15 March 2010

Let the Little Guy In: Thoughts on Short Film

by Tyler Weaver.  Follow me on Twitter.

Last night's #scriptchat spurred some fascinating discussion on the short film form, so I thought I'd share a bit of my thoughts in a more coherent and awake fashion than my greatly depleted brain power allowed me last night.

So.  The short.

When they work, they're wonderful pieces of cinema.  Sure, they're not very profitable (if at all), and we filmmakers should make them with the idea that they will likely result in a loss.  However, the gain in potential career propulsion is worth the cost.  Have to spend money to make money, after all.

While I promote the exploration of new storytelling forms, through transmedia storytelling, VOD, video games, television, etc, I am a stickler for one immutable constant: 

The story you tell within the medium MUST be a complete story that is OF that medium.  It is only through this that new storytelling forms emerge and you become a more well-rounded creative.  Chains and boundaries beget creativity.

"The short film as a version of the feature" is a disservice to the short film form.  It implies that the story you are selling to your viewer is not the complete version of the story.  However, I understand the need for a short representation of your feature intention.  

That District 9 started as a short film no doubt is going to be used as an example against my way of thinking, and that's cool.  There are exceptions to every rule.  First rule of rules.

That said, Blomkamp's Alive in Joburg is a great piece of filmmaking.  I don't know if I view it as a short film so much as one hell of a show reel or a brilliant fundraising trailer.  It does make for an excellent entry into the D9 storyworld, but does feel like it needs more time to realize its full potential.  Like a feature.

Along those same lines, there is a tremendous difference between a story and a situation.  A situation can be told in any amount of time, usually short, but lacks definable beginnings, middles, and ends.  A story on the other hand - has all of those, and at its conclusion leaves room for thought, along with the potential for more, but not the need for more.  It's an infinitely more satisfying experience.

When I say "make your film OF that form," I mean that.  Tell a story that could only be told as a short film.  Here's the kicker, and this is where my love of transmedia comes into play...

Consider the creation, instead of a "feature-length screenplay" of a mythology, a storyworld.  It can be the craziest sci-fi story, or the most intimate human drama.  Tell a short story about a supporting character in your feature that could only work as a short film.  By going this route, not only do you get a deeper look at your supporting characters, but you show you're able to tell a story within constraints, and provide your audience with a peek inside a larger storyworld.  

I actually find the writing of short films featuring supporting characters an invaluable way to work out some of the character bits in the feature.  It brings them to life in a way that a chart with ideas on their upbringing could never bring.  It helps me shape complete human beings.  

And on that same token - get as crazy as you want with a short film.  That's what they're there for.  Have fun.  Screw three-act.  But - just because I say screw three-act doesn't mean it can't feel complete.  And that's where my problem comes in.

If you're going to invest the time and money in something - make it a complete story.  Life's too short to not tell the story you want to tell.  And if it only lives as a short, so be it.  Move on.  At least you made a movie!  That's a hell of a lot more than most people can say.

So, to sum up in haiku:

Tell a complete tale.
Situation it is not.
Go make a short flick.

Tyler Weaver is a filmmaker, writer, contributor to the pulptone.com website, and is the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate... which you're reading right now.  He's currently making new things and yaks about that and more on Twitter under the creative guise of @tylerweaver.


Marinell said...

You answered my question already, Tyler, and I haven't even asked it yet! But I'll tell you what my question was anyway.

I'm not a screenwriter but I'm curious: If after you've finished several draft, you asked people for feedback and you want to incorporate those feedback (because they make sense), BUT it would mean longer running time that'll makes you say "might as well turn it into a feature," would you keep the short or turn it into a feature? You answered me here with "the story you tell within the medium MUST be a complete story that is OF that medium."

This is another Tyleriffic read! Thank you for writing this. I'll make sure Trigonis sees this.

Tyler Weaver said...

Marinell -

Glad to hear I answered your question! I think this whole philosophy was really imparted in me when I studied music composition - if you want to write a piece for full orchestra, don't write it as a string quartet, and vice versa.

As far as your question goes - it could go either way. If the advice lengthens the script, you might be able to find a way to incorporate the feedback into the short with some more drafts - without lengthening the film. A glance goes a LONG way.

Anyhow, thanks again for reading!

King is a Fink said...

Love to see you giving short film some love, Tyler. We started making shorts to entertain ourselves and our friends, then headed into festival-ville, and only recently have we considered their potential for generating money. Really, the only reason to make shorts is because you love them and want to practice your skills. If something else comes after, then there you go...

Tyler Weaver said...

Julie, Jessica -

You nailed it. Make shorts because you love them and want to go for it. I look at it like novelists who also write short stories - it's a different form, and is always a great bit of practice. Who knows what'll come out of it?


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