A Short Article About Shorts

As a purveyor of the short format, or a "sprinter", to borrow a term from Ray Bradbury, I watch a great many short films. And like any other medium, many of them are good, but most of them are wretched. However, a few of these manage to rise above the rest and tell a story that is both compelling and fun to watch.

As many of you know, I'm currently in pre-production on two (funded) short films myself-and I'm also fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a screening/speaking engagement with UNC's Independent Film Series next month. This event will show off the short films nominated for Academy Awards this year. Many of you probably didn't know that short films are eligible for Academy Awards, in part because the short format rarely gets wide release and are often relegated to film festivals and online venues.

You can't compare shorts to features, because the two are different animals. You may often find more creativity and storytelling ability packed into a single short than you would in ten of the "best films" of any given year. This is because shorts don't have to play by the same rules as features. A director doesn't have to have a beginning a middle and an end. The film can play with the structure and avoid deep character development altogether. Because of this, shorts can be creative and fresh in ways that a feature film can't. Some ideas can only be five to ten minutes long, creating a story that's lean and unfettered by filler. The time limitations often work to a filmmaker's benefit. Rather than dwelling on their film's length, creators can craft a slice of life or a single scene that shines within the time frame.

We don't often think about it, but shorts were the first type of film ever produced. We didn't start out by making features, we made short documentaries before moving onto short narratives. Short were a staple of cinema's beginnings and kickstarted the film careers of such luminaries as George Melies, Thomas Edison and Charlie Chaplin.

While the venue for short films changes, opportunities to see them have opened up. With the success of YouTube and Vimeo as well as channels like Sundance and IFC, shorts can now be viewed outside of the festival circuit and enjoyed in the privacy of one's own home. This makes "sprinter's" like myself very happy because, until an audience sees your film, it's only half finished.

In preparation for this event, I wanted to share with you a few short films I enjoy. Some of these are longer than the others, but each of them have shown me what can be done with the format and have inspired me to try harder at my own work. If you guys like this article let me know. I've been thinking about making this a permanent feature of the site. Featuring other short films and perhaps discussing shorts in general. Maybe I can get Lincoln Hayes to help me produce a podcast about it. Anyway, please comment and let me know.

Alma (2009) Dir. Rodrigo Blaas This short is pristine and should come as no surprise that the director worked for Pixar. Alma is a short, sweet and creepy film that barely scratches the surface of a larger story. This film was recently acquired by Dreamworks to adapt into a larger film with Guillermo del Toro producing. Count me in.

Multi-Facial (1994) Dir. Vin Diesel

While I don't like a great many of the films Vin Diesel chooses to participate in, I do think he is a talented and undervalued performer. I also find films about actors or directors to often be self indulgent and annoying, however, Multifacial uses this idea to it's advantage to showcase a performer's talent and underscore issues of race in our society. The Below video is only part one, you'll have to click on the video after it's finished to get to part two. It's worth it.

Eyrie (2011) Dir. David Wolter

The clearly hand drawn animation in Eyrie is brilliant and creates a homespun energy that serves this western fable about a young sheepherder learning to rise to the occaision. Cal Arts student David Wolter is apparently now working for DreamWorks based on the strength of this short.

Mi Amigo Invisible (2010) Dir. Pablo Larcuen

I was fortunate to see this film at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival (Thanks Wendy & Steve) and it took the cake for me as far as shorts go. Whats better is we chatted with the Director and his crew after the screening and got some insight into how filmmakers are trained in Spain. This is a fun, heartwarming short that reminds me of a 1980's MTV bumper.

-Rob Out.

P.S. As soon as I get my hectic schedule streamlined, more of my own short films will be coming your way.