Eight excellent reasons to make a short filmMonday, June 26, 2017
Of course we may be a little biased, but we at the 48 Hour Film Project love short films :)
For 17 years, we've been helping filmmakers create short films in just a weekend. We know there's nothing like the feeling of accomplishment you get while creating a film from scratch with your friends and coworkers, the exhilaration of turning it in just before that 48 hour deadline, or the pride in seeing your name roll in the credits of a packed world premier screening!
But even outside of the 48HFP, there's plenty of reasons to make a short film. For years, shorts have been the first exposure many budding filmmakers have had to the filmmaking experience. They have even been the training ground for many now critically-acclaimed directors that cut their teeth making short films of their own.
So why exactly should you make a short film? While there are many different reasons, here are eight excellent ones below to get you started.
1. Low barrier to entry
We already know that short films can be completed in a very short time frame (less than 48 hours!). In addition, they can be created with a very small budget, or even no budget at all. You can literally create your short film on a weekend using your iPhone, some free or cheap editing software, and some friends & family to round out your cast & crew.
But short films can also be an opportunity to work with professional actors & crew who may usually be busy with other work. There are many creative people willing to volunteer to work on your passion project over a weekend when they have time off. The 48HFP has a special agreement with SAG-AFTRA that allows professional actors to volunteer to appear in our 48HFP films, but you could also use union actors on your other short film projects for as little as $100 a day, or sometimes even defer the payment. Short films can be a great way to gain experience working with some top-notch talent.
2. It's easy to be creative on a short film
Professional filmmakers have a tough job relying on their creative juices day in and day out, whether they feel like it or not. It can be tough to sustain over a long time, which is why many artists burn out. But pretty much anyone can be creative over a weekend, or whatever the compressed schedule you need to create your short film. A short deadline can "force" you to be creative, and it's usually easier to feel like you're moving forward on a shorter film (as opposed to a feature) since the end of the project is always just around the corner.
3. Shorts can give you valuable film festival experience
The film festival circuit is a whole world unto itself, with its own set of rules and games to master. Submitting your feature film to festivals is great, but because of the length of time you have to create a project, have it reviewed by festivals, and get it screened, there are can be a limited number of festival opportunities for you.
But submitting short films to festivals can give you double or triple the festival experience. Nearly all festivals have some sort of short film program, and it's usually a much simpler process to make your short and get it accepted. So you still get the same experience of attending festivals, networking, and showcasing your film, but many more opportunities to do so with a short than you would with a feature film.
And short films aren't exactly frowned upon by festival judges either--in fact, you can even win an Oscar by having your short film screen at an Oscar-qualifying festival such as the Cleveland International Film Festival or Raindance.
4. Shorts are a great chance to experiment
Short films are a low-pressure way to experiment with different aspects of filmmaking. Want to try out a Pulp Fiction or Memento-style story structure? How about testing new editing techniques, or even renting the latest RED camera? Whether it's a new style, new gear, or new cast or crew, short films are an excellent opportunity to stretch yourself to try out something you wouldn't do normally.
5. They are great practice for filmmaking in general
When Jason Reitman was the keynote speaker at our Filmapalooza in Las Vegas years ago, he said something that really struck many of our filmmakers-- "There is no excuse to not go out on the weekends, grab your friends, and make a film." The barrier of entry into filmmaking itself is so low that virtually anyone can get started. But are you consistently out there practicing and perfecting your craft? Chances are, probably not. The best way to learn filmmaking is by doing it, and short films eliminate most of the usual excuses that would stop someone from getting started. So take advantage of that and really use short films to hone your technique.
6. Shorts make an easier transition into commercial work
Sometimes feature filmmakers have a tough time shooting commercials. They may be used to bigger budgets, better locations, and a much longer timeline. Commercial shoots typically don't have any of those things, and even some big national commercials are more akin to a short film shoot than anything else. And that's good experience to have--commercial work may not be as sexy as working on a feature film, but they are often the bread & butter for many filmmakers that pay the bills and allow them to work on their own creative projects on the side.
7. You can use a short to test out a possible feature film
Ever hear of a film called Saw? The horror film franchise has already spawned seven feature films, with an eighth due to be released later this year. Did you know that the original Saw feature-length film started as a short? Director James Wan made a 9 1/2 minute short film version of Saw that was used to shop around the project to potential investors and distributors. That short film got picked up by Lionsgate Films and the rest, as they say, was (a very gorey) history. And it's in good company--Boogie Nights, Sin City, Evil Dead, and Oscar-winning film Whiplash also started out as shorts. Whether you're using it to raise money, pitch an idea, or even test your story, producing a short film is an inexpensive way to dip your toe in the water before jumping into a full on feature film.
8. Short film doesn't have to mean shortsighted
We've talked about the many ways short films can be used as a low budget, low time-intensive way to get working on a film. But director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) is now providing an interesting counterpoint. His short film "Rakka" stars none other than Sigourney Weaver, and includes full VFX , CGI work, and production all done under one roof. His company Oats Studios has committed to putting out at least three more similar types of projects. In his own words, they are pieces that are "totally weird, experimental films" that don't fall into any normal category. He's using these short film experiments to garner interest in future projects that a traditional studio might not normally take a chance on. Even though he's minimized costs by keeping all aspects of production and distribution under one roof, "Rakka" proves that even on a short, you can still go big.
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