Wednesday, February 15, 2012

6 Uncommon Tips for Short Films

Keanu Reeves as Johnny Mnemomic

I watch a lot of short films online.  As you can imagine, there’s a huge variety of production quality and filmmaker experience out there.  No matter what your budget is, I think these 6 tips are key ideas that all short filmmakers will benefit from.

1 – The Keanu Moment

“Woah…” Hook your audience right away.  Start with something unexpected or gratifying for your target audience.   There are literally millions of other videos out there.  Why should they watch yours?  Is it going to satisfy your audience’s curiosity?  Try to do accomplish it within the first 20 seconds.

2 – The 90:3 Rule

As I mentioned in an earlier post, you should always be sure to put thought into your title sequence.  However, I’ve seen far too many short films with disproportionate title sequences in regards to the overall runtime.  Try to remember what I call the 90:3 Rule.  It’s expected that a 90-minute film could have a 3-minute opening.  Divide those numbers by 3 and you get a 30-minute (TV) story with an appropriate opening sequence time of 1 minute.  Divide those numbers by 3 again and you get a 10-minute short with a 20-second opening – the perfect spot for your “Keanu Moment.”  You don’t want to spend too much or too little time on your opening sequence.  The 90:3 Rule is an easy way to guide your editing.
3 – Don’t Linger

You’re telling a story arc in just a few short minutes.  Your viewers are watching for the action.  I’m not talking bullets and explosions, but rather the parts of the overall story that drive it forward.  It's perfectly okay to linger on an important object or slowly build tension.  Think about making your short emotion-packed.  Outwardly emotional, that is.  One or two contemplative moments are acceptable, but save those long walks and introspective stares into nothing for the feature.  Why?  Because…

 4 – Your Audience is not in an Ideal Screening Location

When people go to the theater they’re able to sink into plush chairs under dimmed lights with blissful anticipation for the film they’ve been waiting to see.  The mood has been set and they’re ready to be seduced by what’s to come on the screen.  That’s not the way short films are usually viewed.  The vast majority of them are watched on computer screens from uncomfortable desk chairs in well-lit areas.  It’s much more difficult to immerse your audience into the world you’ve created.  Also, it’s common for most people to view multiple shorts back to back.  I think the ideal runtime is less than 10 minutes and preferably 5-7 minutes.  To me, anything longer is just an incomplete TV pilot.

5 – Your Cast & Crew are Learning Too

Your short film isn’t just an opportunity for you to hone your skills as a filmmaker.  It’s also a chance for your cast & crew to practice their respective parts as well.  Your actress may be interested in doing a role that’s outside of her norm or even experimenting with using a different dialect.  I guarantee your director of photography has some new equipment he’d like to try out.  Talk to them during pre-production and see what they’d like to learn from working on your project.  Don’t think of it as sacrificing your vision - you can be a tyrannical director when it’s time for the feature.  Use your short as a chance to improve your communication skills with your cast & crew.  Don’t expect perfection either.  Learn how to play to people’s strengths and mold them into your own vision.  That’s what good directors do.

6 – Tell Us More!

I’m always disappointed when I come across a great short and there’s no information about it.  Who made it?  Why did they make it?  Were they testing new equipment?  Was it for a class?  Were they pitching an idea for a feature?  What was it shot on?  What was the budget?  How did they do it?  Think of the summary section as a bonus feature menu.  Share with other filmmakers what you learned from your experience.  It’s a fantastic way to make your short film more personable.

Have I always followed these tips myself?  Of course not.  They’re things I’ve learned along the way by making mistakes, watching other people’s shorts, and listening to others’ experiences.  The great thing about short filmmaking is that it’s all about experimentation.  Go out and fulfill your curiosity about different approaches to filmmaking.  See what appeals to you and make a list like this of your own.  I think these 6 tips are great, often-overlooked, ideas to help get you started. 

By Rick Allen

Copyright 2012, Key Lime Films - Please credit and link in any re-posting.

1 comment:

  1. No. 6 is what a lot of filmmakers often forget. Great post!