If you’re one of the many Hollywood-hopefuls who is trying to break into the competitive world of entertainment, chances are you have a laundry list of short film credits up your sleeve. In the past, short films were considered an inferior art form compared to their feature-length counterpart mainly because of its unprofitability and limited space for multidimensional storytelling. Today, short films have taken a different shape by building its own audience and market, creating its own stronghold in every major studio, and serving as an important currency for aspiring filmmakers to showcase their talents and strengths as a storyteller.
Think Big, Start Small
Dating back to the early years of cinema, Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope made it possible for films to be watched by an individual through a peephole viewer. The films that were produced back in the day generally ran for less than ten minutes or so. As technology progressed in the 1900s, visionaries like Georges Méliès utilized innovative editing and special effects techniques to create one of the first extended short films, A Trip to the Moon (1902), which lasted for 18 minutes.
As the demand for longer live-action films grew higher during the outset of the talkies, short films shifted into animation and comedies. Charlie Chaplin’s series of imaginative short films and popularizing his iconic character “The Little Tramp” in various short films truly showed his unmatched vision and talent as an artist before he moved to making feature films. Animation studios such as Disney and Warner Bros. took this opportunity to create iconic series such as the Alice Comedies (1923) and Looney Tunes (1930). These short films often served as the opening act for feature length films until the 1960s.
When television came into the picture, most audiences changed their viewing habits, short films followed suit and gave rise to cartoon shows such as The Jetsons (1962) and Scooby Doo (1969). Animation giant, Pixar, became known as the studio who screened their own original short films before its feature films since 1995. In fact, due to popular demand, the studio’s short films have become a prominent and permanent segment since 2001.
As the internet made its way to the modern world, a wide array of technology became available to the public. It paved the way for video streaming services such as Vimeo and YouTube to revolutionize storytelling and content creation. It gave the opportunity for people to create their own short films and freely upload it to the internet for the world to see. Since short films cost little to nothing to create, aspiring creatives and filmmakers seized this opportunity and made it into a hub of unique and entertaining content that perfectly captures their creative vision and abilities in just a few minutes. Producers and studio executives flocked to these platforms to find the next talent that they could invest in.
In today’s entertainment landscape, short films have taken center stage in international film festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, Telluride, and Cannes to reach a worldwide audience. Emerging filmmakers rely on these festivals to get exposure and recognition from key players in Hollywood. Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has recognized the importance of short films and has accredited a few extraordinary film festivals and their programmed short films to qualify for an Oscar. Disney has even joined in by creating Launchpad, to serve as a platform to find the next generation of diverse filmmakers to make short films for Disney+.
While short films are usually considered the right of passage for every aspiring filmmaker, it hasn’t stop established filmmakers such as Wes Anderson and David Lynch from making short films from time to time to express their artistic vision.
From Short to Feature
There are stories that are best told in a few minutes and there are some that scream feature film potential. In 2003, horror filmmaking was forever changed when director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell released Saw into the world. Before it was the juggernaut series we’ve all come to know it was a low-budget short film that was meant to showcase the director’s talent and be used as a proof of concept for his horror feature pitch to a major studio. But this mere 10-minute story turned into the nine-part successful franchise that has redefined the way we see horror films today.
In 2004, Napoleon Dynamite exploded like fireworks upon its release. This awkward teen comedy was the brainchild of director Jared Hess and was based on his short film Peluca (2002). He originally made this black and white 16 mm short for a class in film school and shot it in his hometown for two days. The feature was an instant hit and has shaped and resonated with many generations up to this day. Not to mention, this film popularized the iconic statement shirt “Vote for Pedro” which we still see enthusiasts sporting today.
In 2013, director Damien Chazelle was like any other ambitious filmmaker who was waiting for his breakthrough. Upon conceiving the idea of a music-themed drama entitled Whiplash, he ventured out looking to find investors and secure funding for his next feature film. Despite getting some positive feedback and interest from producers, he struggled to find the resources to turn his script into a feature-length film.
Thus, he took matters into his own hands and thought it would be a great idea to create an 18-minute short film that would materialize his vision and communicate it to the industry. He decided to join film festivals and went on to bag the prestigious Short Film Jury Award at Sundance 2013. After getting currency for his short, it quickly became the talk of the town and eventually got the much-needed cash flow to shoot the feature-length version of his idea. Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014) turned heads at awards shows and received five Oscar awards including Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
These films are living proof as to why we cannot underestimate the power of short films, as some of the most remarkable stories to go down in history started from a short and sweet concept. Filmmakers need to believe that making short films is a long-term investment that is worth every penny and sleepless night. It could greatly help in creating buzz and launch one’s career in the entertainment industry as it proves your ability to tell compelling stories to an international audience. The most important aspect of being a filmmaker is remaining true to your voice, being authentic to your experiences, and persevering despite the years of waiting and rejections. Your story is the most valuable commodity in Hollywood and nobody can tell it better than you.