I've shared quite a bit of camera information lately, so I thought it was time to come back with another short film. All too often science fiction films rely on certain crutches to tell a story, forgetting that storytelling relies on all of the other aspects of filmmaking technique to succeed. The chilling and gruesome mutations are the main attraction, but the rest of the technique is what keeps The Gate, from Matt Westrup, chilling and powerful through its entirety. There's another reason I'm sharing this short, and that's because it's being turned into a feature film. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the terrible dreams that are sure to come from watching this 8 minute short film:

It's been a little while since I've shared a short (though I guess the M83 music videos could count), but I thought this one in particular was a great lesson in using all of the techniques we have at our disposal as filmmakers. In terms of screenwriting, this is a great example of using a framing device -- the debriefing scene -- and then filling in the rest of the information with the flashbacks of the events they are discussing. The sound design is distinct and specific, especially the sound of the "monsters" -- which of course must be created since they don't exist in real life. If you watch again, you'll notice that specific sounds, like the cup hitting the water cooler, are much louder than they might normally be -- putting us on edge and setting us up for the monster to come across the screen a moment later.

The movie could very easily have trailed off and become boring but by cutting back to the monster every so often, it keeps us on edge. Short films are tough to execute -- even tougher when they rely on special effects and computer animation. The most important thing to remember, however, is that a good film is a combination of all aspects of filmmaking technique, not just one.

Mike Jones and others have said that the short film is dead (just as I'd finished spending a lot of money on my own short film thesis), and it's only usefulness is as a learning experience, not as a calling card. His argument is that a short film does not necessarily show off your ability to sustain an audience through an entire feature (if feature films are your goal), and the format very often relies on a punchline which does not exist in a longer form. His idea (which I agree with to a large degree) is that a narrative web series is a more valuable calling card because it relies on story arcs and character development as opposed to punchlines (of course there are plenty of web series' that also rely on punchlines - but those are usually of the comedies).

There is still one type of short film that without a doubt is still a calling card: the effects-heavy science fiction short. Archetype, a film from Aaron Sims, is going to become a feature film with Sims directing:

Another effects heavy short film, Ataque de Pánico!, from Fede Álvarez, was so well received (partially because of its miniscule $300 budget) that Fede is directing the Evil Dead remake. Here is that short film below:

Neill Blompkamp got the attention of Hollywood with his short film Alive in Joburg, and was eventually able to direct the feature District 9 based on the same idea:

The short film may not be as relevant as it used to be, but if you want it to be a calling card, you've got a far better chance with an effects-heavy science fiction film. That's not to say that you shouldn't continue making short films -- they help you become a better filmmaker -- but with the explosion of the internet they are less likely to catch attention and be used as a calling card.

[via Film School Rejects]