The notion that making a short film is just practice for a feature has never made sense to me. Every time you write a story or dialogue, work with actors and crew, or edit image and sound, you are making important artistic decisions. To think that the end product would simply be left on the side of the road is not taking it seriously enough. And if you can make all that work in less than 10 minutes, that is a real accomplishment.
“Notes on the Other” Sergio Oksman
When you are making a short film, take your time and concentrate on the film you are making. Don’t worry too much about what you may make in the future. Sergio Oksman tackled the strange, true world of Hemingway’s doubles and the running of the bulls in his short “Notes on the Other.” While the subject is well known around the world and full of mythic lore, Oksman needed only 12 minutes to tell the story. The result is hypnotic, with a vibrant visual style guiding you through the multilayered background. You can see the time and effort put into the filmmaking in the image, the soundtrack, the narration, the edit. Not to mention the locations and events involved. You leave the film with new insight.
I should also make the point – we show a lot of films that are not as slick in their production as what Oksman pulls off. But they are still crafted. When you see the start of John Bryant’s “Oh My God,” you may wonder if it took more than a day to make and he threw away the tripod. By the end, you realize every artistic decision made sense for the film. More importantly, you are laughing too much to think about that at all. The animated films of Martha Colburn don’t look like a computer program made them – and that’s great. You can feel her brain and hands at work, making a unique film experience with true meaning to it. We’ve shown her short films as many times as any other director.
“The Pact” Nick McCarthy
If your goal is to make a feature film, then a great short film that plays well in a theater full of people is the key, not just practicing to make a film. Nick McCarthy wanted to make a creepy-cool horror short, and he made an 8-minute film called “The Pact.” We showed it because it was genuinely creepy and stylish. When it screened well in front of a midnight feature, producers with money in the crowd saw it and found him after the show, asking if he had a feature script they could read. He said he did, and then he went and wrote a draft. McCarthy’s goal with the short was to stay busy, but he wanted to make a short that he would like and get to festivals. The surprise result was a deal to make the feature version, which played Sundance the following year.
“Una Hora Por Favora” Jill Soloway
Even if you are successful in “the biz,” you might still need to make a good short film to help your career. Jill Soloway was a writer and producer on “Six Feet Under” but by her own account, no one was begging her to become a film director. Wanting to make a film, she finally went out and made a short. The funny “Una Hora Por Favora” showed what Soloway could do as a filmmaker. When we selected the film for Sundance, I didn’t know her background, I thought the film was funny, the filmmaking was good and thought it would play well with a crowd. I did recognize the actors, but that can hurt as much as help. If you have someone famous in your short, it better be good. With the success of the short in festivals, Soloway went on to make the feature “Afternoon Delight” which just won her the Directing Award at Sundance last month.
Practice should stop when you start the camera.