It is no mystery that in modern mainstream culture today, feature films are of greater value than short films. On average cinemas across the UK receive over 10 million admissions per month with 2016 tallying a grand total of 168,259,894 admissions.
For the average film viewer a visit to the nearest multiplex or independent movie theatre is an opportunity to escape the restrictions and issues of reality and lose themselves in a new world for an hour and half or two (or 3 if you happen to be watching a Nolan flick or Jackson epic). A level of appreciation and analysis may reach varying degrees for each individual viewer but regardless, it provides a degree of escapism.
Then we have the medium of Short Film.
Short Films I believe exist primarily for practicality, with the first and most obvious reason being because of budgeting time and funding, as few people in the world have the time nor the funding to produce a feature length. Risk is also an important factor; the risk that comes with producing a £10,000,000 studio funded feature with a 3 month shoot greatly outweighs that of a £2000 self funded short on a 5 day shoot.
However I do not believe that Short Film is practical just purely because of the resources for production. The accessibility of short filmmaking today extends to a consumer level; anybody with a DSLR can have a shot at making a short. On the upper end of the scale short film production gives filmmakers the freedom and experience to hone their ability to to tell an effective and impactful story through the cinematic form and find their own cinematic voice and style, which in turn will translate into being the fundamental skills integral to future productions.
Making short films also allows a filmmaker to explore and refine ideas and put them into practice with little or less risk attached. No where is this more relevant than the example of the 2013 short Whiplash (2013, Damian Chazelle). A pre-cursor to the oscar winning feature length title of the same name Whiplash (2014, Damian Chazelle), The script for the the 17 minute short was essentially a scene from the feature length screenplay.
Director and writer Damian Chazelle has gone on record to say that Whiplash was always a full length screenplay and only made the short due to a lack of funding from potential funders not seeing any potential. Thus he used the short, made with a budget of $36,000 as a way of garnering attention and hype by delivering a snippet of the scripts full vision. This method worked and he managed to secure a $3.6 million budget for the feature as well as having the idea and style of the first film to expand and improve upon; in turn earning the feature critical acclaim and awards galore.
The video essay below clearly shows how the ideas and production were improved and expanded upon in the feature and how using his short in this way was a masterstroke by the producers.
However it must be said that this isn’t a new thing to be happening.
Six Shooter (Martin McDonagh, 2006) and Doodlebug (Christopher Nolan, 1997) are examples of shorts which show a director demonstrating their filmmaking styles while embracing the constraints of the medium. Doodlebug is a pure, bare bones example of Nolan’s non linear narrative (mindfuck) style which would then become a recurring theme in his subsequent films, just as the dark humour and realism of Six Shooter would be a recurring theme in McDonagh’s later work.
These directors have moved forward from these short films to produce work that really resonates with and inspires me as a filmmaker. This fact likely attests to why I believe that short films are, primarily in my mind, a creative workspace for developing the essential skills and control over the cinematic medium in a way that allows the filmmakers ideas and vision, to translate into a compelling and thoughtful cinematic story which is also truly representative of those ideas.
In some cases this experimentation through the production of short film can result in wonderful showcases of art and even some of filmmakers best or better work but I believe that comes about from a sense of creative freedom and lack of commercial interference or obligations, despite the limitations of budget. To me it is a breeding ground for creativity, and an opportunity for developing filmmakers to put their stamp on a project.
Funding is obviously crucial and essential in the process of Short Film Production.
Now Chazelle likely used what is known as the Studio Model in order to fund his short, which entails approaching and pitching his ideas and probably also demonstrating past work to potential investors (Likely production Companies). This is a common way of funding a short film but there is also other ways, such as seeking funds from the Government. The UK Government and its BFI fund for example uses funds from the National Lottery to support and develop filmmakers and film projects and has funded successful films such I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, 2016) and Notes on Blindness (Pete Middleton, 2o16).
Crowdfunding and crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have exploded, making the route to potential funding super accessible to anyone (obviously dependant on the strength and promotion of their idea). There are countless short films and feature films which have been funded this way. The Oscar nominated Stop motion Drama Anomolisa (Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson 2015) was partially crowdfunded, raising over $400,000 of its $8,000,000 production budget, the rest being through production companies.
Other methods include deferrals for the cast and crew to take there pay as a % the profit of final release. Of course there is also the method of self-funding which takes money out of the filmmakers own pocket but allows them side-step the process of dealing with producers and production companies as well have control over deadlines.
Chazelle’s move to get Whiplash out there was simply to premiere it at Sundance which resulted in it winning the coveted Jury award in the Short Film category. The critical acclaim and award then opened the door for production on Whiplash the feature, and the rest is history. Submitting to relevant film festivals is a tried and true method of distribution, as if successful, it has the acclaim of being a festival winner or submittant.
But in this digital age of information, it is easier than ever to self distribute short films. Posting online to Vimeo despite being completely trivial (especially in comparison to getting a film screened at festivals) is, with the right promoting almost guaranteed to garner more viewers.
Nick Terry, NT (2011) Introduction to Cinema: Escapism Through Film [online] available at: http://nickterryweb.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/escapism-through-film.html
Film Distributors Association, FDA (2017) UK Monthly Film Admissions [online] available at: http://www.launchingfilms.com/research-databank/
John August, JA (2005) Character depth in short film [online] available at: https://johnaugust.com/2005/character-depth-in-a-short-film
Susan Karlin, SK (2014) How World Building Will Shape The Future Of Media And Business [online] available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/3038146/how-world-building-will-shape-the-future-of-media-and-business?show_rev_content
Jacob T Swinney, JS (2016) Watch: How ‘Whiplash’ the Short Led to ‘Whiplash’ the Oscar-Winning Feature [online] available at: http://nofilmschool.com/2016/10/watch-short-whiplash-damien-chazelle
Casey Cipriani, CC (2014) Why Make Shorts?: Filmmakers and Jurors Address the Purpose of Short Filmmaking at the Bermuda International Film Festival [online] available at: http://www.indiewire.com/2014/04/why-make-shorts-filmmakers-and-jurors-address-the-purpose-of-short-filmmaking-at-the-bermuda-international-film-festival-28240/
Elliot Grove, EG (2016) 10 Routes to Finance Your Film [online] available at: http://www.raindance.org/10-routes-to-finance-your-film/
Ed Oswald, EO (2016) Here’s 8 of the best crowdfunding sites on the web right now [online] available at: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/best-crowdfunding-sites/
Ben Roberts, BR (2017) BFI Film Fund Slate 2015/2016 [online] available at: http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/bfi-film-fund-slate-20152016
Justin Schwartz and Laura Kleger, JS LK (2016) Attention, Filmmakers: Here’s How to Self-Distribute Your Film [online] available at: http://www.indiewire.com/2014/12/attention-filmmakers-heres-how-to-self-distribute-your-film-66885/
Ben Child, BC (2012) Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa beats crowdfunding record for film [online] available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/sep/19/charlie-kaufman-anomalisa-crowdfunding-record