Who makes short shorts?
Normally I use this blog as a way to vent frustrations or clear my head. I like to talk about general thoughts or ideas I have, maybe I've been struggling with writer's block or I've become frustrated over the lack of things going on. Sometimes I complain just about myself and my constant procrastination, but this week has actually been pretty good. I've got some work done, started writing my book, planned a feature for the guys at BRWC and I've figured out a few things and I'm gearing up for what will, hopefully, be a pretty fun shoot next week.
Unfortunately, in an effort to avoid spoilers for almost all of these things, I can't write in depth about what I've been doing. And I haven't got an awful lot to clear out of my head or vent over, then what should I discuss?
So, what do I write about?
Well, I have an idea. How about we talk about short films. Or, more specifically, the issues I often see when I watch short films.
Now, look, I'm not saying that this is always the case, and I'm not saying that my opinion somehow matters above all others, but I like to watch short films for inspiration sometimes, and I'll find myself often flicking through Shorts of the Week or Vimeo Staff Picks or just YouTubing "short films" and seeing what comes up. I've made it no secret that my favourite genre is horror, and so if I see a short horror film I am drawn to that above others, but I try to make an effort to watch a variety of different ones, and I see a continued selection of flaws I really wish people would stop doing. So, without further ado, here are my three things I wish people would stop doing in short films that I sometimes see when I watch them... rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?
1. Drone Shots.
Now, don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently bad about drone shots. Done right and they can be really cinematic and add a lot to your story. Drones give filmmakers the ability to create sweeping, grandiose shots like the kind we often see in films such as The Lord of the Rings or Marvel movies. They give a sense of epic scale and can be really cool. You know when they're not cool, though? When you decided to do one just because you have a drone.
Film-making is as much about what you don't do as it is about what you do do (haha... do-do...). Every shot you choose to use should have some meaning or weight behind it. And no, that's not just me being pretentious, it's the truth. When you're making a film you're using almost a centuries worth of tried and tested techniques to create an emotional response in the audience. You want to make them think and feel about certain things. You want them to consider what the characters are feeling. You want to impact them.
If you're throwing in a Drone Shot (or any shot for that matter) just because it "looks cool" then you're missing the point. And it can be really distracting in terms of watching the film to suddenly be throw out of a scene because you decided to go for an epic, cinematic ariel shot when really a simple mid-shot on a tripod would do.
2. Tell, Not Show.
I mean, this one should be obvious, right? In my personal opinion the single most important aspect of writing... no, scratch that, of everything in terms of cinema is that when you're crafting a film you SHOW, don't TELL. If you're telling me stuff when, in reality, it should have been shown, I'm going to switch off super quick.
This is actually something I focus on heavily when I'm teaching the students at PQA. First time writers or new writers and a tendency to become over-reliant on dialogue. Especially when it comes to short films. Quite often I'll watch a short film that will ultimately amount nothing more than a conversation between two people, and when there's nothing else to that it becomes frustrating and dull really fast. You've got to add a little more to your visuals.
I'll use an example I saw a couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine sent me a link to a short film he'd written and acted in. On the surface it was basically just two guys sat at a bus stop having a conversation. So far, so so. However, the conversation was merely the surface level stuff going on. The film was saying a lot more than the characters were, if that makes sense, and it was as much about their body language, their appearance and they subtle looks they gave each other as it was about the actual dialogue between them. This is an example of showing, not telling.
When done well great dialogue enhances a scene, but it should never be the real focus. Anything from Tarantino's Pulp Fiction to David Fincher's The Social Network feature fantastically written lines of dialogue, but it's always more about what the characters aren't saying that what they are.
3. Self Seriousness
Okay, I'm guilty of this one myself. I've made a conscious effort to try and push away from it more recently, and since I like to play in genre cinema then I'm in a position to be able to have a bit more fun with what it is I'm working on, but there does seen to be this insane number of short films that take themselves way too seriously.
I get it, you have a story you want to tell and it's an important story to you. Fine. I understand that. But you do realise that films are supposed to be fun sometimes too, right? A horror or a thriller might delve into some pretty dark or unsettling territory, but ultimately the experience is meant to be fun. Even if you are making a deeper a point about equality or Brexit or something, that doesn't mean you can't approach it with a bit of humour or light-heartedness.
I always try to fit at least one joke into my shorts, even if it winds up landing flat in the end. Humour helps people warm to characters and understand more about them. When I wrote Sympathies, for example, which deals in some upsetting themes, I still tried to ensure that the couple at the centre had a bit of banter and love in their relationship. Serious ideas don't always have to equate to an overly series tone, be open to brightening things up a bit.