Ideas to Help You With Your Short Films

When researching ideas for your new short, think about the important things like theme, sound, scene, site, lighting, tools etc. But also, give a thought to timing. Although a lot of people get it spot on, there are a surprising amount of people who don't actually think about how long their 'short' is going to be. Similarly, some people get so caught up in the frame of "Got to keep it short!". This can be just as damaging.

The idea of a short film (in a nutshell) is to grab you, lead you to assume (more on this in a later post) and leave you with a feeling. Now this feeling could be varied if the director wishes it, or with planning can tunnel you into feeling something very particular. Most opt for the first as it gives the most satisfaction in a short. Now take note of what I just pointed out...

"Most opt for the first as it gives the most satisfaction in a short."

That is the essence right there! It doesn't matter if you sit through a two hour 'blockbuster' if all you can think about after is weather your left but-cheek will recover from numbness. But what if you could create a four minute work of art that gets people thinking after for two hours? Two days?

So here we have a good question. How long should a short be? The answer is not simple, but I'll try to explain my theory here...

Is your short very short? 30 seconds to 3 minutes? As long as the content is good, engaging, thought provoking then it's great. In fact leaving people thinking like there could have been more is a good indicator, it means they want more! Now you can take this very basic argument up to say thirty minutes. Then ask yourself the question again. Is the content of the same quality as the three minute version? Is it dead in the beginning but exciting towards the middle? Could you cut the end of the short off and use only that, leaving vague hints as to the characters beginning? These are all quality questions which you should be asking yourself in the cutting room. Don't be afraid to film as much as you can. After all it's the editing were talking about here, getting the story across by cutting out as much filler as possible.

There was a book I read once called 'The Elements Of Style' by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. I can't remember the exact saying, but it went something like this...."Don't say something in three sentences when you can say it in one." (I'm sure someone can correct me on this )

The Elements Of Style
I believe this applies equally to the short film. Quality not quantity is your best weapon in pulling an audience in. Making them think! This is what a viewer really wants. Something to get them engaged in thought. Those are the films that stick in peoples minds weather they are shorts or full length.

All this being said, I don't want you to worry, and go the other way and make a short too short. This is your story and only you can 'feel' when it's right.

Try this exercise:-

Make a short. Say one minute. Film it, edit it, add music, the works.


Keep the same script. But extend the time to three minutes. Use filler. Same deal, add it all up and make it look nice and shiny.

Play the two movies back and note down which one you prefer. 9/10 it should be the one minute film. If not, that's not a bad thing, you can even take the task even further. Edit the movie back down a little. Maybe not as far as the one minute, aim for one and a half minutes. If you really liked the three minute version then you may find it hard to cut some pieces out. This is a good exercise however and a must for cinematographers. You will have to learn to cut pieces you really like if it makes the film better overall.

Please go ahead and try this and if you get time, post your results. Hope you found this useful. <3

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Andrew Barton

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