Being short doesn't make it easy. Here are five classic mistakes that could ruin your short film and how you can fix them.
You're sharing your short film with loved ones, carelessly sending out password-protected links and waiting for your inbox to be overflowing with feedback.
What do you get instead? "Interesting." Or worse, "It looked cool." Worst of all is the radio silence, followed by the prompt and a version of "I haven't seen it yet."
To be fair, the last one might actually be true because everyone is cluttered with screen time these days. But it's also one of those things that people will say instead of what they really think: your short film stinks.
This is actually a bit tough because filmmakers should stop turning films into "good" or "bad". But for this article and to make your shorts better, script whisperer and resident Youtube baby face Tyler Mowery has a few things in mind that can help. Check out his video and read our breakdown below.
1) No philosophical conflict
As Mowery points out, this is the backbone of great storytelling! But all too often, short filmmakers think that because it's so short, they may be able to do without it. Not correct!
Mowery reminds us that the story falls flat when your character lacks philosophical beliefs and therefore conflicts.
How do you solve? Go back to the basics. Create a “viewpoint versus viewpoint conflict” for your story.
A guy who walks sadly through a park all day? Just. A sad astrophysicist whose greatest joy is panting a flat earther on a soap box in the park? I would see that.
2) Characters who have no desires or goals
Similar to a clear philosophical worldview, a character who wants something is the core of the story!
As Mowery points out, you can't empathize with the character if you don't know what he wants.
How do you solve? Clearly describe the needs, then clearly describe the obstacles to those needs.
The result? Journey!
3) exposure for 90% of the story followed by a twist at the end
Hilarious but true! Somewhere in the history of the film school, a certain Cartesian logic was announced: "Twists are the best way to end a short film, and the best short film ends with a twist."
Sure, twists and turns can be cool. But honestly, planning a whole short film around a twist is not what it's about. As Mowery points out, if the audience isn't interested in the story first, they won't care about an interesting reveal or twist.
How do you solve? Don't wait until the end of your movie for the character to do something interesting. That should happen in the first frame.
In other words, use a dramatic story structure.
How this story circle shares Mowery.
4) Action outside of the story
Sure, for budget reasons, this elaborate Soviet gulag scene may need to be mentioned in an exhibition rather than an elaborate replica. But it can be really frustrating when your movie is constantly faking you by not showing you the meat and potatoes of your story. If you are just talking about what the actual plot of the story should have been, you are pulling the carpet out of that plot.
As Mowery says, there is no narrative drive if nothing changes in any room (flashback room, current room).
How do you solve? Seems simple enough. Show, don't tell.
Show the audience the events the characters are talking about, then add dramatic structure.
Even in feature films, montages can quickly go south. (But not in Palm Springs. This is probably the coolest montage that has been edited lately.)
Why do we fail assemblies and why do we keep using them?
For Mowery, a montage is usually a filmmaker trying to put in more information than would be allowed in a short film. An "exposure dump," as he and many others call it. Most montages are used as a lazy way to give information to the audience. Worse, this information is not normally used to "attack the characters." It's unmotivated and therefore uncool.
How do you solve?
Mowery suggests working on the ability to tell a story in a short amount of time with no easy outs!
In other words, don't do assemblies unless you have a damn good reason.
Did you make any of these mistakes? I know I have. Looking back is 2020!
If you've made some short film mistakes, let us know your experience in the comments, and let us know what you've learned.