3 Fiction Short Films to Inspire YouBecome a better filmmaker by breaking down this short film showcase.
“A short must make more with less.”
Short films are often approached as calling cards, the stepping stones or “proofs of concepts” to feature films. While they can serve this purpose, they’re also a standalone art form. Done well, a short can pack a punch in just a few minutes.
It’s the beginning of a new year, and with each new year, we have the opportunity to think on what we learned the year before. So to ring in 2016, here are three award-winning short films about life lessons that stay with us.
Each short revolves around a character’s growing pains in unique narrative and stylistic ways, so while we reflect on the themes, we’ll also reflect on the craft to inspire our filmmaking this year!
1 – Jerrycan | Dir. Julius Avery, 2008
“A kid risks everything after he is bullied into making a life and death decision.”
Winner of Cannes’ Jury Prize, Jerrycan takes us back to the world of adolescence where peer pressure reigns supreme. Do you give into the group or go your own way? Many films tackle this teen dilemma, but Jerrycan stands out for its subtle performances and smart cinematography.
Specifically, nonprofessional actors bring a gritty realism to the piece that’s matched perfectly by the film stock and decision to use a single lens. Pay special attention to the fight scenes – the camera stays close and swaying, thrusting us into the violence. We’re right there with the boys throughout their reckless afternoon.
On a thematic note, the short’s patient pacing might inspire you to take artistic risks – though preferably not ones that involve gasoline cans. Stay safe, filmmakers!
2 – Netherland Dwarf | Dir. David Michôd, 2008
“Harry really wants a rabbit. Harry’s dad really wants his wife back. And somehow in the middle of all of this wanting, they seem to have forgotten they already have each other.”
An Official Selection of Sundance and The Berlin International Film Festival, Netherland Dwarf beautifully explores loss and longing through its simple story. We all can recall a time we’ve obsessively wanted something, just as fervently as Harry wants his pet rabbit.
Writer and director David Michôd presents us with well-rounded, relatable characters that pull us into the film. In particular, the dialogue tells us who these characters are so that we can develop our own relationship with them; each line deepens our knowledge and emotional investment.
When writing a short, dialogue can pose a challenge: how much information should be squeezed into just a few minutes? What is the relationship between “telling” the audience something and “showing” it to them through images and action? Generally, it’s important to assess how each line works emotionally and contributes to moving the story forward, so that the audience learns something new in each scene.
Netherland Dwarf does this remarkably well. For example, early on, construction can be heard outside in the morning, prompting the father to complain: “Why can’t we just live somewhere that’s finished.” It’s a fleeting moment, but one that expresses the sense of upheaval father and son experience as they struggle to feel settled and find a routine together.
Another excellent example of simple but effective dialogue sets up for the film’s final moments. On the way home from the pet store, the two banter about what to name the son’s new rabbit – it’s a fun back-and-forth that reminds us how close father and son are when they’re present with each other. The rabbit has lifted their moods and already become a part of the family, which makes the climax that much more powerful.
3 – Bombshell | Dir. Erin Sanger, 2013
“A ten year-old tomboy must weigh her loyalty to her trusted older brother as she becomes complicit in a hate crime to win his affection.”
Bombshell was a regional finalist for The Student Academy Awards, and with good reason. Like Jerrycan, it’s a powerful coming-of-age story, in this case rooted in self-discovery.
The film’s opening scene shows mother brushing daughter’s hair, painting her nails, and dressing her up to look “darling”. As soon as she leaves, the daughter yanks the bow from her hair, ruins her manicure, and changes into her brother’s clothes. In just two minutes, we understand this girl is our leading tomboy, confident in her own skin.
The film’s slow burn reminds us that the simple act of spending time with your characters builds a connection between action and audience. Screentime leads to likability – or at the very least, sympathy – that can lay the groundwork for a massive payoff, as it does here.
With less screentime than a feature, a short must make more with less. It must maximize every aspect of cinematography, every action and line of dialogue, every element of mise en scène to communicate its story in the most meaningful and efficient way possible.
Of course, this takes a lot of work. So how do you decide what’s worth your time and effort?
Year to year, the moments that challenge and change your outlook on life are wellsprings of inspiration. What’s important to you right now? What do you think and dream about? What life lessons resonate, and how might you explore them onscreen?
When we create from a place of sincerity and curiosity, beautiful things tend to happen.
Courtney Hope Thérond, with
For guidance and support in starting your film this year, check out our affordable 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.
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