END (i.e. structure)
Now, there’s a lot of short films that don’t necessarily fit into this formula, and that’s ok. What it might lack in plot or structure, it makes up with stunning visuals or punchy dialogue. There’s no right or wrong way to make a short film, but it does help to know the rules before you break them. Whether it’s a five minute awkward conversation between two old friends who have just reconnected, or a fifteen minute action-packed story of a zombie apocalypse, what is essential is that your story have a point of view, something to tell us. The rest is up to you!