I’m teaching a class in short filmmaking. Short films are like short stories, but even shorter. The problem with a short film is that damnable length, and when that length bashes up against the desires of a filmmaker who has mostly watched feature films, it sometimes leads to disaster.

People want to make a feature film story in seven minutes and it’s not possible. I know. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. There’s no mistake out there I haven’t made.

My syllabus suggests it’s better to make a small film well than to try WAR AND PEACE and fail. I believe that with all my filmmaking soul.

The filmmaker should try to tell the story of “a moment.” One important moment between two people. Nothing more. But it has to be the right moment. The crucible moment, after which nothing will ever be the same for that character.

We watched some shorts in class last night. They were good. One was about a marriage proposal. That’s all it was about… in fact, it was one take… a zoom in, followed by a dolly right and a push in… and that was it as far as fancy camera moves. It’s called THE M WORD, and you can find it on YouTube by searching for “the m word alan ball.” Or, click here…

We also saw “consent jason reitman.” It was about the crucible moment where a guy and a girl lean toward each other for that first all-important kiss, but with a twist.

GULP is good. It’s a longer moment, but it’s still only about one thing. The guy wants something, badly.

Searching YouTube, lately I have liked “what is that? a sparrow!”. It’s the most emotion I’ve seen packed into five minutes.

DINNER FOR ONE, parts 1 and 2… clocking in at c. 17 minutes. A German classic.

IF THERE’S A WILL THERE’S A WAY… Saw this at a short film festival.

After this moment, these characters will NEVER be the same. Isn’t that why you want to make a movie about them? Four action packed intense minutes… about one moment.

This is my fave short documentary. MASSACRE AT MURAMBI

They’re all about a moment.

One little moment, and not ten moments or a feature story crammed into ten minutes. That is a recipe for agony.

If you try to do too much in a short, like tell a WHOLE GREAT BIG WHACKING STORY, you’re doomed. Instead, try to find a moment that really appeals to you, that makes you burn make the movie… and make the film about that pivotal moment in your character’s life.

Concentrate on the crucial moment and the few moments leading up to it and the even fewer moments after it.

Bingo! Success!

Of course, while I’m talking about a short film being about just one thing, so’s a feature film. THE GODFATHER, for example. A couple of hours long but it’s about: Michael must take revenge on the people who shot his father so he can become the new godfather. One idea, one movie.

A short film is shorter, that’s all.



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3 responses to “SHORT FILM = MOMENT

  1. Thank you for saying my film, “Massacre at Murambi” is your favorite. I went to the genocide memorial one afternoon, and I was so shocked/moved that I raced back to my hotel room in Butare, Rwanda, and wrote the entire narration that forms the film.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      You and I met briefly at the UFVA conference where you showed the film and I had Vanderbilt buy it. I show it in my filmmaking class… I remember you said the narration came to you in one blast… not generally how it works, but it’s perfect. Another thing I remember is that you said the subtitles are faster to read than listening to the narration, so people can concentrate on the images more because the subtitles dispose of the narration faster. I found that fascinating. It’s a hell of a great film.

  2. Pingback: Updates: 27 January 2010 « Scriptwriting Library

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