London Screenwriters' Festival

Should I Write A Short?

Posted on: October 30th, 2011 by nromanek 2 Comments

The Day 2 session Should I Write A Short? featured festival director Chris Jones – whose short, Gone Fishing, was shortlisted for the Live Action Short Academy Award – and Esther Wouda – whose script for the animated short, Sintel, was commissioned by Blender. Blender is open source 3D content creation software and the company was looking for a writer to flush out some story concepts they wanted to use in a show piece for their product. As far as story, they had a dragon and a little girl, but not much else. They approached Esther, who gave them some initial feedback and was eventually brought as the writer of an entire narrative which would incorporate all of Blender’s requirements. Sintel is a 12 minute production, but took a year to make. The spectacular result, released on YouTube, had over a 1,000,000 (yes, that’s one million) hits in the first several days.

Esther was given a lot of narrative leeway, provided she incorporated the elements Blender was keen to show off. So she attempted to tell the entire Hero’s Journey in 12 minutes. No one can accuse Esther of not having ambitious vision. But there is saying about short film writing. If you can’t get your idea across in a short film, you probably won’t be able to in a longer one.

Esther’s experience points to an increasing number of opportunities for filmmaking on behalf of corporate clients. I, for example, have recently been involved in short film project for Adobe, who were looking for short projects which they would fund and then would be used at trade shows and other demo situations to show off their project. It had never occurred to me before, prowling the floors of NAB, that someone needs to make – and write – all that content Avid is using for their pitches to the convention delegates.

But short films need not be corporate sponsored or commissioned to be invaluable tools. There are a wide variety of reasons to write or write-direct a short film. They can be calling cards to show off your ability. They can be used to promote other longer form material via a trailer or sizzle reel. Both Chris and Esther agreed that it was important to know why you were doing a short. It’s important to work out a long-term strategy – even if that strategy is just practice for the next short. If, for example, a short is distributed, even iadvertently, on YouTube or on DVD, it will be ineligible for many festivals, or for an Academy Award nomination. Each festival or contest has its own particular, arcane set of rules and, if you plan on sending your short down these paths, you need to know what they are.

Chris found in his experience that the greatest benefit of writing and directing a short film was the amazing education he got – in writing, production, and the involved process of getting that film in front of people. He is a firm believe in making films, making them now, for the sake of making them. There is so much production technology and so many distribution outlets available on the internet that if you are not making and exhibiting short films, it’s simply because you don’t really want to. Tremendous digital tools, like Blender, used to make tremendous digital tools used to make Sintel are absolutely free to anyone with a browser and a hard drive.

In L.A., I was part of the Alpha 60 Film Collective, a group of shabby film geeks and self-styled geniuseses from Silverlake and surrounding parts. At the regular meetings 15 or 20 filmmakers would submit short scripts – some highly detailed, some no more than a note on an napkin – these would be randomly distributed and we would all have to go bring back a film, ostensibly based on the script we received, in two weeks. It was an amazing opportunity to just write and shoot, write and shoot. It didn’t matter what the quality of the script or the final production was. The idea was to be in the process – “wax on, wax off, wax on…”, but with movies. I’m definitely with Chris in that the technology you use, the polish of your film, the aesthetics you choose to adopt are secondary to being in the game and actually making something and putting it in front of people, and then doing it again and again, leading with your heart.
Neal Romanek

2 Responses

  1. Gennn Romanek says:

    Good article, good info.

  2. Jenny says:

    Short or not, use hero’s journey. Recommend Kal Bashir’s for insights.

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