By Lucas Paz
A filmmaker’s decision, being he or she more or less experienced, on making a short film can involve various purposes and goals, which some of them we are going to infer about in this article as well as what can accrue as consequence from their achievement.
In the beginning everything was short: Learning how to tell a story through image and sound.
The first stories told through film were initially short. It was an empiric discovery on how a succession of photos or frames of an action could register motion and, depending on how the ‘plot’- the sequence of actions or facts- was organized, build e-motion.
From recording and screening daily facts to elaborating an audiovisual narrative with beginning middle and end, there is a long historic path that goes from: drawings manually rotated, to photos, to film rolls, to digital files; from black and white, to hand painted rolls, to Technicolor, then digital coloring; from silent movies with live orchestra, to mono, to stereo, then Digital Dolby Surround System; from private exhibitions at houses and galleries, to public fairs, to movie theatres, to live streaming or VOD platforms. This work in progress called the 7th Art is being in constant development through the last 200 years.
The way and the time we dedicate to see and relate to film has changed a lot not only by the improvement of the gear used to make it as well as to the devices to screen it, but also because of economical, cultural and political circumstances of each era. Films were created first as a record and study of reality and movements by scientists and artists to then become a media explored to serve imagination, entertainment, escapism and reveal of distant realities and facts from other countries.
What is What? Formats and Definitions
From French Etienne Jules Marey, pioneer of photography and the history of cinematography, with his chronophotographic gun, which could take 12 consecutive frames, passing through Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince, considered by many film historians as the true father of motion pictures, who shot the first moving pictures on paper film using a single lens camera, going through the Lumiére Brothers, thought of as the pioneers of film, among the first to create a moving image by looking at Edison’s Kinetoscope and changing it to a more light weight and practical device, the Cinématographe, with a film speed of 16 frames per second, there is a long film history exploring creative ideas exclusively through short films with unique artists such as Edwin Porter, Charles Chaplin, Luis Buñuel, George Meliés, Maya Deren and many others who shaped our contemporary notion of this audiovisual media, before we could even think about developing feature films. Some famous historic short films include: “Life of the american fireman”, “Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat”, “Un chien andalou”, “Le voyage dan le lune”, “At Land”.
According to the The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a short film is “an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits”. Another common term is featurette, originally applied to a film longer than a short subject, but shorter than a standard feature film. Short subject is an industry term becoming rarely used and it means approximately the same. It carries more of an assumption that the film is shown as part of a presentation along with a feature film. As part of the era we live in we also forged the term Short Shorts, film pieces limited from seconds to a maximum of 5 min., depending from festival to festival, with their own market and specialized distribution.
Broadening the entertainment industry approach to including narratives for advertisement and music we can also understand music videos, teasers, trailers, commercials and PSA’s as well elaborated and emotionally driven fragmented or chronological short narratives, which are most of the times efficient creative products among massive crowds world wide, conceived to sell another product or raise awareness to a sociopolitical idea. Many directors related to publicity and advertisement ended up becoming successful Film and TV director by their deep understanding of mass culture, business, plot structure, concision and pacing.
Find your Voice
Many reasons can lead filmmakers to choose the development of short films. From beginners to well established filmmakers, short films are an environment of creation which allows vast experimentation. Among the different purposes on why to shoot a short film here are some:
Calling card: many filmmakers will explore this media as a way to build up a reel, to share their material, to showcase their abilities and style on the internet, on film markets, to sponsors, producers and investors, on film festivals.
Pitch: It’s also common to pitch an idea through a short audiovisual polished content that holds within itself the essence of a feature film or a TV series for example. This way it’s common to hear about ‘pilots season’, ‘elevator pitches’ at film markets (finding a quick and efficient way of selling an idea in a very short period of time), or shorts that went viral on the Internet and got a deal with a major studio for development.
That kind of approach can result in a trailer, or showcase of an important scene from a proposal of a feature film; can result in a pilot presenting characters and initial arc for a TV series development; can present characters in a different context, not present on the longer script, as a way to sell how strong they exist by themselves and how they can captivate a broad audience.
As example of this we can refer to Whiplash, by Damien Chazelle, in which the development of the feature was possible by the pitch of one of the scenes from the movie in a short film format. Cine Holliúdy by Halder Gomes, was made possible when he pitched a short film version of the film, called The Artist against the Evil Guy.
Laboratory: Very often many well established artists will find in developing their own short films a possibility of exploring another styles and a door to dare on creativity that deviates from their traditional scope of work. Many actors like James Franco, Edmilson Filho, Jodie Foster or Kevin Spacey will explore another abilities such as producing, directing, writing or even acting as diverse characters from what they are used to explore as artistic language on blockbusters. It’s a way of reinventing and challenging themselves, recycling their capabilities and discovering new environments and possibilities for their art.
Directors like Michel Gondry, Hugo Prata, David Lynch, Guillermo del Toro continue to develop short form creative content (from 30 seconds to 40 min.) in publicity, music videos and TV series. For the film school beginner, the high school student with a mobile camera or the experienced artist, short films are a medium for no fear, to master tools, discover style, and communicate concisely and creatively their vision of the world at a higher creative risk and lower investment.
Enough of a story in itself: One of the best realizations about telling stories is that some stories are better kept short. Like in literature, sometimes the strength of a short story or a tale narrated in one page can be as powerful as an entire romance, can drive emotionally, can bring feelings, conclusions and decision making to realization or lead an audience to changes by the smart, detailed as well as concise gathering of few words that enlighten an event, a slice of life, an absurd fact or a made up reality that enchant the crowd by exploring in a few minutes what means to be human.
Its very clear and common to an European audience for example to appreciate a short film as a separate and unique artistic language in itself, recognizing that a shorter duration for a plot limits in time and detail to a certain extent, but allows some stories that otherwise could not be told. It’s a way of dealing with this particular form of filmmaking that goes beyond the understanding of it as a calling card or a pitch for a longer proposal.
Be sure to check part 2 of this article as we will discuss interesting topics such as film financing, distribution, new platforms, and the viewpoint of some professionals within this industry, between Brazilians and Americans.
*Lucas Paz is a Brazilian multimedia artist in Cinema, Theatre and Visual Arts. He has a bachelor in theatre directing by the University of São Paulo and also MFA in Filmmaking by New York Film Academy. A professional actor with 23 years of stage experience, he directs and produces plays, films, commercials, music videos, and has worked with many recognized American and Brazilian actors and directors. He is the CEO of (PRE)FORMA-SE Artistic Productions since 2010 – www.lucas-paz.com