Many moons ago, about 100 years worth of lunar orbits, short films were nearly as common as features. In the early days, a short film almost always ran before a feature as a little appetizer. Modern viewers are used to this sort of thing from Pixar. But as feature films became longer, short films vanished from this pre-show slot. But they didn’t disappear from cinema altogether. As a matter of fact, while superheroes dominate the box office and screens at major theater chains, more and more “indie” movie houses and film festivals are showcasing the works of talented artists telling shorter stories. It’s the golden age of short films! And, yes, less does indeed sometimes equal more.
Across the globe festivals like The 48 Hour Film Project, legendary mainstays like Cannes or Sundance, and Mumbai International Film Festival features a broad range of short films. Thousands of such festivals, in fact, more than at any other time in history. Why the explosion in short motion pictures? Producer of the Miami/Ft.Lauderdale 48 Hour Film Project, Cathleen Dean provides the answer “… we have a better-educated pool of filmmakers with access to great equipment, and that has resulted in an increase of more of skillfully produced films.”
Le Voyage Dans la Lun (A Trip to the Moon) by Georges Méliès in 1902 is perhaps one of the best-known short films in cinema history:
The Oscars have long awarded short films in fiction, animated, and documentary categories. In 2015, Body 12 won the golden statue for documenting the story of Ebola workers in West Africa. Ms. Dean calls out 2009 Oscar-winner, the uplifting Music by Prudence as a personal favorite.
One of the more famous short films in recent pop culture is Kung Fury. A borderline psychedelic action short made by a team from Sweden. Kung Fury is like living in an 80s video game, martial arts flick, and buddy cop movie all at the same time. The ridiculous fun of the 31-minute short film features a song from David Hasselhoff. YouTube and Vimeo play home to thousands of movies and even series of films that focus on shorter running times.
Lights Out by David F. Sandburg is only two minutes and fifty-one seconds long but is no less terrifying than any contemporary horror. The film’s success opened the door for the self-taught Sandburg to receive a five million dollar investment in a feature-sized version. Released in July, the 81-minute version of Lights Out has a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes for those who find that sort of thing useful.
Sandburg’s success using a short film to garner attention for more film work is becoming more and more common. The original Saw was a 10-minute proof of concept, and we all know what happened there. Love or hate the 2013 Evil Dead remake, but director Fede Alvarez made a short film in his home country of Uruguay called Panic Attack! which caught the eye of Hollywood.
Short films are easier to produce and, as Ms. Dean says “gives the filmmakers an opportunity to showcase their work …” And with tens of thousands of short film festivals a year, and the Internet itself, the opportunity for exposure is immense.
Even established directors like Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Snowpiercer) create short works in innovative ways. In 2011, Chan-wook directed a 33-minute film called Night Fishing which was entirely shot using an iPhone 4.
What movies, whatever the length, are yet to come as technology continues to make it easier for filmmakers to bring their visions to life?
I recently interviewed Cathleen Dean who hosted the Miami/Ft.Lauderdale Awards Ceremony for The 48 Hour Film Project in July. Check out the winners here, including Group B Audience Winner Put Your Lips Together And Blow written by yours truly. And that’s a truly shameless plug.