indie filmmaking, short film

SHORT FILMS ARE FUCKED

What, I hear you say? How can that possibly be? So many of us are making them now, it’s a thriving art form, just look at Vimeo!

Right. Name one great short film. Go on.

Got one?

Okay, name another one.

See?

For me personally, my favourite is by the Diamond Dogs, amazing music video directors who won VM Shorts a long while back with the Black Hole. Stunningly simple, but perfect. That was when I thought that VM Shorts was a great comp. Subsequent winners have tempered my appreciation of it however. Since then, I could possibly name Mustapha Kseibati’s Painkiller as one to watch. I liked the winner of the Sci-fi London 48 hour film challenge a year back.  Pitch Black Heist is another one that’s definitely worth seeing.

There is no real meaningful platform for short fiction content. Vimeo is great but it’s not heavily curated. There’s also this overwhelming sense that shorts are just a rite of passage, a quickly forgotten calling card exercise on the way to feature films. No-one really gives a shit.

Let me make this clear. I don’t hate shorts. Not at all. I’ve made plenty. They’re invaluable for learning filmmaking in a relatively risk free environment. There’s a vast amount about making features that you simply can’t learn from doing them but there’s not much to be done about that. And most won’t ever get there. What should they do then, just give up?

My gripe is that shorts are basically worthless. There’s no value attached to them. This is made worse by the instant access, always on, digital culture of online distribution. Sure, go and watch it whenever you want. Admittedly this is better than the situation where, if you missed a film at a festival, you didn’t see at all.

What we need is a rethink about the way we value our work. Shorts are important. They should be treasured. They should not be available at all hours to all people whenever. And they should be valued not by themselves but in the context of a filmmakers entire oeuvre. No-one does this.

So, fuckwit, do something about it then, I hear you say.

Well, I have. I’ve written a proposal for an entirely different way of thinking about our work, the audience that watches it, how they watch it and how valuable it is. It will be published soon on a popular blog.

Till then, consider this – why bother making shorts at all? If a funding scheme will grant you at best £5k, why not crowdfund £10k more and just shoot a feature. Should we even care about shorts?

My feeling is absolutely. We short change ourselves by making them so often and to such a mediocre standard, flooding the web with our crap.

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12 thoughts on “SHORT FILMS ARE FUCKED

  1. Tom Geoffrey says:

    You’re article is flawed in so many ways. Short Films are far from ‘Fucked’ In fact I’d say that the format is as strong and important than ever. I could probably name you 10 brilliant shorts off the top of my head (Cheating somewhat as I work as a shorts programmer) the main issue for short films is exposure. There isn’t enough exposure to all those fantastic short films out there, it’s getting better, but still light years away from the feature film.

  2. Secret Director says:

    I think you’ve kind of missed the point, but that’s probably my fault. I agree that short films are important, in fact I probably think they’re more important than you do since I believe way too many directors are rushing to long form before they’re ready. It’s exactly that platform for exposure and the according value on the work and the artists themselves that needs refreshing. Not to think of shorts as the precursor to features, but as something valued and interesting entirely by themselves. And I have a proposition for what that could be. My point about knowing truly great films was not that there aren’t any, just that nobody knows about them.

    Which is exactly your point.

  3. RK says:

    Brill. Yant.
    Looking forward to reading that proposition. I live in Atlanta and started a filmmaking collaborative beginning with shorts and this post? My sentiments exactly.

    To see this post (tweeted by @Raindance – an account I didn’t follow until today) only means one thing for me: I’m on the right track. Thanks. -rk

  4. Tom Geoffrey says:

    I just found it odd that you called shorts ‘Worthless’ and you think that spending 10k on a feature is a better idea than 5k on a short? Name me one 10k feature out there that is seriously worth watching? A good short can be the passport to a great career in features, no doubt about it. I just feel that you’re ranting and raving about things that are already apparent and about things that are slowly but surely changing. Short Films are more prominent at the major film festivals than ever before, as well as the calibre of the judges on the panels that sift through them to find a worth short-list.

    You said “They should not be available at all hours to all people whenever” well why exactly? Surely this is the kind of exposure for the very best shorts out there that we should be getting. We can access pretty much any feature film or tv show straight away now, so this should be the same for shorts too.

    You’re forgetting how many God awful features are made each year, and I think that as soon as we start respecting the true art of story telling for what it really is, regardless of whether it’s a short or feature, then we’ll all be better off for it.

    • Secret Director says:

      Aagghhh! Tom we’re arguing the same points again! Different perspectives, sure, but we’re on the same side. I absolutely do not think shorts are worthless, they’re incredibly valuable. We don’t value them enough.

      I’m also not espousing shooting a feature film for £10k although I think a certain Rob Savage might have something to say about that. He’s the exception though. My point is actually that many filmmakers are deciding that they should be making ultra low budget features rather than shorts and you have to wonder why.

      And my argument is that a short is not a passport to a career in features. That implies you can travel anywhere and go anywhere. Not true. A short gives you an opportunity to buy a lottery ticket for the big show. No more than that. The passport to a career in features is a mind blowingly good first feature. Then a second one to follow it up.

      What I’m saying is this. Could we, if we rejigged the way we think about it, do for films what T20 did for cricket? Most filmmakers will never have a career in features but could they have a career in shorts? And what would it take to make that happen?

      As for the always on, always available approach, consider this. When the alternatives are a full season of House of Cards, always on, always available, how can shorts possibly compete?

      We have to consider our work in a different way. If TV is the all you can eat buffet, artist led features and shorts, docs or fiction, should be fine dining. That’s the onyl way you can possibly compete, for compete we must.

      Skip past the word ‘worthless’ for a second if you can and consider what I’m saying. For once this isn’t a rant or a rave. I believe a diverse, reimagined eco system for the creation of shorts is essential for the preservation of film as an art form.

  5. Tom Geoffrey says:

    I’ve seen ‘Following’ Alex, and I’m not convinced it’s that great. Ok, so maybe there are a few low to no budget features out there worth a watch, but most, if not all of them will have severe flaws.

  6. Tom Geoffrey says:

    But then saying that, most of the shit coming out of Hollywood costing over 50.000.000 and over is up to it’s neck in flaws, awful scripts, plot holes, bad performances, scattered direction etc etc etc So who knows what the right answer is?!!!

    • Secret Director says:

      I think the answer is a greater understanding of what audiences want and what they’re prepared to pay for it. For investors that means trackable data, for filmmakers that means a closer scrutiny of the value of their own work. I also think it means a greater investment in an apprenticeship system where filmmakers can build their own career before they even have to take the reins on a feature. Pipe dream? Not necessarily.

      As for the 10k feature film. Someone making their second feature will make a better stab at it than someone making their first. Putting the pressure on yourself to overcome all the challenges inherent in getting a film in the can for 10k just aren’t worth it if you’re trying to be a filmmaker. There’s innovation and there’s creativity. The two don’t mean the same thing but you wonder sometimes if a hook like ‘It only cost £300’ just mess everything up for everyone involved.

  7. I think you’re letting a chip on your shoulder get in the way of this article being clear and concise.

    Because I think I agree with what you’re saying to the point that we short change the production’s value in the long run putting it up for free online. I also think there is absolute value in honing your art (which I see you would agree with).

    I however (coming from a recent director who hoped my short would rake in a few opportunities (hell even ONE opportunity would work)) would say that shorts still stand on its own as an art form and are still very much so useful and significant.

    The short I recently produced is a story that I wanted to focus solely on an idea that I still to this day am convinced wouldn’t work as a feature. It’s concise, pretty focused, and wraps up before it starts to suck. It could maybe be an aspect of a larger film, but then the idea isn’t getting the focus that I want it to have.

    Why did I make it? Because thats what you do when you want to be a filmmaker. You tell stories.

    Sure nobody looks at shorts and say “here’s a ton of money, go make a feature.” But then again they surely still don’t say “wait you’ve never made a short, you’ve never struggled to make a film, and you have no experience whatsoever? Here’s a ton of money, go make a feature.”

    Yeah its probably not the most beneficial thing for your career in terms of getting your name out there. But you better hope you have learned all of your lessons to make your art actually what you want out of it by the time an opportunity comes.

    Im personally afraid of when a producer says “I like you’re style, what’s next?” because for me I know I don’t have that answer yet. But I think shorts are my best route to figuring that out.

    “The best way is your way” – as Soderbergh says.

    • Secret Director says:

      Well, the thing is I don’t really have a chip on my shoulder. I’m working in features now, I’ve made the jump. It’s more that I can now look back and see a bit more clearly where perhaps the short form system might be improved. I just write this blog in an inflammatory way because it gets people talking about things.

      I also have an interesting idea for ways to do things differently. Not necessarily the answer but a different perspective. Shorts are essential, it’s not possible to learn the ropes the way the corman school did but we can help the whole system potentially if we start at the grass roots level

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