I am often asked the question, “What is the importance of short films? Why not make a full-length feature if you’re going to put that much work into making a movie?”
The short answer is that it is typically easier and less expensive to make a short film. But there are a number of additional benefits for making a short film to the filmmaker, the audience, to society, and for studios scouting for good material. Making a short film allows the filmmaker to dive into a subject or story cinematically without investing a lot of time and energy into the project. There is always room to expand it later. But let’s dive deeper into other potential benefits and important impacts that film that are short can make.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SHORT FILMS FOR THE FILMMAKER
The filmmaker benefits the most from short projects. Obviously, it is easier to make a short project than a long project due to time and money constraints so projects that otherwise would not be made at all get to be made in short film form. The filmmaker can then expand upon the idea in a longer for movie if desired or the idea is successful with audiences or if she wants to go deeper into the story or subject for artistic fulfillment. As opposed to this, imagine a filmmaker investing years of her life and all of their money into a project that they then realize they don’t want to make or cannot make. How much of a waste would that be? Therefore, often it is good to start small and build upon that initial movie if desired,
The normal trajectory of a good short film leads to it being screened at film festivals. Being a part of a film festivals official selection is a boon to the film on its own, but also opens the filmmaker to other benefits like winning awards and getting their name out there and associated with successful projects.
The final project will also offer material for a director’s reel, producers sizzle reel and/or cinematographers reel or any other crew member that requires visual material for a portfolio. This is especially helpful to someone who is looking to break into an area of filmmaking that they have not participated in very much yet and will offer some good credits and reel to support their new activity in the entertainment industry and to be hired for such.
The short film is also being used in modern times to showcase cutting-edge technology such as CGI and other computer-generated visual effects and animation. These techniques are not only time-consuming and expensive, but are often unknown when they first emerge except by those that specialize in that area of the industry, and so short films are important to push the industry in to greater and greater technological advances in the filmmaking medium. These advances are showcased for audiences in a short film form and when audiences respond favorably to these advances it increases the chance that they will show up more frequently in new movies and for larger audiences to enjoy
Even if the short film is not presenting new technology, a short piece offers the filmmaker or VFX artist an opportunity to present “ weird” or unusual ideas and concepts to an audience. Again, rather than investing excessive time and energy into a feature film for a weird concept that may or may not be accepted or understood by audiences, the filmmaker can make a short film presenting that “weird” concept to test the idea.
I personally have sat through weird concept feature films that were several hours long with NO DIALOG. One was just black and white footage of cow skulls with sound effects. And by the end of the three hours, I wanted to scream because it was way too long and self-indulgent and the filmmaker completely miss the mark (except for their own pleasure – a cinematic and intellectual form of artistic masturbation that forces everyone to watch). At that particular screening, the filmmaker was sitting in the row behind me, so I couldn’t leave. I just had to sit through this woefully terrible imagery.
Documentary short films are important because the “little guy” or “little gal” in a societal situation gets a voice. Short documentaries offer the possibility of social awareness of issues that would not have had the opportunity to see the light of day had they not present been presented in a short movie. I will cover this more in the section on audience and society (below).
Finally, for the filmmaker there is potential money to be made in the modern age of filmmaking with short films. Distribution deals for short films are more common now than ever before. There is a market for them and short films are often active actively sought after, especially ones that win big awards and get good press or get nominated for an Oscar. Studio are always on the lookout for new concepts to expand (which we will talk more about later) and short films are an excellent way for filmmakers to get their idea in front of the studios.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SHORT FILMS FOR AUDIENCES AND SOCIETY
Short film’s greatest importance and benefit to society relate to the documentary. The medium of the documentary in short film form gives audiences access to topics and issues they otherwise would not know about. Sometimes, even within a small municipality, members of a small community are not aware of issues that directly affect them. A filmmaker can put forth these issues in a documentary, bringing awareness to the issue and helping the community rally for change. Short documentary films bring collective awareness, which increases the potential for change, sometimes in the form of legislation, other times in the form of personal behavior. Short documentary films can be both entertaining and educational, which is a powerful mix and can expand one’s life by expanding one’s awareness.
Short films are also important to audiences and societies because they are simple forms of entertainment that usually are edited tightly and well, and stay entertaining throughout the entire length of the short movie. I have sat through my share of feature films at film festivals that were over 2 hours in length and boring as hell and that should have been no longer than 20 minutes. The audience benefits from the short firm because if the subject matter is not appealing or the movie is distasteful to the audience member, he or she only has to sit through it for the length of the short film.
Finally, for film enthusiasts, it is fun to discover new filmmakers and to become super fans of those filmmakers. Short films give voices to filmmakers who otherwise would not be able to put themselves out there due to lack of time or money or access. But a filmmaker with an internet connection can find an audience on YouTube, and an audience with a niche interest or unusual affection for an obscure genre of movie can find its filmmakers in the same place.
CASE STUDY: “THE STORY OF STUFF”
A personal example for me of a short that shifted my perspective and to this day really sticks with me and my lifestyle. It has affected the purchasing choices that I make and is called “The Story of Stuff”. In a 20 minute documentary, it shows how disposable consumer stuff is typically made, from where the raw materials are drawn to where our stuff ends up after we are done with it. This documentary offers a disturbing look at the exploitation of the earth to make stuff and the way this stuff is used for a short time in modern society and then wastefully tossed out for newer stuff. My behavior changed dramatically after watching this movie. I moved more toward minimalism and started to buy less stuff. I’m sure other people had a similar reaction. This means if the thousands of people that saw “The Story of Stuff” bought less stuff since the movie came out over a decade ago, the planet is healthier because are extracting fewer resources (because we are buying less stuff) and our dumps are less full because we have discarded less stuff. And on a personal level, for me, it means a more simplified and pleasurable life while also saving money by not buying stuff I don’t need.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SHORT FILMS FOR MOVIE STUDIOS AND LARGE PRODUCTION COMPANIES
Comedy Central secured its presence as a formidable network by picking up South Park from a short animated piece that went viral called “The Spirit of Christmas”. Twenty years later and it’s still going strong, and Comedy Central has made millions of dollars from that one show. Additionally, the impact that South Park has had on society has been monumental in relation to its commentaries on society, famous people and current events, presenting satire playfully through the storylines.
As mentioned earlier, short films give filmmakers the opportunity to get themselves and their projects in front of studios where their projects can be expanded and funded. At the same time, short films are important to studios because it helps them to discover new filmmakers and new material to pick up and expand. They get to see how audiences are reacting to the short film before they invest any money, so it’s a safe way for studios to discover new, potentially money-making and popular projects without spending a dime.
Even within the studio, short films are often made in the form of trailers or sizzle reels in order to pitch a movie idea. Giving visual form to a movie concept sometimes help it to be greenlit by the studio.
As you can see, short films are important to filmmakers, audiences, society, and studios. In the age of the short attention span and the 2-minute YouTube viral video, short films are more important than ever. The short film form is more digestible to audiences. It has become normal, comfortable and desirable for audiences who now take in entertainment more frequently in short blips throughout their day where they can fit it in. And the short form has given studios access to potentially unlimited material for them to peruse so that they can buy, expand and sell to their audiences. In turn, that benefits the talented filmmaker eager to get their material in front of an ever-expanding audience.