3 Short Films that Will Make You Laugh (Maybe)

Become a better filmmaker by breaking down this short film showcase.

 

“…An exercise in establishing expectations and then delivering something else.”

More often than not, comedy is a difficult genre to pull off. It is deeply personal. Everyone has their own sense of humor; consequently, what you find funny may not play for someone else. For comedy filmmakers, then, the challenge is finding the overlap of what’s funny to them and what’s funny to an audience.

To inspire your search, here are three short film comedies, each distinguished by their creator’s unique sense of humor. The first short walks the line between comedy and drama while playing on our knowledge of a common video format; the second laughs at the dark and macabre; and the third finds humor and resonance in small moments.

We hope you enjoy these films – if not all, then at least one of them!

1. How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps | Dir. Ben Berman, 2016

“Losing weight and getting fit has never been easier! Shed those unwanted pounds with these simple tricks your gym doesn’t want you to know about. You won’t believe what happens next!”

Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.

Director Ben Berman’s How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps shows a lot of heart, transitioning effortlessly from poignant to silly, depending on the demands of the dramatic moment.

The film assumes the structure of an online tutorial, with steps one, two, and four imparting generic weight loss advice. Most of the film, however, focuses on step three: “have your heart broken”. In other words, Berman takes a format with which we’re familiar – “the step-by-step guide your gym doesn’t want you to know about” – and twists it, building a clever short film that’s as endearing as it is funny.

The narrator drives the action with his at times upbeat, at times berating commentary, relaying the story of a mattress salesman, Christopher, played by Saturday Night Live cast member Beck Bennett. Christopher has just had his heart broken by a coworker, and he hits the gym in a desperate attempt to forget his ex and move on – but of course, getting over a failed relationship can be as challenging as losing weight. This relatable premise pairs with Christopher’s likability as a character to keep us invested in his journey toward fitness and love.

Additionally, How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps is an excellent example of that comedy adage, “It’s all in the timing”. The film’s limber rhythm and jokes whisk us from beat to beat, spanning months of Christopher’s life in less than seven minutes. The film is simple – just two main characters and no dialogue! – but the fantastic timing and wit make it sing (and us laugh).

2. It’s Not You, It’s Me | Dir. Matt Spicer, 2013

A young woman’s relationship takes a dark turn when every sound her boyfriend makes starts to annoy her.

Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.

Dark comedy laughs at the serious and disturbing, often resulting in an absurd and unforgettable viewing experience. SXSW favorite It’s Not You, It’s Me follows a woman played by Community veteran Gillian Jacobs, who no longer can stand the sounds her boyfriend makes while eating or his apathy toward his unemployment. The film draws us in with its sympathetic portrayal of the woman’s frustration. The more we learn about her boyfriend, the more we relate to her revulsion.

But when her boyfriend gets impaled by the sculpture on the living room table, we suddenly freeze. We’re not sure what to do or how to react, and neither is the woman. This shared sentiment during such an awful, over-the-top moment creates a connection between character and audience and invites laughter, allying us with a serial killer whose motives we understand.

It’s Not You, It’s Me expertly blends comedy with horror by setting up simple patterns. The comedic details create a language all their own and begin to escalate: the mounting annoyances, the repetition of the suitcases’ visual gag, and Gillian Jacobs’ animated reactions make an increasingly dark series of events alarmingly accessible.

3. Una Hora Por Favora | Dir. Jill Soloway, 2011

On the streets of LA, thousands of men are available as day laborers for cash, by the hour. What happens when lonely and single Elissa picks up the capable and handsome Arturo to help her fix the shower?

Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.

This early gem from writer-director Jill Soloway stands as testament to her talent. She wrote for HBO’s Six Feet Under, ultimately becoming a co-executive producer, and recently created Amazon Studios’ Emmy and Golden Globe-winning show Transparent. Before Transparent, Soloway’s feature film Afternoon Delight won the Directing Award at Sundance in 2013, hot on the heels of her Sundance short, Una Hora Por Favora.

This film follows Elissa (Michaela Watkins), a wealthy Jewish woman living in Los Angeles, who hires Arturo (Wilmer Valderrama), a Latino day laborer, to fix her showerhead. The hour is up, showerhead fixed, but Elissa’s and Arturo’s arrangement has only just begun. Una Hora Por Favora deftly and delicately plays on cultural stereotypes as we watch the couple speed through a whirlwind relationship over the course of a long weekend – and just twelve minutes of screentime.

Una Hora Por Favora lives in the small moments its lead characters share, even as the story grows wilder by the scene. The end result is disarmingly honest, relying on its actors to emote sincerely and set the charming, quirky tone.

Una Hora Por Favora | Jill Soloway

Una Hora Por Favora | Jill Soloway

Arguably, comedic filmmaking is an exercise in establishing expectations and then delivering something else – something unexpected yet inevitable that abides by a clear internal logic, however ridiculous and absurd it may seem by non-comedy standards. Follow your gut and then be consistent, here. Trust that your voice will resonate with others so long as it’s presented sharply and congruously.

It’s also interesting to note that all three of these short films are built around sympathetic characters, inviting us to identify with them and their respective journeys.

In fact, this is a lesson for filmmakers of all genres. When creating a protagonist, ask yourself: what will create the bond between character and audience? Why are we invested in them? The answer doesn’t necessarily have to make us laugh, but it should sweep us up in its story and world.

 Courtney Hope Thérond, with


Want support and guidance making your own short film, comedy or otherwise? 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.

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