SHORT is GOOD: The value of the short film
I’m not going to argue about the pros & cons of short films, or why they’re better or worse than features for a career in filmmaking. It’s enough to say that they are different. I think Paul Harris put it best in his role as director of the St.Kilda Film Festival when he said
Short films serve a specific purpose and should not be seen as hybrids. I really get sick of the comment that short films inevitably lead to features as though you were arguing that marijuana leads to heroin.
What I DO want to do is highlight the value of short film as a unique art form.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been brushing up on this strange written form we call ‘blogging’, and it occurred to me that there’s a lot of similarities with filmmaking.
Just go with me here a moment on a little comparative study.
If feature films are like books, short films are like blog posts.
• INDEPENDENCE REIGNS
Anyone can write a blog. Not anyone can write a book. It’s the same with film.
Of course, the rules in both cases are changing, with publish-your-own-book sites popping up everywhere, and tips on making no-budget-features aplenty. But the fact remains in most cases: the shorter the film, the smaller the stakes.
With a short film, there are fewer dollars, fewer opinions, and more independence. What’s not to love about that?
• THERE’S GOOD AND BAD
Because everyone can make a blog post, many people do.
Because everyone can make make a short film, many people do.
Not everyone who blogs would call themselves a writer, nor does everyone who writes a blog post aspire to write a book.
Not everyone who makes a short film calls themself a filmmaker nor aspires to make a feature.
What this does mean in both cases is that there is more. More good. More bad.
And the flow-on effects speak for themselves.
For short film audiences:
One of the biggest challenges that video hosting sites like YouTube and Vimeo face is coping with SO much content. I love the freedom that this opens up, and the possibilities for so much sharing of moving image content, but there’s a whole lot of work to sift and sort if you’re interested in using that content. Especially if you’re looking for something of good quality.
For short film producers:
The competition is tougher, but we’re now thankfully less focused on the expensive tools, and more on the art and craft of storytelling, characters, narrative and general style.
• DIFFERENT AUDIENCES, DIFFERENT CONTEXTS
Books are great for holidays, while blogs are great for a quick read on the train. Likewise, it’s unlikely that you’d watch a feature film on a smart phone.
It all depends on who’s being asked and in what context.
I guess it makes sense that I’m highlighting the value of SHORT films, because at Campfire, that’s all we deal with – anything under 11 minutes. But there’s good reason for this. We have the very specific audience of students in schools.
The overwhelming feedback we get from schools is that short films are great, because they allow plenty of time to show, discuss and teach about a particular topic that’s raised. Why have YouTube done so well in schools, even with its old limit of 10minutes? Simple: length. There are no surprises that late last year they launched a “YouTube for Schools” feature.
There’s definitely a place for films of any length, including features, in schools.
For years, organisations like ATOM have been encouraging teachers of Media, English and a range of other subjects to consider film as text. What I’m suggesting here is that the film need not be just the TEXT – as a study in itself – but the MEDIUM by which topics are raised and discussed. There’s only so much time you can take up in the classroom when there’s a hungry curriculum to feed.
• IS SHORT, IS FUN
Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Google+, the tools are out there to play around with short blog-type writing in whatever form you want. It’s the same with short film language.
Let’s face it. You can make a short film on the weekend, in a day, or even an hour. Make stuff with your mates, make it on your own. The beauty of the huge number of tools around is that anything and everything is up for grabs when it comes to what’s possible. Play. Experiment. Short films won’t take over your life… unless you want them to.
How much of that could you say about making a feature film?
• FURTHER READING
Mike Jones wrote a very thoughtful article about the downside of making a short in his piece, The Short Film is Dead. Incidentally, I think he makes some great points, and rounds off his argument with a case for web series. Yet to me, this all simply highlights the different and unique role that short films can play in the grand scheme of things.
And finally, I give the last word again to Paul Harris, who has a great response to what Mike Jones might have asked:
(6) What do you think are the great challenges that confront the filmmaker when making the leap from the short film to the feature?
I feel it’s an artificial problem. All filmmakers should continue to work in the short film arena as a means of revving up their creative batteries. Quite a few contemporary filmmakers occasionally venture into short-form projects and there should be more of it.
SHORT is GOOD: LONG LIVE THE SHORT!