The short stories of the film world.
A short story can be just as compelling as a novel. In the same way, good short films contain the same storytelling elements as good feature films — an inciting incident, a conflict and a resolution — just in a smaller package. Every genre has its shorts: documentary, drama, horror, romance and more.
“A short film is a snippet. It could be two minutes, it could be 23,” says film director Helen Alexis Yonov. “But it gives you a slice of life with a complete beginning, middle and end that stands on its own. I think short films should be respected because it’s hard to create something in eight minutes that has meaning.” A great short film can influence audiences, win awards at film festivals and become the calling card that gets you a job in film or video production.
Fifteen or less is festival-friendly.
Short films are generally five to 15 minutes long. Some are longer, some are shorter. Micro-shorts are under five minutes. Once you get to 50 minutes, that’s a feature film. “As a rule of thumb, I would say keep it under 15 minutes because of film festival lengths,” says Yonov. “And if you have something at eight minutes that is captivating, you don’t need more. A short film will tell you how long it needs to be.”
Brainstorm short film ideas.
As with short videos in the marketing world, a short film’s success depends on audience engagement. But perhaps more importantly, a good story for a film comes from an idea that first captivates the screenwriter. The goal is to come up with script ideas that are important to you and then find a way to make them interesting for the audience.
“Be unique. Be captivating. And make what speaks to you as a filmmaker,” says Yonov. “When you’re thinking about your audience, you don’t want to solely think, ‘Is so-and-so going to love this and give me a job?’ You’re doing it for yourself as well.”
Look for story ideas everywhere you go.
Films can come from anywhere — an overheard conversation, a beautiful painting, a news story. Significant moments in your own life, musings you have about the lives of others or real life events from the news can all be the inspiration for a film.
As you are brainstorming film ideas, remember that all it takes is one captivating spark. “Maybe I read an article in a magazine and think, ‘Wow, that’s fascinating. Let’s take everything about it and throw it out the window, but keep this one little gem and run with it,’” says Yonov. “The big thing is to find the gem in the story, what draws you to it.”
Train yourself to be open to inspiration and keep yourself busy with new experiences, even if it’s just watching a new film, reading a new book or visiting a coffee shop you’ve never been to before. When you go out, bring a small notebook or use the note-taking app on your phone, so you always have somewhere to jot down your ideas.