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ADELMAN

P E R F O R M I N G AR TS / FI LM & V ID EO / D I R EC TI O N & P RODUCTION $ 16.95 USA / $ 23.95 CAN

Life is short.
Theres no limit to what you can achieve by starting small and
dreaming big. Updated with new content covering Kickstarter,
Instagram, and new technology, this third edition addresses
the aftermath of the digital revolution, a time when anyone with
a smartphone can be a filmmaker and attract attention.

Spot-on advice e can-do spirit jumps off the page.


Andrea Richards, author, Girl Director

An essential guide for anybody who wants to make short films!


Bill Plympton, Oscar-nominated animator, Guard Dog

e road map for making that short film youve long dreamed of.
Matthew Harrison, director, Rhythm Thief

KIM ADEL M A N currently teaches Low-Budget Filmmaking at

MAK ING IT BIG IN SHOR T S

MAKE MOVIES!

KIM ADELMAN

Making
It Big in
Shorts

UCLA Extension. She was honored as Instructor of the Year


ER
SHORT
R
E
T
S
A
F
ER
CHEAP

in 2014 and won the UCLA Extension Distinguished Instructor


Award in 2016. Ms. Adelman is also the author of The Girls
Guide to Elvis, The Girls Guide to Country, and The Ultimate

MICHAEL WIESE PRODUCTIONS | MWP.COM

3rd Edition

Guide to Chick Flicks.

The Ultimate Filmmakers Guide to Short Films 3rd Ed

Praise for
Making It Big in Shorts
Recommended for anyone about to start their own short film, or who
wants to promote a short theyve made.
Raewyn Alexander, New Zealand Writers Guild
Adelman has a passion for short filmmaking and a deep commitment to
empowering filmmakers with the skills they need. Her multiple teaching
awards are distinctions [befitting] an exceptional educator. This wise,
practical, and humorous guide is a gift to filmmakers ... demystifies a
complex process in easily understandable and instantly applicable action
steps.
Pascale Cohen-Olivar, Program Director, Entertainment Studies,
UCLA Extension
A short but powerful guide to everything relevant you to know before,
during, and after making your first short film or your fifth!
Andrew P. Crane, Special Project Programmer, American
Cinematheque
A no-nonsense, concise, and to-the-point guidebook on how to make
a short film that travels well on the festival circuit.... You can create
something that garners the attention of industry pros, colleagues, and
audiences alike, and Adelmans book is the perfect companion on that
journey.
Rona Edwards, film & TV producer; author, The Complete
Filmmakers Guide to Film Festivals and I Liked It, Didnt Love It
The road map for making that short film youve long dreamed of ...
practical, up-to-the-minute, and chock-a-block with insider tips. Grab
it and shoot!
Matthew Harrison, director, Rhythm Thief, Kicked in the Head,
Bystander from Hell, Sex and the City (TV)
Direct, to the point, and up to date on all the current social media and
marketing trends for shorts. Sure wish wed known about this book earlier in our filmmaking journey. No sidetracks, no fluff, just like a good
short film. Solid ... should help anyone make and market their film
more successfully.
Tommy G. Kendrick, actor / producer, Somewhere Between Heaven
and Hell

Kim Adelman has filled the pages of her latest book with every single
step a filmmaker should consider when sharing their work with an audience. And she does it incredibly succinctly.
Destri Martino, filmmaker; founder,The Director List
Let me be brief:Making It Big in Shortspacks a treasure trove of information into a bite-sized book ... all youll ever need to join the big time
in the short film category.
Devon McMorrow, reviewer, Mobile Movie Making
An essential guide for anybody who wants to make short films, which
is great, because I love the short-film format. Its the best!
Bill Plympton, Oscar-nominated animator, Guard Dog, I Married a
Strange Person
Adelman does a terrific job of surveying the short films landscape with
this thorough and informative guide for filmmakers.
Dale M. Pollock, Professor of Cinema Studies, University of North
Carolina; author, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas
Forget film school; this book is all you need! Adelmans spot-on advice
comes from years in the trenches of indie filmmaking; her expertise
breaks down the process of making your film and getting it seen. Her
can-do spirit jumps off the page; shes the producer we all want.
Andrea Richards, author, Girl Director: A How-to Guide for the FirstTime, Flat-Broke Film and Video Maker
I wish I had discovered Making It Big in Shorts before I made my first
short film! Drawing on her years of industry experience and her deep
knowledge of the short film world, Kim reveals how to make a short
with what you have and how to get it seen ... the smartest, most liberating approach to expressing your creative vision.
Xenia Shin, filmmaker / producer, Women Transforming Media
Essential reading for short filmmakers ... employs experience, intelligence, solid information, compelling anecdote, wit, foresight, and insight
to map out the best start-to-finish path for filmmakers. Its no-nonsense
common sense will benefit filmmakers of every kind.
Jacques Thelemaque, filmmaker; president, Filmmakers Alliance
Has it all: Ms. Adelman covers the why, how, and where to get short
films made. From filmmaking to distribution and getting known, this
book is masterful.
Dave Watson, editor, Movies Matter

MAKING
IT BIG IN
SHORTS
THE ULTIMATE FILMMAKERS
GUIDE TO SHORT FILMS

3RD EDITION

KIM ADELMAN

M I C H A E L

W I E S E

P R O D U C T I O N S

Published by Michael Wiese Productions


12400 Ventura Blvd. #1111
Studio City, CA 91604
tel. 818.379.8799
fax 818.986.3408
mw@mwp.com
www.mwp.com
Cover design: Johnny Ink www.johnnyink.com
Interior layout: William Morosi
Copyeditor: Ross Plotkin
All photos by the author or courtesy of the author except where noted.
The author dedicates this edition to all my students past, present, and future.
And Lumi and Louis Padilla-Adelman.
Printed by McNaughton & Gunn, Inc., Saline, Michigan
Manufactured in the United States of America
2017 by Kim Adelman
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any
means without permission in writing from the publisher, except for the inclusion
of brief quotations in a review.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Adelman, Kim, author.
Title: Making it big in shorts : the ultimate filmmakers guide to short
films / Kim Adelman.
Description: 3rd edition. | Studio City, CA : Michael Wiese Productions, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016027963 | ISBN 9781615932566
Subjects: LCSH: Short films--Production and direction.
Classification: LCC PN1995.9.P7 A35 2016 | DDC 791.4302/32--dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016027963

Printed on Recycled Stock

CONTENTS

FOREWORD BY MARK BORCHARDTvi


INTRODUCTION TO THE THIRD EDITIONviii
CHAPTER 1
S O YOU WA N T T O M A K E A SHORT 1
CHAPTER 2
YOU R SHORT & YOU 13
CHAPTER 3
T H I N K L I K E A SHORT F I L M M A K E R 22
CHAPTER 4
W H A T K I N D OF SHORT SHOU L D YOU M A K E ? 31
CHAPTER 5
SE V E N SE C R E T S F OR S UC C E S S 44
CHAPTER 6
M A K I NG YOU R F I L M 56
CHAPTER 7
L AU NC H I NG YOU R SE L F A N D YOU R F I L M 74
CHAPTER 8
PA R L AY I NG YOU R L I T T L E F I L M I N T O A BIG CA R E E R 92
CHAPTER 9
F I F T Y F I L M M A K I NG T I P S 104
C H A P T E R 10
T E N E S SE N T I A L HOW-T O S 114

ABOUT THE AUTHOR138

INTRODUCTION
TO THE
THIRD
EDITION

Shooting outside in sunny Southern California

horter. Faster. Cheaper. If you take nothing else


away from this book, keep these three words in
mind and youll do fine.
Shorter: shorts should be short. If you want to make
something long, make a feature. Even if your short is as
short as you think it can be, believe me it can and
should be shorter.
Faster: dont wait. Make your short now. Start your
story fast, end it fast. On the set, be quick and decisive.
Have your actors speak fast. Shoot fast. Edit fast. When
in doubt, value fast over slow.
Cheaper: Rapid advances in technology means filmmaking keeps getting cheaper and cheaper. Celebrate the fact

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Introduction to the Third Edition


I ntroduction

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that you can do a lot with very little money. What counts
most is creativity, not how much you spent on your film.
Theres never been a better time to be a short filmmaker. Hard as it is to believe, YouTube didnt exist when
the first edition of this book was published in 2004.
Kickstarter wasnt around when the second edition was
written in 2009. Nor were iPads, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, or Periscope.
Technology continues to give us new and exciting tools.
Today you can shoot a six-second or a six-minute film
on your phone and share it with a worldwide audience
instantaneously. Thats the easy part. The hard part is
getting people to pay attention to your film project. As
a point of comparison, on an average day, 792 film and
video projects vie for funding on Kickstarter. Its hard to
stand out in a crowd.
Lets say you make a short and get it on iTunes. Congratulations, you might actually be one of the rare few to
make money off your short. But why should an iTunes
customer spend hard-earned money on your little film
instead of the latest Top 10 song, binge-worthy television
series, or Hollywood blockbuster? What about YouTube
and the 300 hours of media that get uploaded to that
site every minute of every day? How can your short be
singled out?
In this era in which anyone with a smartphone can
be a filmmaker, you cant invest your time, money, and
dreams of glory in the theory that if you build it, they
will come. Its not enough to know how to make a short.
You need to know how to make a short that will attract
viewers and launch a career.

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The good news is people still love watching short films.


In the age of short attention spans and media glut, a wild,
weird, and / or wonderful short can cause a sensation.
Because technology continues to change at such a rapid
pace, this book
doesnt drill down
in great detail on
specifics like what
kind of camera you
should use. Having
the latest, greatest
camera doesnt
matter as much as On the set of fXM Short Beekers Crossing / Director: Robbie Consing /
Photographer: Suzanne Hanover
knowing what to
do with the camera and what to put in front of it. This
book helps you focus on whats really important if you
want to be a successful filmmaker.
How you define being a successful filmmaker is up
to you. It can be as simple as making a film youre proud
of. It can be getting millions of hits online. Or maybe its
making a short that turns into a multiple Oscar-winning
feature (e.g., Whiplash). Anything and everything is possible. Dont forget that South Park started life as a short
film and its creators are millionaires many times over
from the subsequent TV series, movie, and merchandising
deals. Talk about making it big with a short!
When I got my job producing short films for fXM:
Movies from Fox (now called FX Movie Channel or FXM),
my bosses at the cable network stated their goal for the
shorts: get them into the Sundance Film Festival. We were
successful four years in a row.

Introduction to the Third Edition


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By the way, if your goal


is to get into Sundance, you
should know the odds: in 2016,
8,712 shorts were submitted to
the festival and only 72 were
selected. Every year, I preview
the official selections and pick
five as must-see to review for
Indiewire. I can tell you, the bar
is high. However, if you pay
attention to the advice contained within the pages of this
On the street at the Sundance Film Festival
guide (some of which comes
directly from the Sundance programmers), youll have a
leg up over the competition.
The other mandate at the Fox-owned movie channel
was to pick filmmakers who would go on to work for
the studio. Im extremely proud that that the directors I
hired have gone on to helm many studio and indie features including Juno, Blades of Glory, Winter in the Blood,
and The Night of the White Pants. But its episodic television where theyve really made their mark, directing
episodes of Scandal, Greys Anatomy, Castle, Parenthood,
American Crime, Burn Notice, The Office, The Carmichael
Show, Casual, and other acclaimed series.
I originally decided to write this guide back in 2004
because after producing 19 short films that played over
150 festivals worldwide and won 30+ awards, I learned a
lot about the short film world from my own experiences
and from talking to other filmmakers.

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Since writing the first and second editions of this book,


Ive continued to gather insider information about short
filmmaking. Since 2006, Ive interviewed filmmakers
and written about short films and festivals for Indiewire.
Ive attended the Sundance ShortsLabs and moderated
filmmaker panels at countless short film festivals. Not
surprisingly, the panel I moderated with actresses-turnedshort-film directors Jennifer Morrison of Once Upon a
Time and House fame and Karen Gillan from Doctor Who
and Guardians of the Galaxy attracted the most attention.
During the panel, Jennifer Morrison revealed her secret
filmmaking weapon to combat having very little preproduction time: she wrote a detailed directors statement
that she distributed to her crew before production so
everyone involved in the shoot was on the same page.
This guide is filled
with these sorts of
tips Ive collected
from other filmmakers over the years.
When I first
started producing,
I realized all the
best information
was passed on from
On the red carpet for the UCLA Alumni short film screening
veteran filmmakers
to newcomers. In putting together this guide, I collected
filmmaker war stories and helpful tips to share with you
as you embark on your short filmmaking adventure.
Although my on-set experience has only taken place in
Los Angeles, teaching filmmaking workshops across the

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United States, Canada, and New Zealand has exposed me


to a wider perspective. After years of teaching making
and marketing the short at UCLA Extension, I currently
teach UCLAxs low-budget feature-filmmaking class.
Every quarter my international students remind me that
the filmmaking experience differs slightly from country
to country but the basics are universal. In so many ways,
filmmaking is filmmaking whether youre using a Panavision camera in Hollywood or an iPhone in Hong Kong.
As youll see, this book contains ten chapters. The first
four are designed to help you make an educated decision
about what kind of short you should make. They cover
what defines a short film, what defines a good short, and
how a film defines its maker. The fifth chapter reveals
the seven golden rules of successful short filmmaking.
Chapter Six begins with story development and ends with
post-production. In it, youll discover the two things that
ruin most shorts (bad acting and bad sound) and the two
things that can cripple your film if you hope to do anything commercial with it (lack of proper paperwork and
unlicensed music). The next two chapters focus on what
to do with your finished film and how to use it to launch
your career. The final two chapters conclude with a handy
listing of fifty tips and ten essential how-tos that every
short filmmaker should know.
Kim not only taught me the nuts and bolts of short
filmmaking, more importantly she gave me a strong sense
of empowerment, said Lexi Alexander, who was a student of mine at UCLA Extension and went on to direct an
Oscar-nominated short, a Charlie Hunnamstarring feature, and most recently episodes of the TV series Arrow.

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Her words, You are the studio, kept ringing in my ear


while I was in the middle of shooting the short that set
off my career.
Although much has changed since earlier editions of
this book were published, my goal for Making It Big in
Shorts remains the same: to empower you to make an
amazing film that will set off your career.
Lets get started.

xiv

So You Want to Make a Short

CHAPTER 1

SO YOU
WANT
TO MAKE
A SHORT

Using the Canon Zoom 250 Super-8 camera

THE ONLY PERSON


WHO CAN STOP YOU
IS YOU

elebrating his twelfth Academy Award nomination (for his performance in About Schmidt), Jack
Nicholson confessed a shocking secret desire in
an Interview magazine profile. Jack Nicholson of Easy
Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, and The Shining
fame wished he could come up with an idea for a great
short film. Even Jack Nicholson is not immune to the lure
of short filmmaking! Of course, in Nicholsons case, it

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isnt surprising. Sure, hes a big old movie star. But hes
also a graduate of the Roger Corman school of low-budget
filmmaking, a longtime reader of O. Henry stories, and a
fan of the student films that play occasionally on cable or
public television.
Whats stopping Mr. Nicholson from making a short?
Certainly it isnt money. And it isnt because he doesnt
have any ideas. Jacks been around long enough to know
that ideas come to you all the time. No, Nicholson wont
be making a short anytime soon because he has too much
respect for the format. Acknowledging that making a good
short is something to be proud of, Jack is going to stay out
of the pool rather than recklessly jumping in feet first to
see what kind of splash he might make.

COME ON, ITS EASY


In this digital era, making a short is absurdly easy. First,
you need to come up with an idea. Easy. Next, you have
to round up the necessary people, places, and things to
turn your idea into a reality. Also easy.
The hard part, as Jack Nicholson wisely pointed out, is
making a short you can be proud of. Almost every filmmaker adds an apologetic commentary when showing
their work: The sound isnt quite right here, or I wish
I had moved the camera more in this sequence, or I
know shes no Meryl Streep, but my sister isnt half bad
in this scene, dont you think?
Forget about minor disappointments. Think big picture. Just making a short is a big accomplishment. Youve
crossed the treacherous bridge that many never traverse.
On one side are those who want to be filmmakers but

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havent yet made anything, on the other side are those


who have made a short and therefore are filmmakers.
Just do it. Just pick up a camera and start shooting
something. That is the advice Titanic and Avatar director
James Cameron gave aspiring filmmakers in an online interview. Dont wait to be asked because nobody is going to
ask you, and dont wait for the perfect conditions because
theyll never be perfect. You just have to take the plunge
and just start shooting something, even if its bad. You can
always hide it, but you will have learned something.
Adam McKay, Academy Awardnominated director of
The Big Short and cofounder of Funny or Die, gave similar
advice at a DGA symposium in 2016. Shoot. Shoot stuff.
Put it up online. Dont wait for your opportunity, dont
wait for your connection. Grab cameras, there are tons
of them now, theyre cheap. The Internet is an amazing
thing. If youre in some weird town in North Dakota, start
a film festival. Just shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. Dont wait
for it to come to you.
Whats amazing is there is no one to stop you. You
dont need an official piece of paper such as a license or
a diploma. You dont need a greenlight from the head
of a major motion picture studio. You dont even need
to be related to Francis Ford Coppola although that
never hurts.

EVERYONE IS WELCOME TO GIVE IT


A TRY
Are you very old? Very young? Female? Asian? Disabled?
Gay? Great! While Hollywood may practice ageism,
sexism, or racism when it comes to hiring filmmakers

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to helm studio pictures, theres nothing stopping anyone


from directing a short. The resulting diversity is one of
the reasons why the most exciting ideas and groundbreaking work happen in short films. In fact, it even works to
your advantage if you are not a heterosexual white male
because there are countless film festivals around the
world which champion films by women, Asians, kids, etc.
So who makes short films? Everyone!
BIG-NAME DIRECTORS
If you are in this league, the rest of us salute you for bringing attention to the short format. Thanks for reminding
the world that shorts are an art form worthy of your time
and effort. You might, however, not enjoy the experience
of making a short. Many feature directors discover that
its easier to do a good job on a big studio picture because
you have the money, resources, and screen time to make
it work. Limited screen time requires completely different storytelling
muscles. Comparisons to writing a
short story versus
a novel (or running the 100-yard
dash versus a
marathon) apply.
Some filmmakPublicity still from Hotel Chevalier, courtesy of Fox Searchlight
Pictures / Director: Wes Anderson
ers delight in the
format Wes Anderson comes immediately to mind.
Many feature filmmakers direct commercials or take on
commissioned shorts as a way to keep their skills sharp

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while earning a big paycheck. In 2015, Martin Scorsese


directed a 15-minute short called The Audition, which
starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Brad
Pitt, with a budget of $70 million. It was paid for by a
chain of casinos.
FEATURE DIRECTORS
Youd think the endgame would be graduating from shorts
to features, but many feature film directors delight in
making shorts. Although I plan on making many more
features, Ill always continue making shorts, says Darius
Clark Monroe, who was named one of Filmmaker magazines 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2014. I love
working within a confined time limit. Most of my shorts
are influenced by dreams, moments, and feelings. The
short format allows me to explore styles and technique in
an unconventional way. Its also great practice as a director. Im able to discover new things about my voice and
craft. Shorts also force me outside of my comfort zone.
Im allowed to play without the numerous pressures of
a feature.
MOVIE STARS
Youd be surprised by the number of Hollywood A-Listers
who have stepped behind the camera to make a short:
Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston, Brie Larson, and Ben
Affleck, to name just a few. If youre interested in becoming a hyphenate (actor-director), making a short is the
quickest way to test the waters. Hot off his success in No
Country for Old Men, Josh Brolin directed his young daughter in a 16-minute drama called X. To me, the whole

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reason you do a short is to understand your strengths and


weaknesses. Its about the storytelling, Brolin told a Variety reporter at the HollyShorts Film Festival.
INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS
Sometimes it seems like everyone who works in Hollywood (aka the Industry) wants to direct. If youre a
working professional, you have the advantage of invaluable connections and favors you can call in. Dont save
them up for later. If you want to make the transition,
nows the time to capitalize on all the goodwill youve
built up over the years. Remember, your colleagues want
you to succeed so that you can hire them when youre
directing big money features. They want to help you join
the big leagues. Let them.
PEOPLE WITH NO INDUSTRY CONNECTIONS
The actual number of established directors, actors, or
Industry professionals making shorts is very small. The
majority of people picking up a camera are regular everyday people with a burning passion to make a film. Dont
think because you live in Nebraska and dont know
anyone in Hollywood that you cant make a successful
short film. If you review the list of filmmakers who get
their shorts into the Sundance Film Festival, youll be
amazed by how many of them youve never heard of.
Because theyre regular people with no Hollywood connections. People just like you. YouTube and social media
have made the entire exhibition process much more democratic, where anyone anywhere can film something and

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share it with the


world within minutes. Why not join
the ranks?
STUDENTS
Students still make
up a large percentage of the short
Students attending UCLA Extension filmmaking class
filmmaking population. USC graduate David Birdsell says, Its tough to
break into filmmaking, to just decide, Im going to be
a professional filmmaker! If you go to film school, you
immediately are in this little community of aspiring filmmakers. You have access to your fellow students and the
equipment. Youre also learning from each other and
helping each other on projects. So its not as lonely and
daunting a prospect.

THE MAJOR STUMBLING BLOCKS


TO MAKING SHORT FILMS
If its so easy to make a film and anyone can do it, why
arent millions of shorts being made every year? The
answer is lack of motivation and money.
Motivation shouldnt be your problem. Youve invested
in reading this book, and I have full confidence youll
make a film not long after you turn the last page.
Money is a hurdle that you can overcome by making
something that doesnt require a big cash outlay.
U.K.-based director Ben Aston made a five-minute Chat
Roulette-based short Russian Roulette for under 50 (about

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$72 American) while in preproduction for another film.


Proof that the best effect your astro-short will ever need
is a smart writer (Oli Fenton) and great actors (Bec Hill,
Stewart Lockwood), says Aston.
The truth is moviemaking at all levels from the most
guerilla indie shoots to the most bloated Hollywood blockbusters requires some funding. Although you will learn
as you make your way through this book that the short
filmmakers favorite word is free, the inescapable fact
remains that it does cost money to make and market a
successful short film. The good news is it doesnt take
nearly as much money as it takes to make and market
a feature.
The reality is how much money you need to make a
short depends on (a) the nature of your project, (b) how
much you can get for free, and (c) how much you are
willing to spend. If you can get away with it, dont spend
anything. Cheap is not a bad word. Beg, borrow, and
steal. Cash in every favor owed. Barter services. Raise
money on Kickstarter. Pass the hat at parties. Do anything
you can do to make your film. After all, you want to be a
short filmmaker, dont you?

SURVEY THE FIELD


Too many filmmakers cling to the outdated idea that to
be successful they have to make a short that could be
mistaken for a feature film. In their minds, that means 30
minutes (or longer), with Hollywood-quality production
value. Certainly, amazing work has been done in the 20-to50-minute range. A film like Sparks 24 minutes long,
based on an Elmore Leonard short story, starring Carla

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Gugino, and directed by


Joseph Gordon-Levitt
feels like a mini-feature.
When asked at a screening how he got the
money to fund his
expensive-looking proPublicity still from Sparks, courtesy of Wholphin /
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
duction, Gordon-Levitt
mumbled, Well, I was on a sitcom as a kid.
Its wrong to assume a good film has to be a mini-
feature. Not only are half-hour pieces financially daunting,
they arent necessarily the best use of the format. Before
you begin thinking about making your own masterpiece,
do yourself a favor and check out what other filmmakers
have done. Youll discover that with a little innovation
and a lot of creativity, you can make a film that will blow
everyone away, and it doesnt have to be more than a few
minutes long.

WHAT DEFINES A SHORT


Because shorts can incorporate so many different kinds
of filmmaking (narrative, experimental, live-action, animation, documentary, mixed media, etc.), the best way
to define a short is by running time. The Academy of
Motion Picture Arts & Sciences classifies a short film
as an original motion picture that has a running time
of not more than 40 minutes including all credits. The
Sundance Film Festival application spells out a running
time of 50 minutes or less, including credits. The Screen
Actors Guild defines a short to be under 35 minutes and
under$50,000.

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Practically speaking,
anything over 20 minutes is on the long side.
Those films are sometimes jokingly called
mediums. For festivals,
online, television, and
even potential theatrical Publicity still from Devil Doll, courtesy of Jarl Olsen /
distribution, shorter is Director: Jarl Olsen / Photographer: Phil Parmet
definitely better.
In my years of reviewing shorts for Indiewire, Ive realized the majority of shorts that really worked had a running
time of 12 minutes. When I was making shorts for Foxs
movie channel, we aimed for 10 minutes or less. At that
time, there was an American short that played in competition at Cannes called Devil Doll it was 50 seconds long.

SEE FOR YOURSELF


To check out what filmmakers are doing right now, go to
film festivals, local short film showcases, the iTunes short
film homepage, VOD, Amazon, YouTube, Vimeo, Funny
or Die, or anywhere that plays shorts.
As far as festivals go, youll discover the longer films
are few and ghettoized in short film programs. The
15-minutes-or-less films are plentiful and sometimes get
to play in front of the star-studded premieres or highly
anticipated competition features.
Many things will happen as you begin to view a wide
variety of films. Youll see many terrible shorts, which will
inspire you in an I can do much better than that! way.
Youll also see amazing work that will make you aspire

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to be equally great. On the downside, its easy to get


depressed when you realize many filmmakers have access
to more money and better resources than you do. How
can you compete? Easy answer: by making something
unique. Remember, everyone sees top-of-the-line filmmaking every day in feature films and on television series. No
one expects your little short to be in that same league.
What viewers want to see is the unexpectedly wonderful
and weird stuff that they can only see in shorts.
Twists! says short film producer Joey Horvitz, who
has been on the festival circuit with a series of shorts
produced by the Lexus car company and the Weinstein
Company. You see a lot of twists in short films because
the filmmakers only have a little bit of time to deliver a
story. Australian filmmaker Nash Edgerton is the king
of the twists, with his shorts Spider and Bear piling on
one shocking plot turn immediately after another. Horvitz
cautions filmmakers not to hang
everything on the
twist. Support that
twist with great
character development, great story
development, and
everything else that
Filming princesses in suburbia
a movie needs.
What I like best about short films is the world that
they take me to, says Sundance Film Festival Director
of Programming Trevor Groth. People take chances with
shorts that they cant do with features. Youll see stuff

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that you couldnt imagine, that you never thought youd


see on film, and there it is!
Shorts can be really weird, summed up Kung Fu
Panda3 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson when hosting a
screening of Oscar nominated shorts in 2016. Everyone I
know wants to make a short.

RECAP
Making a short is something to be proud of. Just ask
Jack Nicholson. The hard part is making a good short.
Everyone makes shorts famous directors, movie stars,
entertainment industry professionals, feature filmmakers, students, and regular folk from all over the world.
No one can stop you from becoming a filmmaker. All
you need is motivation and money.
Shorts can range from less than a minute to less than 50
minutes. Shorter is better. Twelve minutes seems to be
the sweet spot for festival films. Ten minutes or less is
something to aim for.
Pick up a camera and shoot something. Make something
weird and unique. Title the piece. Congratulations, you
are now a filmmaker.

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Your Short & You

CHAPTER 2

YOUR
SHORT &
YOU

Filmmaker with the poster for her short film at the


American Cinematheques 11th Annual Focus on
Female Directors screening

WHAT YOU CREATE DEFINES YOU

very year I give a PowerPoint presentation to


soon-to-graduate students at the USC School of
Cinematic Arts during Career Week. The topic:
the difference between you and your short.
Its important to remember that the film you make
brands you. Shorts are a way of establishing your persona

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as a filmmaker. Filmmaker David Birdsell made a short


featuring a pug that got a lot of Industry attention; Hollywood studio executives offered him projects featuring
canines. It didnt matter that he wasnt particularly interested in dogs. He was stamped makes films with dogs. I
know another filmmaker whose debut short was basically
a joke put on film. She was dismayed when no one took
her feature drama script seriously.
If youre making shorts to get into features, make a
film that is similar in tone and spirit to the feature you
want to make, says writer-director Amy Talkington. That
is so incredibly important. I never stopped and said, I
want to do films about young people thats just what
I did. I made several shorts about teenagers. So thats
who I am. Thats the kind of projects people bring to me.
Because Im making films about young people. And thats
fine. But an intelligent person who is shaping her career
might stop and think about it, and create a short similar
in tone to her first feature script. Thats a problem that
Ive had with a feature script that Ive recently gone out
with. They say, Yeah, we see shes a great filmmaker,
and its a great script, but she hasnt made a film that
really reflects this tone. And I just want to strangle them!
Because, look, you can see that Ive nailed four or five different tones, why wouldnt I be able to nail this one?! But
thats what they say. They really need to see it. So ideally
thats what you go for.

STOP, LOOK, LISTEN


Before you begin your filmmaking career, stop and make
an assessment of who you are as a person and where you

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want to go as a filmmaker. Once you know that (and thats


big!), look at what you actually can do.
First, list five feature films you wished you had made.
What do they have in common? This exercise should help
define your roadmap. If you wanted
to make a film similar to those films,
what would you
need? If you like
dramatic character pieces, youll
need a strong story, On the set of fXM Short Birthday / Director: Greg Brooker /
good dialogue, and Photographer: Sylvia Abumuhor
talented actors. If you like war movies, the local army surplus supply store will provide you with a treasure trove
of props and costumes.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOU


AND YOUR SHORT
Similar to how Dr. Frankenstein and his monster are
so intertwined that most people think the monster is
called Frankenstein, a film and its maker are irrevocably
bound together.
YOU: Have talent
YOUR SHORT: Is a demonstration of that talent
No one will hire you if they dont know what you can
do. They need to see your work. And good work begets
work. Many years ago Vin Diesel wrote / directed / starred
in a 20-minute short called Multi-Facial that allowed him

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to show off his acting chops. He credits the short for getting him cast in his big break, Steven Spielbergs Saving
Private Ryan. Another Spielberg story: A young U.K. filmmaker named James Curran posted his own version of
the Tintin title sequence on Vimeo. Spielberg spotted it,
called him up, and hired him, reports Vimeo Festival+
Awards Director Jeremy Boxer.
Its not just actors and directors who demo their talent
in shorts. Writers get gigs off shorts, as do producers
and crew.
YOU: Have a unique voice
YOUR SHORT: Is an expression of that voice
Dont regurgitate what youve seen before. We dont
need more Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson wannabes. Its your unique voice (or vision) that will get
you attention.
We are constantly looking for new talent, new voices,
doing things in a stylistically different way, says Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer Kim Yutani. She
uses as an example the web series Drunk History, an episode of which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
Try to figure out who you are as an artist and what you
uniquely have to offer the world, Jay Duplass reminded
filmmakers at a Sundance ShortsLab.
Animators, in particular, need to make their own mark.
Whether its the animation style employed or the type
of story told, its that voice that attracts attention and
future work. Norwegian-born Canadian animator Torill
Kove has both a distinct animation style and narrative
voice, which has resulted in two Oscar nominations (My

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Grandmother Ironed
the Kings Shirts and
Me and My Mouton)
and one win (The
Danish Poet).
Speaking of being
unique, try to come
Publicity still from The Danish Poet, courtesy of the National Film
up with a unique Board
of Canada / Director: Torill Kove
title for your short.
Youre creative, your shorts title should reflect this. It also
helps your short stand out from the crowd. The wonderful thing about short film titles (as opposed to feature film
titles) is there is no fear of having one so long that it cant
fit on the movie theater marquee because short film titles
never appear on marquees! Your title can be as long and as
funky as you want. In fact, a unique title sparks interest.
Would you want to see a 15-minute-long short called I Killed
My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have
a Three-Picture Deal at Disney? Probably so. And I didnt
even have to tell you that Ben Affleck directed it. Not that
your title has to be a block long. It just has to be memorable. Noah Edelson made a short in which a kid spends the
first minute of the film jumping up and down on a manhole
cover chanting 78. Noah called the piece 78. Andrew Busti
and Sebastian del Castillo made a super cool experimental
film consisting of faces and hands pressed against the Xerox
machine glass. The title deleriouspink (delirious intentionally
spelled wrong) makes that short even more memorable.
Having a unique title also helps with hashtag promotion of your film. For example, I once donated to a
Kickstarter short film project, Snow. I usually tweet about

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my donation to help the filmmakers spread the word, but


#Snow gets lost in the Twitterverse. Something like, I
donated to #deleriouspink wont you? makes much
more impact.
YOU: Have a persona
YOUR SHORT: Should be not inconsistent with your
persona
Your short does not have to directly mirror your persona, but it shouldnt be diametrically opposed. Think
about Spike Lee. Now watch his NYU student film Joes
Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads on YouTube. They go
together, right? Watch Tim Burtons CalArts student films.
Youd expect someone who looks and talks like Tim Burton
to have made those. Sofia Coppolas Lick the Star, a stylish
14-minute black-and-white film about a clique of schoolgirls, reeks of the woman who is Marc Jacobss muse.
Again, your film doesnt have to reflect exactly who
you are. You can be a biker chick who makes Star Wars
parody films. Just be aware that people viewing your
film will have preconceived notions about you based on
your film.
YOU: Have a certain buzz as a filmmaker
YOUR SHORT: Creates or amplifies that buzz
Every year I co-program an assortment of female-directed
shorts for the American Cinematheque. In 2013, we
showed shorts by Julie Delpy, Ondi Timoner, Jill Soloway,
and Brie Larson. Soloway had not yet created Transparent,
and Larson was three years away from winning her Oscar
for Room. Did their shorts grease their way to their subsequent success? They were both working professionals

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before making their


shorts. But having
their shorts debut at
Sundance certainly
didnt decrease their
profile.
All filmmakers
have a certain level
of buzz about them.
Before you make Filmmakers at American Cinematheques 8th Annual Focus on
a film, you have the Female Directors screening
buzz of potential. Your future looks bright until proven
otherwise.
Students also have a bright future ahead of them, with
the added endorsement of an institution selecting them
over many other applicants and devoting resources to educating them. In Los Angeles, the Industry showcases of
USC, UCLA, AFI, LMU, CalArts, and Chapman student
films are packed with executives and agents scouting the
next generation of filmmakers.
Students profiles can be raised higher if their film wins
a Student Academy Award. John Lasseter, Pete Docter,
Robert Zemeckis, Trey Parker, and Spike Lee all first made
their mark that way.
Film festivals selecting your short gives you and your film
a resounding stamp of approval. Someone besides your mom
thinks youre talented. Make sure to share your good news
with everyone. This is how buzz grows. You win an award
any award from any festival you have now escalated to
being an #AwardWinningFilmmaker. Take a victory lap and
spread the word around all your social media accounts.

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YOU: Know what you want to do next


YOUR SHORT: Not necessarily tied to what you want to
do next, but it should help people understand what youre
capable of doing with your next project
Some people make shorts with the intention of making
the feature version of the short next. What you want to do
next doesnt have to be directly tied to your short, but you
do need to have something you want to do next. People
will see your short, appreciate your talent, and want to
help you on the next step in your career. If you dont have
a vision for what you want to do next, its hard for that
to materialize.
Everyones going to ask you what youre working
on next, says Sharon Badal, who is the short film programmer for the Tribeca Film Festival. They want to
know what you have in development. Jim Cummings
made a single-shot comedy, Thunder Road, which won
the 2016 Sundance Grand Jury Prize. He used the format
as a proof of concept, and a
company called Full Screen
paid him $150,000 to make
half a dozen more shorts in
that style.
It may take longer than
you expect to get to the stage
where you get to make the
kind of films you originally
listed out as I wish I made
these. At least youre doing
everything you can to set off
Filmmaker with her director of photography and
her film print at the American Cinematheques
on the right path.
3rd Annual Focus on Female Directors screening

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RECAP
Work begets work. By making a short, you are making
opportunities come to be.
Your work brands you as a filmmaker. Make sure its a
brand that helps you rather than hinders you.
Everything about your short should reflect your creativity, especially the title.
Having a unique voice will attract notice.
Even before you make a film, you have a level of buzz
as a filmmaker.

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