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A short film is defined as any motion picture not long enough to be considered a feature film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as "an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits"

The history of short films

The earliest cinema audiences in the 1890s always watched short films, with scenes of foreign lands, royalty, current affairs and daily life. It is said that the Lumière brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895) had audiences leap up in terror as the locomotive on the screen came towards them.

As film technology progressed, programmes were put together of different acts lasting up to about 20 minutes, which was the usual time for fairground and theatre acts. Yet in the first years of the twentieth century, it was possible to make longer films. The first feature-length length films were produced around Europe and in the US from 1913, but there was no international movie festival to feature them at that time. These films drew in the crowds, and helped fund the construction of “picture palaces” over the next three decades. At this time, shorts continued to be shown alongside news reels and sometimes live acts. At the time of the Second World War short films were produced for government propaganda, but died out in the following decades.

Popcorn at the cinema

Short film has been embraced by artists since the beginning. First by Surrealists including Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel in the 1920s and Agnes Varda and Chris Marker in France, and Andy Warhol in the US in the 1960s and video artists such as Bruce Nauman and Steve McQueen. In the 1980s, MTV music videos provided another outlet for short film-makers, which influenced film-making away from music. In the 1990s, affordable and digital recording equipment led to a surge in independent short-film-making. Now, it is possible to go directly from shooting to editing on a computer, which is practical, affordable and allows the film-maker to capture intimate and spontaneous performances. The biggest new demand for short films has come from the internet, in particular YouTube, where film-makers can reach new audiences in a short time, at no cost.

The all time best short films

1. Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Director: Buster Keaton

Stars: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton, Erwin Connelly

A film projectionist wants to be a police investigator, and puts his limited skills to work when he is framed by a rival for stealing his girlfriend's father's pocket-watch.

2. La Jetée (1962)

Director: Chris Marker

Stars: Étienne Becker, Jean Négroni, Hélène Chatelain, Davos Hanich

The story, told through still images, of a man forced to explore his memories after the devastation of World War III.

3. Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Director: Luis Buñuel

Stars: Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí present seventeen minutes of eccentric, surreal imagery.

4. A Day in the Country (1936)

Director: Jean Renoir

Stars: Sylvia Bataille, Jane Marken, Georges D'Arnoux, André Gabriello

The family of a Parisian shop-keeper spends a day in the country. The daughter meets a man at the inn, they fall in love and spend the day together.

5. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Directors: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid

Stars: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid

A woman returns home and falls asleep. She has vivid dreams that may or may not be taking place in real life. With repetitive imagery and a total mismatching of an objective view of time and space, her dark inner desires play out on-screen.

6. Zero for Conduct (1933)

Director: Jean Vigo

Stars: Jean Dasté, Robert le Flon, Louis Lefebvre, Du Verron

In a repressive boarding school there is taking place a celebration day. Four boys decide this is the time to rebel against the rigid rules of behaviour they are forced to follow.

7. Night and Fog (1956)

Director: Alain Resnais

Stars: Michel Bouquet, Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler

The history of the death camps of Nazi Germany's Final Solution, with the hellish world of dehumanisation and death contained within.

8. Tale of Tales (1979)

Director: Yuriy Norshteyn

Star: Aleksandr Kalyagin

Distant, well-worn memories of childhood are inhabited by a grey wolf. Through astonishing imagery, the memory of all of Russia is depicted.

9. Duck Amuck (1953)

Director: Chuck Jones

Star: Mel Blanc

The short-tempered Daffy Duck must improvise fast as his costumes, the backgrounds, the soundtrack, even his physical form, shifts and changes at the caprice of the animator.

10. Listen to Britain (1942)

Directors: Humphrey Jennings, Stewart McAllister

Stars: Leonard Brockington, Joseph Macleod, Bud Flanagan, Chesney Allen

A depiction of life in wartime England during the Second World War. Director Humphrey Jennings visits many aspects of civilian life and of the turmoil and privation caused by the war, all without narration.

How production studios survive making short-films

The film industry is constantly changing. Industry-wide there are studios that struggle to survive, yet production studios can survive if they have the right skills, outlook and experience. Those who are looking to commission a short-film are asking for producers who can also shoot and edit. Being able to take on the role of producer, director and editor will help the studio gain contracts. In the trade, this role is known as ‘predator’.

Production studios of short movies that survive have embraced the corporate market to create videos for their workforce, for publicity, charitable purposes or an entire range of purposes. The relationships developed from this work can lead to further productions. Building an audience is key to survival. By adding some compelling imagery online, particularly YouTube, you can build your audience. Millions of views will attract attention, raise your profile and lead to contracts.

Surviving in a challenging industry requires good budgeting skills. Netflix will pay to USD100,000 to license a movie, which works if you have made your film for USD35,000. Getting work is the most challenging part of running a production company. Having someone in the business working full-time to generate new leads is a good use of resources.


Vancouver short movie festival

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