Any movie under forty-minutes is classified as a short film. An audience attention span however at film festivals tested if shorts run over twenty minutes. Why do so many shorts miss the mark? Two reasons, the first bad audio. You should not strain to hear the actors speak. The second reason lies with the story itself or lack thereof. The very crux of why short films sink like the Titanic.
Narrator’s Voice Over
If you watch a short with a narrator’s voice over, this called a “cheat.” This device tells the story instead of allowing the plot to develop. Directors untrained in the craft of screenwriting who write their own short film scripts often take this route. The burden of the story then falls on the narrator. That leaves trite exchange of dialogue between characters.
Line reciting runs amuck in short films. Untrained actors deliver stifled performances. Without organic delivery of lines, the dialogue sounds shallow. Directors complain they cannot find good talent where they live. Excuses however do not cover the fact the film looks and sounds amateurish.
Even a trained actor can muddle through a poorly written short film script. However, mix bad acting with poor dialogue equals disaster. A good story reveals conflict through dialogue and character’s actions. Many shorts however full of exposition within the actor’s lines.
Short do not have the luxury of time. If a short takes a minute to establish shots and roll opening credits, that time floundered. The audience yawns with boredom. Establish the main character’s motive within the first two minutes. Establish the conflict within the first three minutes. That will catapult the story into the second act by the fourth minute. Time is of the essence.
End of world stories, teenagers-in-woods horror or someone dies in a drama. Ideas for short films must conceptualize a new angle. End of world story where only women survive. Replace teenagers in the woods with characters who have environmental degrees. Replace near death dramas set in a world where death does not exist. Think outside-of-the-box.
Shorts must grab your attention that first minute. Good storytelling reveals character. Quick pace, solid interaction of characters and a cohesive point makes for a good film. Aspiring filmmakers crank out shorts like a game instead of a craft. As an audience member, you must sift through the chaff to find the wheat. However, the good grain of short films rare indeed.