By Francesco Vitali
#Top tips for making engaging short films
How you can you shoot the most engaging short movie and keep your audience hooked from the first to the last minute? I decided to do a search on Google on what is a short film, and I got the following definition:
“A short film is any film not long enough to be considered a feature film. No consensus exists as to where that boundary is drawn: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as "an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits".
But ask yourself? What is a short film and why do you consider making one? The answer is more complicated that the previous definition and you can’t find it in Wikipedia. And for sure, you can’t find the way to shoot engaging short films without first understanding the right procedure as well the right definition of what the short film is.
You can only find it deep in your soul and heart.
So what is a short film and why would you make a short?
Short films are not just mini- features.
They could be a fantastic way to let your raw filmmaking talent grow and mature.
They make you ready to face a more compelling and demanding audience.
And because is easier to get it into a festival, this could be a serious stepping stone for your career as an industry professional, before someone trusts you with a feature film production.
But you need to be aware that short movies have their own method and personality. You will need a very effective structure, which will seriously differ from that of a feature film. Your approach will need to reflect those differences. I will give you a few tips to help your short movies pack attract interest instead of sending us to sleep.
First the three acts…
Are not going to be your three musketeers to protect your story.
If you are shooting a 90 min feature, the three-act structure will be a beginning, a middle point, and the end. But in a short you only have a few minutes to grab the attention of the audience. How ready are you to kill half of your movie “building” a backstory? Instead I suggest, use these minutes to build a stronger character’s dilemma. But still your beginning needs to be as strong as possible. And this is something you need to remember as your first step!
You have not the luxury of time for a big exposition, so introduce your leading character fast to your audience. To give you a simple example… If you need to start your story, say, with a huge party, it will be better if you start the next day and let us see your character with a hangover. This is the “time economy” that your short movie will need. Or, here's another tip: do not necessarily follow a routine sequence. Your character, instead of for example, going to shower, and we see him putting on shampoo, water running, soaping his body, taking the towel, putting on fragrance and deodorant and getting dressed, it is better to show him immediately in the bathroom mirror, already dressed, fixing the last detail of his hair. Do not turn time into your enemy. Use it creatively and go straight to the point.
Your characters are very important…
A memorable character usually is the body of a short film. Humans always are curious about other humans. Make them intrigued by your character, so give them one that is authentic, believable and realistic.
Don’t try to lie. Don’t try to fake it. Don’t try to make it weird. All you need to do is to stay true, and you will get all the attention in the world. In my humble opinion, the most important thing is to develop a strong character and this immediately will lead you to the shape of your movie.
Time is your game...
Short films do not need to stick rigidly to the “right order”. There is no such thing. You can start your story at the end and you can flashback or flash forward as well. Manage your movie time the way that helps you to tell your story as clearly as possible.
And even if you decide to film your story from beginning to end, keep gaps in time, because you are the one unfolding the story in the way that you choose, to keep the mystery and intrigue of your plot.
Deliver the key details at the perfect moment so that you keep up the suspense and the surprise. This is the best way to engage your audience until the very end of your movie. People need to be connected to it and to have their imagination enriched.
Speak your mind visually…
Your short film is an audiovisual medium. Don’t get into the trap of spending your limited time "telling" instead of "showing". Use dialogue only when needed and take advantage of the filming tongue to let the audience see what you need to tell. Every shot needs to be relevant to your story’s information. The set, the colors, and your shot composition are part of this information. Don’t forget that a short film is the shorter version of a feature. Communicate the crucial points of your story in the most visual way.
So follow these steps and start by making your next 48FILM Project now! Register you team here, participate when you ready during the year, and be among the great winners to screen your short at the DIRECTORS GUILD OF AMERICA in Hollywood. Our dram team of winners will also get $48,000 to shoot a feature film.
This is the recipe for a win-win situation. Give us a compelling story, with a strong character, which you explain to us visually, and with suspense, in order to engage us from the very first minute.