Carolynne talks about the importance of short films and tells us to dig in, keep going and be bold.
I love short films. I’ve been producing them on and off for about 20 years now, and most recently executive producing the short films being made by the Scottish Film Talent Network, part of the BFI NET.WORK. Crafting a short film on what is usually a very limited budget can be a supremely demanding task, so when your lead actor has pulled out on the first day of filming, or your carefully hand-reared crow has flown for freedom rather than hitting his mark, you may well ask yourself ‘what’s the point?’ Dig in, keep going — it’s worth it I promise you. And here’s why...
Working on a short can give you invaluable practice and experience in lots of key areas: developing your skills in working collaboratively with a big team; learning what to share and when to share it; discovering how to take on board other people’s opinions without losing sight of your own; fine tuning your working methods with cast and performance styles; experimenting with design, costume, shooting and editing style (which will help you find your own original voice); and, most importantly of all, exploring the best way to tell the stories you have a burning need to tell. Figuring out why those stories mean so much to you will be invaluable when scripting in longer form. Seek out the short films of some of our most talented feature filmmakers and you’ll see the exploration, the experimentation, and the quest for an individual voice that led them to a successful career. In Lynne Ramsay’s National Film and Television School graduation film, Small Deaths (1996), you’ll find strong thematic and visual connections to her features — her fascination with children and young people, and her ability to convey a story not through dialogue alone but by appealing directly to the senses via texture, surprising composition, intense colour and expanded soundscapes.
You will form great partnerships and make amazing connections during the shooting of your short films. Lynne Ramsay first worked with fellow NFTS student director of photography Alwin Kuchler on Small Deaths. They continued their working relationship on her features Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar. Getting to know great heads of department and finding ways to collaborate with them so that you both give your best work will stand you in immensely good stead going forward. Be bold and work with great, established talent behind and in front of the camera. Make them remember who you are. Or identify the brilliant DOPs, production designers or editors of the future among your peers, and make the career journey with them. As a new producer, seek out the most talented new directors and cement a relationship during the making of your short that will carry you forward to your first feature.
Once your short is finished it’s the best calling card ever. Plan a festival strategy — hit the Oscar® and BAFTA qualifiers and the British Council-approved festivals first to give your film the best chance of getting attention. A filmography that contains a short that’s played at Sundance or Berlin or Tribeca or the BFI London Film Festival, for example, is immediately going to stand out from the crowd and make you interesting to the people with money to spend on your future films. No amount of talking about how good you are beats actually showing someone this fact via your short film. Once you get into a festival with your short you can go there to network and to meet fellow filmmakers and influential people in the world of feature film finance. A great short in a festival can open a lot of doors for you. If you can win awards with your film, even better. Small Deaths won the Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, immediately marking out Lynne Ramsay as a director to watch, and setting the stage for her subsequent success. A great short film can also help you find an agent, who should then be able to help you plan the next steps in your filmmaking career.
One thing you probably won’t gain from making a short film is money, unless you’re very lucky. But you stand to gain so much more than that — if you have the raw talent, making a short will be an incomparable investment in your future. Get on with it!