3 Short Films that Show How Simple Can Be Better

What happens when you strip your story down to the bare essentials?

“Oftentimes, simplicity is the key to an effective and memorable short film.”

Ah, relationships. They tend to bring out the best, the worst, and the weirdest in all of us!

To help kick off the New Year and celebrate fresh starts, here are three short films that examine romantic relationships through the lens of simple scenarios. Each film maximizes its running time through extreme location and shot economy, distilling complex emotions into small, straight-forward scenes.

As these films demonstrate, oftentimes, simplicity is the key to someone’s heart to an effective and memorable short film!

1. Her Friend Adam | Dir. Ben Petrie, 2016

“A boyfriend’s jealous impulse spirals out of control in 16 minutes of romantic doom.”

Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.

Phone snooping triggers a spiral into relationship hell in director Ben Petrie’s single location short film, a selection of both Sundance and SXSW film festivals. The director stars alongside his real-life girlfriend, Grace Glowicki, playing a boyfriend whose jealousy gets the better of him.

Her Friend Adam demonstrates how it’s often the people who know us the best who can hurt us the most. Grappling with such a weighty truth, the short could have taken a melodramatic turn, but instead, it assumes an ambiguous approach. With whom should the audience sympathize? The film doesn’t pick a side, preferring to leave that up to us. It’s as if we’re being asked to get involved in a fight between two friends who are dating.

Like many of the short films we showcased last year, Her Friend Adam excels at stripping down the story to the bare essentials. Everything from the action to the production design – the natural ease that exists between the actor and actress, no doubt on account of their real-life relationship; the claustrophobia of the New York apartment – makes us feel as if we’re privy to an uncomfortable intimate moment.

2. Partners | Dir. Joey Ally, 2016

“Professional and life partners Kate and Leigh have shared everything for years, from their apartment to the popular bar they co-own. When a slump in their sex life forces them to reconsider their relationship, they must confront how intertwined their lives have become.”

Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.

Like Her Friend Adam, Partners – starring and written by the actresses Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock – puts us in the middle of a couple’s fight. This argument is more subdued, however, and we can tell that it’s one that has happened before and will happen again. As director Joey Ally puts it, here is “an experience of arguing with someone you already know you’ll forgive.”

Hannah and Jen are close friends and collaborators whose longtime working relationship helped shape the naturalness of their performances. Ally and cinematographer/editor TJ Williams, Jr., are also real-life partners, so the relationships around making the film facilitated a trusting environment that opened the door to improvisation and play, which is one reason Partners feels so organic.

The action unfolds in a studio apartment, which keeps the film contained and the characters trapped as they follow each other around their tiny living space. The close quarters directs attention to the details of the couple’s relationship. They fall into tandem easily, their comfort with each other apparent; for example, when one starts washing dishes, the other instinctively starts to dry them. Despite an argument that seems like a potential relationship-ender, the partners carry on together, inviting us to reflect on the messiness of our interactions with our own loved ones.

3. It’s a Date | Dir. Zachary Zezima, 2016

“Everyone is an alien at first.”

Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.

Based on a real-life experience, director Zachary Zezima’s short film takes a bizarre anecdote to a new level. A woman goes on a first date with a man who, over the course of conversation, reveals that he is actually an alien. Whether or not she believes him is another story.

Zezima’s 4×3 animation creates an environment that manifests the sort of claustrophobic, self-conscious feelings that a first date tends to inspire. The neon colors and whimsical style lend a sense of lightness to an otherwise awkward and dramatic encounter.

The film may be out of this world, but it’s grounded in that very relatable anxiety that humans experience when meeting someone for the first time, wondering if there’s a future together. In fact, the thin line between foreign and familiar is what makes this film so charming!

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The takeaway, here, is that a short film doesn’t have to be a feature crammed into fifteen minutes, bursting with characters and locations. A short can be a contained exploration of a singular event that plays out in real-time, whether it embraces a vérité style or takes an absurdist turn.

It’s also worth noting that all three films have their roots in real-life experiences, suggesting that your own experiences are a good starting point for a short film script.

May this showcase inspire you to bring your creative works to life this year, whatever they may be. Keep watching, keep writing, keep making films!

 Courtney Hope Thérond, with


Want support and guidance making your own short film, about relationship or otherwise? Check out our online film school’s comprehensive 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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