3 Examples of Single-Location Short Films to Inspire YouBecome a better filmmaker by breaking down this short film showcase.
“It all starts with an excellent script written with a single setting in mind.”
As indie filmmakers, we often must ask ourselves two questions when beginning to brainstorm new project ideas: how can we create stories with what’s already available to us, and how can we maximize those resources?
While such questions may seem like a restriction, there are ways to use what you have to your advantage – to reframe a limitation as a creative challenge as opposed to a road block.
Shooting in a single location is one way you can keep your film contained in scale without necessarily constricting the story. Some stories lend themselves quite naturally to the confines of a single space. Others are even augmented by it, making the location its own character and player in the drama.
Here are three short films that show how successful a single-location story can be. They run the gamut of genre, from dance to dark comedy to horror, but they’re all a testament to the power of embracing instead of fighting constraints.
1. Momentum | Dir. Boris Seewald, 2013
“For Patrick, a tortilla chip started his moment of self-discovery. With exuberant dancing and magical passion, he shares his inspiration and invites everyone to participate – even his mother.”
An Official Selection of numerous film festivals and audience favorite, Momentum makes creative use of its single location. Shot in a space that resembles a prison cell, this short film takes us on a celebratory trip through the protagonist’s inner world. He recounts his discovery of dance, beginning with the eating of a tortilla chip and progressing to an inspired expression of unbridled self-confidence.
The masterful editing moves quickly and fluidly through space and time, cutting back and forth between the protagonist’s candid conversation with the camera and wild movements, going so far as to capture a freeform dance with his mother! The montage style creates the sense that the space is bigger than it is and keeps the audience on its feet – perhaps even literally? – with breakneck pacing.
What Momentum does so brilliantly is adapt the surroundings to augment the mood. Each shot is a surprise that plays with our expectations – the halls are filled with smoke; strobe lights flash to the rhythm of the music – images are projected on the walls, functioning as windows onto the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery that transform the single location into several locations at once. Even the great outdoors is brought inside the prison cell, with leaves filling a corner of the room in which we spend much of the film.
Never underestimate the power of production design to bring new depths to your shooting environment! The short film is a medium that invites filmmakers to play, and Momentum does precisely that.
2. A Reasonable Request | Dir. Andrew Laurich, 2015
“A desperate son reconnects with his estranged father to ask an unspeakable favor that will change their lives forever.”
Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.
Two people meet at a diner. How many times have we seen this scenario play out in films and television series, from Mulholland Drive to 7even to 500 Days of Summer to House of Cards… It’s a classic setting, so it’s a perfect single location: here is a place with which we’re familiar but which offers just enough anonymity to make us believe anything could happen.
And in A Reasonable Request, “anything” does. Laurich pushes the scenario to a whole new level, taking the audience to a place they’ve (probably) never been before. A desperate son meets with his estranged father in what we assume will be either a heated argument or tearful reunion. It is neither, and after the son makes his “reasonable” request, the film grows more and more absurd.
The gravity with which the actors play their parts is what makes this short so wonderful. A Reasonable Request is grounded in realism, right down to the hallmark dining booth. The fact that the action is essentially a single conversation in a single location in no way detracts from its punch; rather, the limitation invites us to focus on the characters and what they’re saying to each other, jumpstarting a discussion around dignity and ethics that escalates to ridiculous extremes.
3. Exit | Dir. Daniel Zimbler, 2013
“At a country manor in Edwardian England, a parlor trick becomes a bewitching – and one of the guests gets his dark desire.”
The horror genre tends to lend itself well to single-location stories. The limitation can create a sense of claustrophobia or become a trap from which the protagonist must escape.
Exit is a Short of the Week pick that’s as gripping as it is simply told, confined entirely to the drawing room of an English manor. Friends gather to celebrate two newlyweds – their conversation begins pleasantly enough, but it veers off course when the best man takes digs at the husband. Not wanting to sour the festive atmosphere, one of the guests proposes a parlor trick, claiming he can make one of the guests disappear so completely that it would be as if they had never existed at all.
Most of the guests are cynical, demanding that their new “master of ceremonies” demonstrate his magic. As the game begins, the curtains are drawn, shutting us in the room with the characters. We’re playing along with them, wondering, will it work? Will one of the guests vanish into thin air? This dramatic question, along with a compelling sense of mystery, propel us from beat to beat.
Ultimately, by setting the story in a single location, Zimbler focuses our attention on the parlor trick at hand. The end result needs neither multiple settings nor excessive gore to give the audience goosebumps!
When shooting in a single location, the devil is in the details. Strategic production design, strong actors, and visual variety will help sell it, ensuring the location is interesting as well as practical.
And of course, it all starts with an excellent script written with a single setting in mind!
What locations do you have available to you? What stories can you tell there? How can those stories make the most of the space?
Think broadly, filmmakers – when you work with limitations instead of against them, they turn from enemy to friend.
– By Courtney Hope Thérond
Want support and guidance making your own single-location film? Check out our in-depth online filmmaking course, designed to keep with your vision and schedule from concept through final cut – more guided than a blog, more interactive than a textbook, more flexible than traditional film school.