The Space Between A Short Film And A Feature


So many of us "artistic" types like to think that it is the Muse that drives us and therefore no other voice is allowed into our sacred creative space while making our works.  Those bothersome pundits of practicality and experience droning on about how "it is" or how "it's done" only cloud our flow and hinder our progress.  On some levels this artistic elitism is a necessary tactic to keep one's mind and focus on the matter at hand, as often creative endeavors can be fatiguing and emotionally challenging; on other levels it is, quite simply, ignorant bullshit that will only result in frustration with the world at large.

In making my first film I have experienced the pleasure, the pain, and the inevitable acceptance of what creating a work and releasing it to the world can bring.  I am a better artist for it, but that does not mean I have enjoyed it!  The most valuable lessons that I have learned have been the painful ones, born of mistake, misfortune, or misfire.  

Directing on day 1 of LAPSE.

When I began making my first film LAPSE, I had a 12 page script that I assumed would make a  12 - 17 minute short film.  Makes sense.  In production I began to realize that the script, while containing no dialogue, was so dense that in the end each page was equivalent to more like 2-3 minutes than the standard 1 - 1.5. (Note to self: Use larger font when printing scripts!).  So, after editing I ended up with a 29 minute "short" film.  So what?

Well... here's the so what:  Even though many, many film festivals have a runtime limit for short film submissions that range anywhere from 30 minutes to under 60 minutes, the unspoken reality is that unless the submission is around 15 minutes (some say closer to 11 minutes) the film has next to no chance of being considered, let alone accepted.  

After submitting unsuccessfully to over a dozen festivals I believe this to be true.  I am not bitter about this since, regardless of the magical glorification of movies, film festivals are essentially business conventions, full of vendors and clients looking to sell and buy products.  In this light it makes perfect sense for a film festival to program as many short films as it can, making the longer films less likely to be chosen as they devour the time, seats, and revenue several films could do in the same time slots.

So where does that leave those of us that have a story to tell that isn't a 5-15 minute short, nor a 90+ minute feature?

A still from the film LAPSE.

There is the concept of the Mini-Feature, though not very popular, that can be a strong tool for an aspiring feature filmmaker to use as a means to demonstrate one's ability to handle a larger production and story.  This of course means that a sacrifice must be made: festivals will most likely not accept your film... which is not necessarily a bad thing!  Launching films online, particularly short films, is rapidly becoming a more viable and cost-effective way of getting work seen.

In the end the greatest lesson for any filmmaker is to remain flexible and hopeful. People can argue ad-nauseum about what the right way to make a short/a feature/a filmmaking career is.  Bottom line is ALL advice is only that, advice: a suggestion and nothing more.  Each artist and each film is unique and so are the roads to whatever one considers success.  To accept disappointment in the moment and to use it to motivate a positive action of progress, whether it be re-editing, re-marketing, or finding a way to see and use your work in a new light (ex: as demo of your work-to-come to prospective contributors/collaborators) is a core quality to hone.

An artist's creativity must be as elite as it is ephemeral - the space between the two is the realm of wonder!