Shorts and Short ShortsComplications Ensue
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Q. I'm planning to shoot a 25 minute short...
Why do you want to shoot such a long short? I would think you can show your chops in a 12 minute short. Then if they like that you've got a feature script they can fund. I think you're going to grab more attention with a snappy short of ten minutes or less than you will with something that people have to really sit down and watch.

Unless, of course, your 25 minute short is a big chunk of the feature you want to shoot, e.g. Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, which became Sling Blade three years later. But that was also a showpiece for Billy Bob Thornton.

I shot a 27 minute long thesis film for my MFA, but I wish I'd done something shorter. Right now I'm putting together a 6 minute short. I think if the six minute short really scores, it will convince people I can direct a feature; and if it doesn't really score, making it four times as long won't help me.

Readers, what have been your experiences with longish shorts and short shorts?

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The short I made was 40 minutes long, and all that it proved was that I wasn't organised enough to tell a story yet.

I was trying to do a 'pretend feature', and it showed.


I learned an enormous amount, mostly from the editing of it. I'd recommend anyone who wants to write for the screen to shoot and cut some material, even if the results aren't fit to see the light of day. You'll never again write a scene without an automatic instinct for how it'll work in shots.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 4:34 PM  

I know some people who had success with 20-minute or so shorts. (success being defined as taking a lot of meetings, maybe getting an agent, and, in one case, getting signed to a feature which never happened).

Most of them were in the 15-20 range.

But more important was that they all looked and felt like Hollywood features. They spent a lot of money, and it showed. That's easier to do on a 5-minute film than it is on a 20-minute film. If you have the resources to shoot something that looks as good as Hollywood and is 20 minutes long ... great. But it's far, far better to look that good and be nine minutes long than to stretch the same resources to 20 minutes, and make sacrifices in ultimate quality because of it.

By Blogger Hotspur, at 6:22 PM  

i agree. making a good short is difficult. not technically, literally writing something that works in short form. stephen was *really* pushing it as most organizations don't recognize anything over 40 minutes as a short.

my short is 6:30. one of my actors asked if there was going to be a longer directors-cut-type version and i laughed. if anything i'd make a shorter version, not a longer one.

im all for shortening features also. what's wrong with a 70min feature? there are so many films i would have hated less if they'd just been shorter. ;)

By Blogger deepstructure, at 7:52 PM  

I made two shorts - one my last year of school and one a year later. They were 17 minutes and 12 minutes (and the 12 minuter would've probably worked better as 8-10 minutes). Both got into festivals and won some awards and even got sold (the longer one to A&E) - point seems to be length didn't matter if it appeared competent and you told a good story within the time frame.

By Blogger wcdixon, at 12:38 AM  

First time commenter...

My problem with shorts, particularly in a mass screening situation, is that not knowing how long the short you are watching is creates a kind of low level anxiety, which builds up into a high degree of non-specific tension.

You always know roughly how long a movie is - 90-120 minutes. If it's a 3 hour epic you probably knew that before you went in. A TV hour is a tv hour - it's standard.

But a short can be anywhere from 3 to 25 minutes. Are we about to see the punchline or was this just the pre-credits sequence? Is this the climax or are we still in the middle? Personally I think all shorts should have a title card at the head displaying their duration so the audience knows what kind of rhythm to expect.

My own disastrous student short was 10 minutes long, which was a good length, but it had 3 minutes of credits, which was awful. Sititng in the cinema waiting for the credits to end was one of the most painful experiences of my life. So that's important, I would say. Few credits!

By Blogger Anthony, at 10:29 AM  

What digital camera would you use? I ask this because where I am (I'm left of nowhere) it's impossible to rent a video camera, so I was going to bite the vary large bullet and buy one.

By Blogger Michael, at 12:13 PM  

anthony makes a really interesting point. i've always wondered why im less patient with short films. i think he's right. a part of it is having a built in sense of timing with film language and instantly knowing if the film is dragging.

another theory proposed by a friend of mine is that short films have less tolerance for repetition. if you repeat something in a feature, it's usually been awhile since the last iteration - but in a short we immediately recognize superfluous material because of it's juxtaposition.

By Blogger deepstructure, at 1:51 PM  

My short film ran 39 minutes. I mostly referred to it as a "medium". Sub 40 minutes allowed application to many, but certainly not all, festivals. Whether bad or good, the main showcase for non-feature length films are festivals.

So, I learned you have to put yourself into the position of a festival programmer. When putting together a variety of shorts for a single time slot you can either program five 5 minute shorts or one 25 minute short. This makes it difficult to justify programming long shorts. Longer shorts also can't be slotted in before a feature.

If I were to do it again--and the odds are slim that I will--I would do one of two things:

1) Make the short as short as I possibly can. This opens up a LOT more opportunities. And by "short" I mean sub 5 minutes--2 minutes would be even better.

2) If I was committed to making a long short I'd just make a feature. A feature is arguably easier to sell than a short and carries more weight in the industry. Also the price difference between a 30 to 60 minute short and a feature isn't that huge. Once you've jumped off that dock you might as well go for the big swim.

By Blogger Rippah, at 2:24 AM  

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