Archive for the 'Successful Short Films' Category

Successful Short Films – Tune for Two

I’ve seen this piece while checking a list from Film School Rejects on the best short films of 2011. It stands in the first place. Below you may find zombies, nonsense, Spike Jonze, fan-fiction and even the short film which won the VIMEO Awards, Blinky™. And still this short film with less than three minutes reigns in the top.

Tune for Two is an amazing experience due to its simplicity, but that doesn’t bear the quality of this film by itself. What Tune for Two evokes is the freedom that the short film format allows us. The endorsement of ignorance that we persist to renounce for what it takes for a short film to be complete. The liberty to ignore the questions that drive a mystery, the how-why-and-when, the possibility to leave explanations behind in order to give a take on the is.

Because even if all the questions were answered, they wouldn’t matter. And if they were, the outcome would be bloated. Tune for Two then reminds us that we must prime for a goal and grab onto it with objectivity. That a satisfying experience is more appreciated than answers when well executed.

And above everything, Tune for Two is a proclamation that the short film will never die or even take a recess, because as long as there are stories like these, which wouldn’t fit in any other format as properly as they do as a short film, the flame will remain high. 

The short film will never fade away for the same reason no other cinematographic method will as well. Some stories are meant to be told a certain way. Do you need better evidence to sustain that? Try telling a friend about Tune for Two and see if they gig. Then turn your screen and hit the play again. You’ll enjoy a second round. And when you see the lips form a giggle, you’ll understand.


Successful Short Films – The Piano Tuner

Regardless of the length of your film, it’s rare to deviate from the chains of an event. Ever heard about the almighty inciting incident? It is nothing beyond an event that generates a situation which permeates through the story, changing the balance of the reoccurring routine of our characters. Often films end whenever the balance is reestablished. Sometimes an event is a conglomerate of circumstances. An orchestra would be a major situation, meanwhile each instrument would be a situation on their own, although part of the main event. This trigger will define your story, as there is a limited number of ways for certain events to restore balance. This is what makes you decide that an idea fits better as a short film than a feature one.

It’s a common resource of short films to hold themselves within a single event. Sometimes they don’t, as our last review shows. So your starting point is a limited situation, that being one of the reasons you chose it for a short film. Every concept is restrained somehow within the course of dramaturgy, yet we might leave this for another article. This abstraction comes to reinforce the necessity of a great concept when working for a short film, as you can’t expand it endlessly, however it must feel complete whenever it is done. As every story has limitations, the first step to achieve a powerful script is to bring an awesome concept into the table. And now we may discuss The Piano Tuner, a film which showed up at Short of the Week two months ago and had an outstanding approval from its members.

The Piano Tuner, by Olivier Trainer is the tale of a failed pianist whom pretends to be blind to obtain the empathy of his customers. Until, at one of his client’s visits, he stumbles into the pool of blood. I won’t pretend it is a mastery of the craft, it ain’t, but this french short film is pretty well thought. It demonstrates how hard it is to setup an intricate story using a resource we’ve seen a lot lately: starting your story with a flash forward. I don’t support the abuse of flash forwards, however if there’s a lot of ground to prepare, it is an effective way to keep your viewer tuned in. And The Piano Tuner requires this previous briefing because we must learn, in natural terms, that our main character only alleges his blindness. So it is a pretty delicate setup and half of the movie is dedicated into it.

Technically, the inciting incident is when the main character trips on the recently murdered husband’s blood. The dead man’s wife (i assume) and also his executioner now has to deal with a witness, even a blind one. She asks for his blood-soaked clothes and he keeps his roleplaying, trying to remain calm. He tunes the piano and the woman points a nail gun to the back of his head. He starts playing and that gives him a few minutes, but he doesn’t own much choice and proceeds playing as if it would keep himself alive.

It’s quite the thrilling situation, but what this short film incites me is the discussion about endings.

Do you remember that Robert McKee’s line in Jonze’s Adaptation?

I’ll tell you a secret. The last act makes a film. Wow them in the end, and you got a hit. You can have flaws, problems, but wow them in the end, and you’ve got a hit. Find an ending, but don’t cheat, and don’t you dare bring in a deus ex machina. Your characters must change, and the change must come from them. Do that, and you’ll be fine.

It might not be a rule of thumb for feature films, but most short films rely on a great ending to be remembered. Specially if you’re aiming at film festivals, as several films are projected one after the other, one impression is swallowed by the following and if you want to stand out you have to hammer into the viewer’s head with your last utterance. You must reverberate.

As events are limited, you’ll often find yourself into a TICKING BOMB range of possibilities to conclude your story. Whenever you introduce a ticking bomb as your situation, there are only three ways to end your movie: the bomb blows, the bomb is disarmed, fade to black with the tick-tack. Whenever you place a main character in a situation like The Piano Tuner you’re starring at a ticking bomb. The ending not exclusively creates a visual impression the viewer will carry, but also expose the layers of the tone you presumed the spectator would take home with him. And how you handle with a ticking bomb is what commonly separates the good from the bad. How you twist your ending to lead into a very specific idea you want to transmit when the credits start rolling is crucial for a successful short film.

In the particular case of The Piano Tuner, we would wonder if the protagonist would getaway or die (we rarely expect the “open ending”). This kept me my attention while the credits rolled until the music ended. It was quite disappointing. If you felt the same way, stop reading and replay the short film until the title shows up, then come back here.

Got it? The sound of a nail gun shooting. This means we have a full-experience (the protagonist is killed), but our last impression is his despair and attempt to keep alive. As non-conclusive, it echoes in our head. I’ve pointed out previously how using non-linear narrative to change your ending is among the most effective ways to use of it.

So whenever you find yourself facing a ticking bomb situation, don’t panic and let it blow on your hands.

Successful Short Films – Lemonade Stand

Our regular post submission just began, here we gonna check out some great short films. To start with, i’ve chose Lemonade Stand, by Alethea Jones. It won the Tropfest Film Festival 2012. Besides being a really well-made short film, Lemonade Stand will bring some interesting subjects to our discussion as we’ll see.

It’s the story about Benny, his grandpa and their lemonade stand being harassed by Kevin, the neighbor whom just got a job at the City Council. As the stand has no business license, Kevin threats to shut their business down unless Benny hits a distant beehive with a lemon.

The film starts with a quick montage of events and voice over to show us the world. As we’ve seen previously at O’Keefe’s The Ghosts, this works really well to introduce the characters and the background of the story. I must remind you that voice-over is not an enemy, it should narrate elements far away from the story, but be a complement of the image. It’s the bond of sound and vision that makes cinema what it is, those elements should not drift apart (in most cases). If you work well with voice-over and it fits your concept, it’s a great method to save quite a chunk of time.

Following this introduction we have the event, when Kevin challenges them to hit the beehive. There’s a clear goal and urgency into this, the obstacle being the defiance itself. Afterwards, Benny wanders through the woods only to find his natural inclination at throwing objects on long shots. He’s just the perfect guy to win the challenge and save the day. However, this is the moment in which Lemonade Stand remains steady. We, viewers, are confident that Benny is going to nail the beehive and redeem the lemonade stand. It’s breaking this expectation what makes this short film great. Because that should be essential to every short film ever.

Coming clean, i’ve chosen Lemonade Stand to show up an example of a well-rounded structure that works perfectly on short films with a comic tone. It goes as something like this:

1. Introduction of main character, antagonist and the background savior*;

* this kind of structure relies on this background savior, which is an element you introduce in the beginning of your story (grandpa’s dirty socks in this case),  let it lay down and bring it back to resolve your story at the ending.

2. The Challenge (hit the beehive with this lemon or i shut down this joint!);

3. High Expectations: raising the expectations of the audience, make them believe the main character is going to beat the challenge.

4. The Failure: the main character fails to beat the challenge his way;

5. Raise the undead! The background savior comes back alive and saves the day.

This is not a masterpiece of an outline, but screw you, i’m not Syd Field. Basically, what matters here is using this background element previously introduced to effectively seal your story indirectly. If Benny had simply hit the beehive, it wouldn’t be fun, after all, we love to have our expectations broken apart, that’s why we engage with other people, no? But dealing with our issue through an unorthodox method is great, as it surprises us, yet as the elements were already introduced we don’t feel like the author is cheating on us (farewell, deus ex-machina).

Just remember that this is not a formula, if you EVER start a story by a recipe, you’ll fail, i guarantee. The viability for a specific, functional structure must emerge from the story, not otherwise. You can’t fit the story in a box (if it doesn’t want to).

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